Croydon’s Tories have failed to answer questions over what exactly was expected in return when their MP received a couple of cash payments from donors with links to Putin’s Russia. By STEVEN DOWNES
Gavin Barwell, now Lord Barwell, received donations worth £10,000 when he was the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, cash paid from a business whose directors have strong links to Russia, Inside Croydon can reveal.
The donations were made from a UK-registered company whose directors included two oligarchs who had made their mega-fortunes in Putin’s Russia, including one who has been accused of “siphoning” off millions of oil money.
The donations to the Croydon MP are by no means the biggest among the many huge payments to elected Conservative MPs from Russians or those with links to Russia over the past decade.
But with Russian tanks on the outskirts of Kyiv as Russian President Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine enters its second week, the money paid to Barwell appears significant today because of his later role as the influential chief adviser to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, at the time of the Salisbury poisonings, when the Tory government ignored calls for tougher action against the oligarchs.
Barwell has often been dismissive of any suggestion that action should be taken against Russian oligarchs using their vast wealth to buy influence in this country.
Today, the Croydon Conservatives refused to answer a series of questions about the former MP’s own dealings with the Russians.
According to records held by the Electoral Commission, Barwell received two payments, each of £5,000, from Offshore Group Newcastle Ltd.
The payments were made within a couple of months of each other, on December 18 2014, and on February 24, 2015. The money may have been used by Barwell and his parliamentary team towards his campaign at the 2015 General Election, when he retained his seat by just 165 votes.
As Inside Croydon asked in 2015 when we first reported this apparent generosity to a Conservative MP, we wondered “what a Tory government whip has been doing” for a company based in Newcastle and which specialises in kitting out offshore rigs?
It was never meant as a rhetorical question, but Barwell has never offered any explanation.
The Conservative Party has repeatedly refused all calls for it and its MPs to return around £2million-worth of donations to donors with strong links to Putin’s Russia. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week, “As you know, donations are all properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission.
“But I would make the point that there are people in this country of Russian origin who are British citizens, and many are critics of Putin.
“It’s wrong and discriminatory to tar them all with the same brush.”
So, while acknowledging that all the donations made to Lord Barwell were entirely above board and legal – none were made from people outside the UK, and both of the donations in question were from a UK-registered company – let’s have a closer look at the people behind the scenes at that very generous, and properly registered, British business.
Barwell’s donor, Offshore Group Newcastle, has been reported as having paid £100,000 to the Tories towards their 2019 General Election campaign. They must have thought they were getting the government that some of their directors couldn’t vote for.
Companies House records for the company lists two oligarchs who both made their riches in Putin’s Russia: Alexander Temerko and Viktor Mikhailovich Fedotov.
Temerko made his pile of loot as the head of Russkoe Oruzhie, an arms supplier to the Russian military. Temerko became a British citizen in 2011. He told the Financial Times that his donations to the Conservatives “are aimed at building support for a coherent industrial policy within government”.
He also described himself as a “vocal champion of UK energy security and independence”.
Temerko was also a director of Aquind Ltd, another firm which features prominently in making payments of tens of thousands of pounds to various Tory MPs – for example, Jeremy Hunt, a Surrey MP and former health minister, received more than £70,000 from Aquind between 2019 and 2021. Cushty.
Aquind was seeking government approval to build an electricity interconnector between Britain and mainland Europe (“energy security and independence”), but we’ll come back to that later.
His co-director at Offshore Group Newcastle Ltd, Fedotov, was the subject of Guardian and BBC Panorama investigations last year. They unearthed in the “Pandora Papers” that Fedotov secretly co-owned a company accused of participating in a massive corruption scheme.
Fedotov is described as a “recluse” who now lives in a Hampshire mansion.
The investigation showed that he had made at least £72million from “an offshore financial structure that appears to have funnelled profits from the accused Russian company via multiple tax havens”.
It was alleged that in the mid-2000s, Fedotov and two other men made fortunes from “siphoning funds from the Russian state pipeline monopoly Transneft”.
The accusations were based on a confidential Transneft report which, after it was leaked, was considered by senior Russian officials. One of those to pass judgement on Fedotov and the alleged fraud was the then prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Putin decided that no criminal offences had been committed. So that’s all right then…
Ukrainian born Temerko has said recently that he is no friend of Putin.
The way one of his big business deals has gone recently, he might not be much of a friend of Boris Johnson and his Tory chums any more, either, after personally donating £740,000 to the Conservatives.
Aquind, of which he was a director, wanted government approvals to develop a cross-Channel electricity supply line. Aquind also donated at least £400,000 to the Conservatives.
But in January this year, the Conservative government turned down the Aquind scheme. It was around that time that Barwell’s generous donors, Offshore Group Newcastle, was dissolved as a company.
It is hard not to consider in all of this that money does not, to some degree, buy influence, or loyalty.
The poisoning in Salisbury in 2018 of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian military intelligence officer and double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, was one of the crises that confronted Theresa May when she was Prime Minister.
At May’s side at that time, as her chief of staff, was Gavin Barwell.
Could it be because of those generous donations he received from a Russian-linked business that Barwell, in his self-serving memoir, Chief of Staff, chose to pour scorn on Jeremy Corbyn, the then Labour leader, for daring to suggest that tighter control should be made on Russian oligarchs’ donations to the Conservative Party?
What exactly was oligarch-funded Barwell’s advice to the Prime Minister about oligarch funding at this time of international crisis? Barwell doesn’t say in his book.
Instead, according to Barwell, in an interview with the Institute for Government in 2019, Downing Street could “be very proud” of the way it handled the Skripal assassination attempt by Russian agents carried out on British soil.
“I think the way that we responded to the attempted murder of the Skripal family in Salisbury and built an international coalition to hold the Russian government to account. I think we can be very proud of that,” Barwell said.
Today, Britain’s feeble response to that blatant abuse of international law and sovereign territory can be seen for what it was: just the latest flexing of Putin’s power, a forewarning of worse incursions to come. And one where, if the right action had been taken at the time, the invasion of Ukraine may have been avoided.
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