The former British-Israeli treasurer for Britain’s Conservative Party has been reported to authorities on suspicion of money laundering after a six-figure donation to the Prime Minister’s election campaign was apparently taken from a Russian bank account.
Millionaire art dealer Ehud Sheleg, 66, has funded the Conservative Party with more than £3.5m ($4.26m) since 2017, helping Boris Johnson win his landslide victory in the 2019 election .
He was knighted and appointed 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 reported to the National Crime Agency by Barclays Bank. Tracing the funds, the bank found they came from the Russian account of Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, a former pro-Kremlin politician and businessman in Crimea.
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The donation was flagged as both 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 do not cannot vote in Britain.
“We are able to trace a clear line from this donation to its ultimate source,” Barclays wrote in the alert. “Kopytov can be said with considerable certainty to have been the true source of the donation.”
Concerns over Sheleg’s financial background and his relationship with Russia led him to host the Russian ambassador at the height of the crisis in Crimea when Russia annexed the region to Ukraine.
Sheleg also became a partner of a Cyprus-based businessman with ties to Russian organized crime, reports Private detective.
A lawyer for Sheleg acknowledged that he and his wife had received millions of dollars from his stepfather in the weeks leading up to the donation. But they said it was a family gift and “entirely separate” from the campaign contribution, the New York Times mentioned.
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Chris Bryant, Labor MP and chairman of the Parliamentary Standards Committee, said: ‘The Conservatives should give the money back and apologize for running into Russian money.
In response, SNP MP Alyn Smith said: ‘For too long the Conservative Party has been quite content to keep their eyes closed and their wallets open – with serious questions about Russia-related money who supports the party.”
“The latest reports of the New York Times only raises other issues that the Conservatives cannot continue to ignore. They must tell the truth about the stream of dodgy donations flooding party coffers that may have come from Kremlin-linked figures.”