Rayner: Public deserve to know identity of “Russian tycoon” behind £1.2bn project

Elliot Chappell

Labour’s Angela Rayner has said that the public “have a right to know the identity of the Russian tycoon” behind a £1.2bn infrastructure project to build an electric power link tunnel under the Channel.

Responding to reports that a Russian individual behind company Aquind, which has donated more than £240,000 to the Conservatives since 2018, the deputy leader today joined a number of senior Tories in calling for their identity to be made public.

Citing the findings of the Russia report published earlier this week, Rayner said the Prime Minister must reassure the public that “bankrolling the Tory Party” does not buy influence with the government.

Commenting on information found in the intelligence and security committee, she said: “The Russia report laid bare the influence that super-rich Russian oligarchs have sought to exert over our politics.

“Given we already know that over a dozen Tory Ministers are being bankrolled by individuals and businesses with links to Russia, the public have a right to know the identity of the Russian tycoon behind this major UK infrastructure project.”

Electoral Commission records show that two of the Conservatives’ MPs on the intelligence watchdog committee and 14 government ministers had accepted tens of thousands in donations from individuals or businesses linked to Russia.

She added: “The government has questions to answer about the links between party donors and planning applications if we are to believe that money does not buy influence over our politics.

“Labour is sure that the Prime Minister will be keen to reassure the public that bank-rolling the Tory Party does not buy Russian tycoons influence over planning applications and decisions relating to major infrastructure projects supplying our country’s energy needs.”

Earlier in the week, cbinet minister Brandon Lewis defended the right of the party to accept donations, saying that the donors are entitled to “play their full part in our democracy”.

Lewis was recorded as having received a £25,000 donation from Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former minister to Vladamir Putin, and £23,000 from Alexander Temerko – a former chief of a Russian arms company.

Boris Johnson told MPs in the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that “no country in the Western world that is more vigilant” than the UK in protecting against Russian interference.

This is despite the Prime Minister famously accepting a £160,000 donation from Chernukhin in 2014 in exchange for game of tennis. Johnson was the mayor of London at the time.

Aquind is one of 150 companies – out of around four million in the UK – to have been granted an exemption to the anti-corruption rules that mean that companies must normally disclose “persons of significant control”, according to The Times.

The government is already under pressure in relation to another case involving a donor and minister Robert Jenrick, following his decision overturn his own planning approval of an application after admitting “apparent bias”.

Jenrick sat next to the donor at a fundraising dinner before overruling a council and the government planning inspectorate, who recommended he refuse the scheme, to grant permission for the billionaire’s £1bn development.

The Conservative minister also admitted that he published his decision in time for the developer to avoid a new charge – known as a community infrastructure levy – which would have cost the developer an additional £30m to £50m.

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