MP dragged into pro-Kremlin Conservative party donation allegations

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis speaking at the the Northern Ireland Business and Innovatio

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis - Credit: PA

Great Yarmouth's MP warned a Labour counterpart he was taking a risk raising questions about a Tory grandee's activities when he was Conservative party chairman, it has emerged.

Brandon Lewis warned Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, he risked breaching libel laws if he were to raise issues about the actions of Sir Ehud Sheleg - including concerns over national security.

Mr Lewis was mentioned on Tuesday by Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds in the House of Commons when she said she had written to her Conservative counterpart Oliver Dowden to raise questions over a £450,000 donation in 2018 from former Conservative Party treasurer Sir Ehud.

She said a New York Times article had brought up questions over whether Sir Ehud's donation to the Conservative party complied with UK law.

She said the donation appeared to have originated from his father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, a former senior pro-Kremlin politician in Ukraine and apparent owner of significant assets in Crimea.

She said fears had previously raised around Sir Ehud's activities by Mr Kinnock.

The MP for Aberavon had written to Mr Lewis in February 2019 when he was Conservative Party chairman with concerns over Sir Ehud and that the Yarmouth MP had responded saying he should consider his accusations carefully or he risked libel.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis leaves BBC Broadcasting House in London after appearing on

MP Brandon Lewis had said accusations should be treated carefully - Credit: PA

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Ms Dodds said: "The right hon. Member [Mr Lewis] responded that my hon. Friend [Mr Kinnock] should consider any accusations he was making against an individual carefully so as not to risk libel, with the implication that legal action would be forthcoming should he pursue his genuine concerns.

"Last Thursday, however, an article in The New York Times suggested that my hon. Friend was right and that there are genuine questions to answer about whether a donation from Sir Ehud to the Conservative party complied with UK law, given that it appeared to have originated from Sir Ehud’s father-in-law, Sergei Kopytov, a former senior pro-Kremlin politician in Ukraine and apparent owner of significant assets in Crimea."

She went on to add: "Exactly what current and former links do the Sheleg-Kopytov family hold with key actors in the Russian state? Finally, has electoral law been broken and, relatedly, has our national security been compromised?"

A spokesman for Sir Ehud had said the New York Times article was a fabrication.