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U.K. Officials Won’t Investigate Political Donation Flagged for Russian Origins

LONDON — British legislation enforcement and elections officers mentioned they won’t examine a serious political donation to the Conservative Get together that had been flagged as a suspected unlawful marketing campaign donation in paperwork linking it to a Russian checking account.

The choice, introduced late Thursday, lifts a authorized cloud over one of many largest donations that helped propel Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his celebration to victory within the 2019 election. Lawmakers from the opposition Labour Get together mentioned the choice reveals a campaign-finance loophole that could possibly be utilized by dangerous actors.

The contribution, of $630,225, was made in February 2018 by Ehud Sheleg, a rich London artwork seller and one of many Conservative Get together’s greatest donors. He was most just lately the celebration’s treasurer.

“We’re in a position to hint a transparent line again from this donation to its final supply,” the financial institution wrote in a January 2021 alert to the Nationwide Crime Company.

Mr. Kopytov, a Ukrainian citizen, served within the nation’s earlier pro-Kremlin authorities and, in accordance to the most recent Russian company filings, owns companies in Crimea and Russia.

Mr. Kopytov and Mr. Sheleg, by means of legal professionals, have denied any wrongdoing and mentioned that Mr. Sheleg had been “fully exonerated.” They acknowledged that, weeks earlier than he donated to the Conservative Get together, Mr. Sheleg obtained hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from Mr. Kopytov. Their lawyer, Thomas Rudkin, mentioned the cash was a household present and never supposed as a political donation.

Political events are prohibited from accepting donations of greater than 500 kilos (about $615) from overseas residents who will not be registered to vote in Britain. Mr. Kopytov isn’t listed on the nationwide voter register, data present.

Each the Nationwide Crime Company and the Electoral Fee, which enforces marketing campaign finance legal guidelines, mentioned in statements to The Instances that that they had determined to not open investigations after discovering “no proof” of an offense.

The Nationwide Crime Company issued an identical assertion in a letter to a Labour lawmaker.

“Offered a donation comes from a permissible supply, and was the choice of the donor themselves, it’s permitted,” Steve Rodhouse, the company’s deputy chief wrote in a letter. “This stays the case even when the donor’s funds derived from a present from an abroad particular person.”

Labour lawmakers known as this a loophole that may enable overseas residents to funnel contributions by means of British donors.

“An individual can provide limitless quantities of cash to political events if they’re laundered by means of the checking account of a U.Ok. citizen,” mentioned Liam Byrne, a Labour lawmaker, in a Parliamentary debate on Monday.

“That’s utter nonsense,” he added. “Little question Mr. Sheleg is an honorable man, however the Sheleg maneuver could possibly be exploited by all types of dangerous actors.”

Earlier than deciding to not open an investigation, the Nationwide Crime Company met with its legal professionals and decided that it might not be attainable to convey a practical prosecution due to weaknesses in political financing legal guidelines, based on a legislation enforcement official, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of the official was not licensed to debate particulars of the case.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has positioned a highlight on illicit cash in Britain, and a push is underway to tighten marketing campaign funding legal guidelines amid fears of corruption and overseas affect.

On the identical time, nevertheless, the nation’s lead campaign-finance watchdog, the Electoral Fee, is combating for survival. It has requested for better powers to research donations for potential cash laundering. However the Conservatives have branded the company “not match for goal” and threatened to overtake it.

“We now have made suggestions to enhance the controls on donations and loans to forestall overseas cash being utilized in U.Ok. politics,” a spokeswoman for the Electoral Fee mentioned.

The Conservative Get together didn’t reply for a request for remark

In letters by means of his lawyer, Mr. Kopytov mentioned he had little interest in British politics. He mentioned he “is and was anti-Putin” and had served in numerous Ukrainian governments, not solely the pro-Kremlin authorities of Viktor Yanukovych.

The suspicious-activity report recognized Mr. Kopytov as dwelling in Russia. His legal professionals say he was really dwelling in Ukraine. They mentioned he misplaced his job as finance minister and deputy prime minister of Crimea following its annexation by Russia. He’s now a refugee within the Czech Republic, they added, and has had his Crimean companies nationalized by Russia.

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