The Conservative party has repaid a £28,000 donation after the Electoral Commission found the gift impermissible.
The cash donation from a company linked to a Russian banker was investigated following research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which raised concerns about the origin of the funds.
Electoral Commission records suggest the donation was given to the party for a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, which was won in an auction at a fundraising event. The auction held at the Conservative’s summer party last year raised hundreds of thousands of pounds. A bust of David Cameron fetched £90,000 in the same auction. It was won by another Russian, Alexander Temerko, an exiled businessman and now a UK citizen.
Auction bids at party fundraisers are classed as donations, and therefore must follow rules laid out by the Electoral Commission. The rules state that a political party accepting donations must check that the person behind the gift is a permissible donor.
An investigation by the Bureau found that the successful bidder for the black and white portrait of the former prime minister was listed in the Electoral Commission database as a company – Henley Concierge Ltd, a business registered at a cottage on the £120m country estate of Andrei Borodin, a former president of the Bank of Moscow.
According to a table plan of the 2013 Tory fundraiser leaked to the Bureau, Borodin was sitting with Boris Johnson, the London Mayor.
Borodin, who was granted political asylum in the UK in early 2013, has previously made clear that he personally made no donations at the event.
Henley Concierge was only set up in November 2012. At the time of the donation it was run by Borodin’s personal assistant and estate manager, Mario Hinterdorfer, an Austrian national. It is currently described on Companies House as “non-trading”.
To be permissible, corporate donors must be genuinely undertaking business in the UK. Individuals need to be on the electoral roll in the UK in order to be eligible to make political donations.
In a letter to the Bureau, the Electoral Commission wrote: “We have determined that the £28,000.00 cash donation from Henley Concierge Ltd accepted by the Conservative Party on 3 July 2013 was impermissible.”
The letter continues: “During the course of the case review and following its own checks, the Commission raised concerns with the Conservative Party about the permissibility of the donor. Following these discussions, the party agreed with the Commission’s view and has forfeited the full amount of the donation.”
As the donation has been returned the commission has decided not to pursue any further enquiries into the involvement of Mr Borodin in relation to the donation. The letter adds: “The outcome of any such inquiries would not alter our conclusion that the donation is impermissible. ”
The Conservative party said checks were made at the time of the donation. “Before accepting the donation in July 2013 the Conservative Party fully followed the law and Electoral Commission Guidance.
“The donor’s late filing of accounts caused the Party to review the permissibility of the donor. Due to the current uncertainty about the permissibility of the donation the Party considered the most appropriate course of action in all the circumstances was to voluntarily forfeit it.
“Any suggestion of impropriety by the party is malicious and defamatory and will be treated as such.”
Related story: Questions over Tory donation linked to Russian banker