Oxfordshire Liberal Democrats

Robert Courts Must Explain Where Russian-linked Money Comes From

The West Oxfordshire Liberal Democrats call on Robert Courts and the Witney Conservatives to prove the Russia-linked money they have received over the past few years comes from legitimate sources, or to give it to groups who support the people of Ukraine.

Please sign the petition below if you agree:

Since Mr. Courts’s election in October 2016, the single largest political donor to the Witney Conservative Association has been Ms. Lubov Chernukhin[1]. Ms. Chernukhin has also donated to Mr. Courts directly.

The Electoral Commission requires that you ask yourself: “am I sure I know who this donation is from?” and states that if “for any reason you can’t be sure of the true identity of the source, you must return it” [2]. (Update: since Russia has invaded its neighbour and Ukraine is now facing a humanitarian catastrophe, we believe donating to a Ukrainian charity would be even better than returning the money)

Given the Electoral Commission’s requirements, we are deeply concerned by the facts below, all of which are in the public domain. Robert Courts and local Tories need to explain what steps they have taken to be sure that the funds they have accepted from Ms. Chernukhin do indeed originate from her. The fact that Ms. Chernukhin now also holds British citizenship is clearly insufficient to answer the Electoral Commission’s questions.

According to our initial research:

  • Ms. Chernukhin is married to Mr. Vladimir Chernukhin, who was previously a deputy Finance Minister in Vladimir Putin’s government and Chairman of a Russian state bank, VEB, now subject to US sanctions.
  • In a prior British court case [3], a High Court judge, Sir Nigel Teare, stated in relation to Ms. Chernukhin’s evidence that “she was not being frank with the court” and in relation to both Mr and Mrs. Chernukhin, Justice Teare stated that “great caution is required before accepting [his/her] evidence”. The case involved a situation where Mr. Chernukhin used a prior romantic partner to front a financial transaction for him.
  • The BBC’s investigations into the Pandora Papers, reveal that Ms. Chernukhin’s “personal wealth comes from her husband”, with her receiving a loan of more than £4m from her husband’s company and another email describing her as being "financially supported by her husband"[4].
  • The UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee July 2021 Russia Report states that “Russian influence in the UK is the new normal. Successive Governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures.” [5]

Given the above, the evidence suggests the money does not meet the electoral commission's standards for acceptable donations. We call on Robert Courts and the West Oxfordshire Conservatives to give it to civil society groups in Ukraine that support independent media in the country and counter Russian disinformation or humanitarian groups

[1] £14,975 donation from Ms. Chernukhin to Witney Conservative Association, accepted 12 Feb 2021 (http://search.electoralcommission.org.uk/English/Donations/C0545095), plus an additional £3,000 donation from Ms. Chernukhin direct to Robert Courts, registered 10 Feb 2020 (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmregmem/200810/courts_robert.htm, section 2) 
[2] https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_file/to-donations-rp.pdf, p4
[3] https://www.serlecourt.co.uk/images/uploads/news-and-events/Danilina_v_Chernukhin_approved.pdf 
[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-58711151 
[5] https://isc.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/20200721_Russia_Press_Notice.pdf

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