Ehud Sheleg, a wealthy London art dealer who is one of the biggest donors to Britain’s Conservative Party is suspected of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party from a Russian account, according to Britain’s national law enforcement agency.
The $630,225 donation was made in February 2018 in the name of Sheleg, who was most recently the Conservative Party’s treasurer. The money was part of a fundraising operation that helped establish the 2019 victory of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party.
“We are able to trace a clear line back from this donation to its ultimate source,” Barclays bank wrote in a January 2021 alert to the National Crime Agency.
Documents filed with the authorities last year that were reviewed by The New York Times show that the money originated in a Russian bank account belonging to Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, a former senior politician in the previous pro-Kremlin government of Ukraine.
“There is absolutely no basis for suggesting that Mr. Kopytov’s gift for his daughter was intended as, or for the purpose of making, a political donation to the Conservative Party,” one of Shelegs lawyers, Thomas Rudkin, wrote in response to questions from the Times.
While Rudkin affirmed that Sheleg and his wife received millions of dollars from his father-in-law prior to the donation, he claimed the funds were “entirely separate” from the campaign donation.
Although there is no indication that Johnson or the Conservative Party had any knowledge about the origin of the donation, political parties are responsible under English law for ensuring that their donations come from legal sources.
Sheleg's lawyers stated that the party made no requests for additional information or documentation when the donation was made.
"The Conservative Party accepts money only from permissible donors, all donations comply fully with the law,” a spokesman for the party said. The spokesperson would not say whether the party ever investigated the donation or whether or not it planned to keep the money, according to the Times.