Dark Money Investigations: Investigation

Revealed: The lobbyist who helps Russian elites get access to Boris Johnson

Former Russian politician Sergey Pechinin tells his clients: ‘We open closed doors’

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Martin Williams Russell Scott
26 February 2022, 12.00am
Sergey Pechinin and Boris Johnson
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An elite Russian lobbyist who offers his clients “exclusive access” to UK government ministers has been pictured with Boris Johnson at numerous Conservative Party events, openDemocracy can reveal.

Former politician Sergey Pechinin boasted on LinkedIn that his company, Realia Capital, “can introduce you to executives in UK government [sic] and help to build and maintain relations”.

Pechinin even distributed a company Christmas card that featured a photo of himself and the prime minister (see below). Beneath the picture, a caption reads: “We open closed doors.”

Pechinin has financial links to the Conservative Party too. In 2018 he tried to donate £2,400 to the party, but the money was rejected: Pechinin was labelled an “impermissible donor” because officials were unable to prove he was on the UK electoral register. Pechinin told openDemocracy his donation was declined “because I have a Russian passport”.

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Another of his firms, Realia EM Ltd, went on to successfully give £4,000 last year to the Carlton Club, an elite private members’ establishment in Mayfair that has given almost £1m to the Conservative Party – prompting concern about ‘dark money’ in British politics.

In recent years, Pechinin has met some of the most senior figures in British politics, including David Cameron, Theresa May, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid, Zac Goldsmith, Jeremy Hunt, Oliver Dowden, Conor Burns and Liam Fox.

Boris Johnson and Sergey Pechinin on Realia Family Office Christmas card
Friends in high places | Realia Family Office/Facebook

When questioned by openDemocracy, the lobbyist confirmed he had met Johnson “a couple of times”.

But pictures on Facebook show Pechinin with Johnson on at least six occasions – including since Johnson became prime minister in 2019. They include photos of the pair shaking hands and eating together at the same table. Another shows the two men smiling at the camera during a formal event.

The prime minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, has spent time with him too. Johnson senior even appeared on a panel with Pechinin in Moscow in 2016 at the Radisson Hotel – a luxury neo-gothic landmark that was originally commissioned by Stalin.

Pechinin was later pictured posing next to Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party’s exclusive Winter Party fundraising ball in 2020.

The event earned the Tories an estimated £500,000 from table fees alone, with guests paying up to £15,000 per table. Two unnamed donors also paid almost £100,000 for two games of tennis with the prime minister.

Before arriving at the event, Pechinin posted on social media: “Today, I am going to Conservative Party Winter Ball to meet Prime minister of the UK Boris Johnson and his father, who came to visit my office… Brings back good memories from our trip to Moscow three years ago.”

Stanley Johnson also went to an event in London organised by Pechinin’s company Realia Capital Management which focused on “strengthening of ties between private companies and cultural institutions of the UK and Russia in the current politically turbulent times”.

The guests – who included Russian “businessmen and directors of state” – were told that “London remains open for foreign investment”.

The London event happened in March 2015, just weeks after Crimea had been formally absorbed into Russia amid international condemnation.

‘We can introduce you…’

Pechinin describes himself as a “skilful and effective lobbyist”, who used to be a senior adviser to “a number of federal MPs and senators in Russia”.

He was previously affiliated with Yabloko, Russia's main centre-Left party, and is understood not to suppor this week’s invasion of Ukraine.

His company Realia Family Office caters for wealthy Russian clients and has phone numbers in London and Russia.

The company profile of Pechinin Group – part of Realia Family Office – says: “Sergey has been helping to… improve the perception of large foreign business in the UK business and political circles.”

The Pechinin Group offers clients “connections on the top political and business levels in the United Kingdom”, adding that its main goal is to “organise effective co-operation with British business and the political elite”.

Clients have the “possibility to directly discuss business development in the UK with the key representatives of the British business and political elites”, it says.

A page on the one of the company’s websites that displays only in Russian adds that clients “have the opportunity to get exclusive access to private events at Goodwood for a narrow circle of people”, such as a “ball surrounded by members of the royal family, UK ministers, industry leaders and associates of the US president”.

Its corporate partners include Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, which was placed under US sanctions on Thursday.

Realia Family Office also offers to help millionaire clients secure ‘golden visas’ to live in the UK, under a scheme that was axed last week amid security concerns.

openDemocracy revealed that more than 200 Russian millionaires had bought their way into the UK with golden visas during the seven years since the government pledged to stop corrupt plutocrats exploiting the system.

Realia’s website says it ensures “minimum process duration” and “optimal results” for the visas.

A Conservative spokesperson refused to comment on Pechinin’s access to ministers, or confirm whether it had accepted money from him via ticket sales to party events.

But the spokesperson said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly declared to the Electoral Commission and published by them, as per the requirements of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. As Electoral Commission records show, we have accepted no such donations from this individual.”

Speaking to openDemocracy, Pechinin denied making a donation to the Carlton Club, but did not comment on the donation from his company.

When openDemocracy called a number listed on Pechinin’s LinkedIn profile, it was answered by a person who claimed that Pechinin no longer worked there. Official documents, however, continue to list him as the sole director of Realia EM Ltd.

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