Tories face calls to hand back £160k given by Russian for tennis match

Boris Johnson

The Conservative party is facing calls to hand back £160,000 given to its general election fighting fund by the wife of a former minister in Vladamir Putin's government after she won an auction at a fundraising event.

Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladamir Chernukhin, deputy finance minister under Putin in 2000, won the auction last month to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson but both Labour and Conservative politicians have questioned if the PM should accept the money while attacking the Kremlin over its strategy in Ukraine and the downing of the Malaysian airliner MH17.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the party said no date had been set for the match but that "all donations are transparent, permissable and done under the rules set out by the Electoral Commission". On Monday night the former party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft tweeted: "Should the Tory Party suspend taking donations from companies owned by Russians."

On Monday, Cameron told parliament that if Putin "does not change his approach to Ukraine in this, then Europe and the west must fundamentally change our approach to Russia". Labour called for Cameron to return the money and call off the match.

"President Putin will just laugh at David Cameron if he is taking £160,000 from one of his old mates while trying to pretend he is being robust on Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and almost certain criminal involvement in the bringing down of MH17," said Chris Bryant MP, Europe minister in the last Labour government.

"Since 2010 Cameron has repeatedly misread Russia. He has wanted just to do business with Russians and take Russian money but there's a black heart at the centre of the present regime. The Tories should give the money back. He can't possibly be seen to play this game of tennis."

The game was billed as "the ultimate game of tennis" when it was auctioned off as the star lot at the Conservative summer party at the Hurlingham Club, in Fulham.

Lubov Chernukhin is a banker, and according to Electoral Commission records had once been declared an "impermissible donor" in April 2012 when she attempted to give £10,000 to the party. However, since then she has made a further three donations worth a total of £5,500, which have all been accepted.

Several Russians attended the previous year's fundraiser including Putin's judo partner, Vasily Shestakov, who has the job of improving Russia's reputation in the UK. He was introduced to Cameron.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Robert Booth, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 22nd July 2014 18.12 Europe/London

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