Middle East

Israeli Tory donor suspected of funnelling Russian money to UK’s Conservative Party

Former British-Israeli treasurer of the UK’s Conservative Party has been reported to authorities over suspicions of money laundering after a six-figure donation towards the prime minister’s election campaign was apparently sourced from a Russian bank account.

Millionaire art dealer Ehud Sheleg, 66, has funded the Conservative Party with more than £3.5 million ($4.26 milion) since 2017, helping Boris Johnson win his landslide victory in the 2019 election.

He was given a knighthood and made party treasurer six months before the election.

However, according to the New York Times, a donation of £450,000 ($550,000) in February 2018 was flagged to the National Crime Agency by Barclays Bank. Tracing back the funds, the bank found that they had originated in the Russian account of Sheleg’s father-in-law Sergei Kopytov, a former senior pro-Kremlin politician and businessman in Crimea.

READ: ‘UAE helps Russia face sanctions,’ claims French newspaper

The donation was flagged both as potential money laundering and a potentially illegal political donation as it is illegal in the UK to accept political donations of more than £500 ($610) from foreigners who cannot vote in Britain.

“We are able to trace a clear line back from this donation to its ultimate source,” Barclays wrote in the alert. “Kopytov can be stated with considerable certainty to have been the true source of the donation.”

Concerns regarding Sheleg’s financial background and connections to Russia include him hosting the Russian ambassador at the height of the crisis in Crimea when Russia annexed the region from Ukraine.

Sheleg also became partners with a Cyprus-based businessman with links to Russian organised crime, reported Private Eye.

A lawyer for Sheleg acknowledged that he and his wife received millions of dollars from his father-in-law in the weeks before the donation. But they said that it was a family gift and “entirely separate” from the campaign contribution, the New York Times said.

READ: US loophole allows Israel diamond traders fund Putin’s war in Ukraine

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and chairman of the parliamentary standards committee, said: “The Tories should give the money back and apologise for putting themselves in hock to Russian money.”

In response, SNP MP Alyn Smith said: “For far too long the Tory party has shown themselves quite content to keep their eyes closed and wallets open – with serious questions over Russian-linked money sustaining the party.”

“The latest reports by the New York Times only raises further questions that the Tories cannot continue to ignore. They must come clean over the flow of dodgy donations flooding the party’s coffers that can be sourced back to Kremlin-linked figures.”

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