Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Russian ex-finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, recently became the biggest female donor to any political party in the United Kingdom. Her total contributions amount to over £1.9 million in the last six years.
Lubov herself is now a British citizen and has every right and entitlement to donate to a British political party. Russian state interference in the British political landscape, on the other hand, is understandably concerning. This concern was reflected by the UK government itself with a report conducted in 2019 into possible Russian interference. The failure of the British government to release this report, since its publication in October, has led many individuals both inside and outside the government to question the findings and the reason for its non-release. One can only presume that it confirms suspicions that Russia intervened in the UK referendum on Brexit and the government therefore wants to avoid its release, in case that the Brexit issue is brought back to centre stage.
Transparency is vital in politics, both in order to fully understand the possible influence and sway that money exerts on politicians and the political agenda, as well as to understand what possible external pressures have been placed on the electorate. Britain has a greater degree of transparency regarding the source of donations to political parties than most countries. However, Britain lacks transparency with regard to outside interference in the political process.
Lubov Chernukhin becoming Britain’s largest ever female political donor is quite an accolade. Attempting to research and understand Lubov Chernukhin’s past is difficult. Of Russian heritage, she attained British citizenship alongside her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin. Mr. Chernukhin held the role of deputy finance minister from 2000 to 2002, in which “he had ‘regular meetings’ with Putin“. During his career, Mr. Chernukhin became a close ally of Kremlin critic Mikhail Kasyanov, who was removed as prime minister in 2004 by Putin’s government. After an alleged falling out, Putin stripped Mr. Chernukhin of his role, prompting Mr. Chernukin’s move to the UK to escape the possibility of arrest.
Lubov Chernukhin’s career path is more difficult to explore. By profession, she is presumably a banker and consultant. She is currently the director of a property firm called Capital Construction And Development Ltd. Under her maiden name, Golubeva, she had previously acted in the role of director for five other companies, all of which have been dissolved.
The couple’s primary residence is an eight million pound mansion overlooking London’s Regent Park, reportedly owned by an offshore trust. During a court case in which Mr. Chernukhin was involved, Justice Teare commented that it was obvious “that Mr. Chernukhin had prospered in Russia after the collapse of the USSR”.
As Ms. Chernukhin tends to avoid publicity and does not give interviews, it is challenging to determine her current stance on Russia. Her husband, Mr. Chernukhin was indeed removed by Putin, and fearing arrest has not returned since, prompting the belief that he might be Anti-Russia. Regardless, he remains influential in his home country. Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist, tweeted that in a recent legal battle, when asked if Vladimir Chernukhin “still had relationships with ‘prominent members of [Russia’s] establishment’ who were still in favour with the Kremlin”, his wife, Lubov Chernukhin, replied, “‘Today he still does, yes”‘. The legal battle was between Mr. Chernukhin and Mr. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who has remained in Russia, regarding a dispute over property in Russia. If Ms. Chernukhin were not so reluctant to step into the media spotlight, we might better understand her motives which, one can only speculate, may be to ensure that the UK remains independent of the influence of a mother country from which, presumably, herself and her husband are now exiles.
Lubov Chernukhin’s political donation history is also a windy road. She attempted to give her first donation of £10,000 to the United Kingdom Conservative Party in 2012 which was initially blocked as she was declared as “an impermissible donor” by the Electoral Commission. Presumably, the reason for this was because she was not yet on the electoral roll. As a British citizen, however, she now has every right and freedom to make donations to political parties. The Conservative party took advice about her donation and ultimately determined that there was no reason not to accept it. Since then, she has donated over £1.9 million, in 54 different cash payments, making her the biggest ever female donor to any political party in the United Kingdom. These donations have often provided her with face time with Conservative party leadership. Such occasions have included £160,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson and David Cameron in 2014, £135,000 in February 2019 for dinner with female cabinet members including Theresa May, and £45,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson in February 2020. The donations are all public record, the contents of their conversation are obviously not. But arguably, Ms. Chernukhin has potentially become one of the most significantly influential figures in British politics merely because of her donations. In the first three months of 2020, Lubov Chernukhin has donated an additional £335,000 to the Conservative party.
Regarding the quite separate issue of Russian state interference in British politics, after it was revealed that the Kremlin had interfered with both the 2016 United States election and the EU referendum, an investigation was ordered to look into possible Russian interference in the United Kingdom. It was finalised in March 2019, before being sent to Downing Street in October 2019. Conducted by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, it examined alleged Russian activity, including espionage, interference, and subversion, in the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election, citing evidence from intelligence services such as MI5 and MI6. Despite having the report since October of last year, Downing Street claimed that it could not be released before the December election as it could not go through the proper processes before parliament returned after the general election. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, confirmed that the report was cleared by early October and has not received a response despite “the longstanding agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond within ten days”, adding that in this case, there has been no response at all. It has still not been released as of June 2020. Calls are now being made by politicians for the release of the report and questioning the reason why it has not been published. Dominic Grieve has expressed concern that the results of the report would be pertinent to voters in the next election.
The UK Freedom of Information Act of 2000 guarantees public access to any recorded information held by public authorities. Information that has been cleared and approved for the public eye should be readily available for those requesting it. No government can claim to be free from influence so it should be acknowledged and in order to be an open democracy, the responsibility for transparency falls on every member of the government.