Boris Johnson Sidesteps Question on Donation Flagged as Russia-Linked

Britain’s prime minister said all donations are disclosed “in the normal way.” The Conservative Party gave no sign it would return the money.

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain sidestepped questions on Thursday about documents linking a major political donation to a Russian bank account. His Conservative Party gave no indication that it planned to return the money.

The donation, of $630,225, was made in February 2018 in the name of Ehud Sheleg, a wealthy London art dealer who was most recently the Conservative Party’s treasurer. He is one of the party’s biggest donors.

The New York Times reported early Thursday that, according to documents filed with Britain’s national law enforcement agency, the donation originated in the Russian account of Mr. Sheleg’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, a Ukrainian national. The bank flagged the transaction as both suspected money laundering and a potentially illegal campaign donation because Mr. Kopytov is a foreign citizen.

“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.

A lawyer for Mr. Sheleg acknowledged that he and his wife received millions of dollars from his father-in-law in the weeks before the donation. But they said that it was a family gift and “entirely separate” from the campaign contribution.

“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,” the lawyer, Thomas Rudkin, wrote in response to questions from The Times.

Britain’s Electoral Commission said it was considering the information in The Times’s report. It renewed calls for stricter requirements around giving. “We have recommended for some time that the U.K. government and Parliament consider with us how to improve the controls on donations and loans,” the agency said in a statement.

In an interview with Sky News, Mr. Johnson said that all of the Conservative Party’s donations are registered “in the normal way.”

“To give donations to a political party in this country, you’ve got to be from the U.K.,” he said. He did not address the issues raised by the bank’s report to law enforcement officials.

Mr. Kopytov is the father of Mr. Sheleg’s wife, Liliia Sheleg. He served in Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin government of Crimea. Corporate filings show that he owns real estate and hotel businesses in Crimea and Russia.

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