Dark Money Investigations: News

Revealed: Tories given £44,000 by top official at sanctioned Russian bank

Treasury gave a controversial 30-day grace period to Kremlin-linked VTB Bank – where a senior banker has handed the Tories £44,000 since 2018

Seth Thévoz close-up
Seth Thévoz
2 March 2022, 5.59pm
A branch of VTB bank in Belgrade, Serbia
Jerome Cid / Alamy Stock Photo

A top official at a sanctioned Russian bank has given the Conservative Party more than £44,000 since 2018, openDemocracy can reveal.

It comes two days after VTB Bank was handed a “preposterous” 30-day reprieve from UK sanctions.

The UK government clamped down on VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, on the day Russia invaded Ukraine – 24 February. But the following day, the Treasury unit handling sanctions quietly issued a licence allowing VTB a month’s grace period to wind down operations.

Now openDemocracy has learned that, since 2018, more than £44,000 has been donated to the Conservative Party by banker Barin Yucemen, who is head of global fixed income trading at VTB’s investment wing, VTB Capital.

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Yucemen’s last donation, of £3,000 to the Greenwich Tories, came in December, and was only published today.

The EU has already sanctioned VTB, cutting it off from the SWIFT payment system.

Leading anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder said: “An asset freeze needs to be immediate and total. If you are leaving those subject to it a month for the sanction to become active, then anything you want to freeze will be long gone. It is absurd.”

Chris Bryant, chair of the Russia select committee, asked MPs last night: “Why on earth does the government measure allow VTB Bank, the second-largest Russian bank, 30 days for clients to be able to remove their assets? I do not even know what the metaphor is in terms of horses and bolts and having already escaped, but this seems preposterous.”

Private companies are acting much faster than the British government to cut off all dealings with VTB. HSBC, which has only 0.03% of its global revenue from Russia, ordered “the wind down of certain transactions involving VTB Bank and certain UK subsidiaries” last week.

The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation said it was sanctioning the bank because “VTB Bank PJSC is owned by and/or associated with the Russian government and has received significant financial support from the Russian government”.

VYB’s Yuceman had previously co-sponsored an event at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2021.

Source: Conservative Friends of Education

The event involved a panel of five MPs: Miriam Cates, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Jonathan Gullis, Robert Halfon, and jobs minister Alex Burghart.

A statement on the VTB Capital website, dated 24 February 2022 – the day the Russian invasion began – reassures its investors: “We have meticulously studied the possible negative scenarios for each business line, product and service and have developed an action plan that minimi[s]es the negative consequences.”

The VTB Group’s press office did not respond to a request for comment. Numerous attempts were made to contact Yucemen for comment, but he could not be reached.

Following publication, openDemocracy received the following comment from the Greenwich Conservatives:  “This was a donation received last year in good faith from a local resident who is a British national, and a long-standing supporter of the Conservatives. It was registered and published in the proper way, as are all such donations.”

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