Home: News

Tory donor ‘reliant on Russia’s FSB’ has name removed from kleptocracy report

Parliament heard claims Dmitry Leus, who donated £50,000 to Tories, is ‘absolutely dependent’ on Russian spy agency

Jim Fitzpatrick square
Jim Fitzpatrick
19 October 2022, 6.34pm

Dmitry Leus donated £30,000 to then-deputy PM, Dominic Raab

|

Image by openDemocracy, via Ian Davidson and WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

A major Tory party donor who was described in Parliament as being “absolutely dependent” on the Russian security services, managed to secure the removal of his name from a report on kleptocracy by a UK policy institute.

Dmitry Leus, who was born in Turkmenistan and moved to the UK in 2015, was convicted of money laundering in Russia in 2004. Speaking in the Commons in July, Labour MP Liam Byrne claimed Leus had since been recruited by the Russian spy agency, the FSB, which Byrne alleged had secured his release from prison in 2006.

Byrne said: “There is clear knowledge of his recruitment by the FSB, who got him out of prison. He has a criminal record in Russia, and according to intelligence sources that I have seen, he is ‘absolutely dependent on the FSB’.”

Leus has given more than £54,000 to the Conservatives in the past two years. The party has not returned the money despite Leus’s conviction and Byrne’s assertion that UK intelligence services believe he is “absolutely dependent” on the FSB.

Get our free Daily Email

Get one whole story, direct to your inbox every weekday.

In Parliament this week, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax, revealed that Leus had been named in a report on the problem of kleptocracy in the UK by Chatham House, the respected international affairs institute.

But Leus secured the removal of all references to him in the report – in what Hodge described as a “meritless claim” that could have cost Chatham House £500,000 before trial. But Leus, through a spokesperson, said the removal was by agreement with Chatham House and it was never characterised as “meritless” by them.

The news raises questions about the Conservative Party’s refusal to return Leus’s donations. Leus gave more than £30,000 to Dominic Raab MP’s Esher and Walton Conservative Association between March and July 2021, when Raab was the deputy prime minister.

In October 2020, he also donated £24,000 to party funds in Runnymede and Weybridge, Tory MP Ben Spencer’s constituency. Leus later became president of the constituency association for a number of months, before stepping down after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Leus has a criminal record in Russia, and according to intelligence sources that I have seen, he is ‘absolutely dependent on the FSB’

Liam Byrne, Labour MP

Other organisations have returned Leus’s donations, with a six-figure donation to the then-Prince of Wales’s foundation handed back by the charity’s ethics committee in 2020. The previous year, the Electoral Commission ruled donations of more than £4,000 to Change UK (the short-lived pro-European political party) were impermissible because Leus was not listed on the electoral register at that time.

The Conservative Party contends that Leus’s conviction for money laundering was overturned. But Hodge disputed this.

“Since coming to Britain, Leus has tried to make us believe that his conviction was overturned, but this is untrue: it was struck off his records so that he could engage in business,” she said.

“After seven months of increasing demands, and due to the costs of defending the case – estimated at some £500,000 before trial – Chatham House has been forced to agree to his meritless claim and excise the report of all mentions of Mr Leus.”

A spokesperson from Chatham House confirmed to openDemocracy that following “a series of discussions” with Leus, it had agreed to remove the references to him in the report and a later tweet that had referred to him.

In response to a series of questions from openDemocracy, a spokesperson for Dimitry Leus said “allegations made about Mr Leus in Parliament are simply not correct,” and denied he had any links to the Kremlin.

“The reality is that there was no justification for Mr Leus’ inclusion in the report – he has never been any form of kleptocrat or oligarch and was in no way connected to the Kremlin. In fact quite the opposite. A substantial body of evidence shows that he was the target of a politically motivated conviction, and subsequent wrongful imprisonment, by the Russian authorities. In any event, by the time Mr Leus came to the UK, this conviction was expunged,” they said in a statement.

Leus previously responded to Liam Byrne’s allegations about FSB links by claiming that he had, in fact, been poisoned by the FSB while in prison – “strange recruitment method,” he tweeted.

Under Russian law, convictions are expunged after a certain period. Therefore in Russia, Leus’ conviction is no longer on the official record.

Hodge revealed the details of the Chatham House case in a debate on ‘Lawfare and Investigative Journalism’ secured by Conservative MP and former cabinet minister David Davis, in which several cases of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) were called out.

Davis highlighted the ongoing SLAPP case facing openDemocracy and other media organisations, describing it as the “outrageous case of lawfare that centres around the former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev”.

Related story

slapp-campaign-od-branding.original.png
The case against our investigative journalists has already cost openDemocracy tens of thousands of pounds

Earlier this year openDemocracy and other media organisations published separate stories on a UK-registered company, Jusan Technologies Ltd, and a Kazakhstan endowment fund, the Nazarbayev Fund. Those two organisations are now taking legal action against openDemocracy and others.

According to the reports, the Nazarbayev Fund owned a controlling stake in UK company Jusan Technologies Ltd, via an intermediary, until late 2021.

​​”After those revelations, openDemocracy covered the story and asked the simple question of whether an autocrat’s riches were being allowed into this country without due scrutiny,” Davis said in Parliament. “It was talking about Jusan Technologies, a firm that is incorporated in the United Kingdom and has nearly $8bn in gross assets, yet had only one member of staff in the UK in 2020.”

It was also revealed in the debate that one MP had received legal representations from lawyers acting for the company asking him to withdraw a written question in Parliament.

The Labour MP for Chester, Christian Matheson, told Davis: “I noticed that these cases had been filed, though not yet served, and I tabled a written question in this place about their effects on media freedom. I have to tell the House and the right honourable gentleman that I was then contacted by lawyers for the company, asking me to withdraw that question.”

Davis, describing the case as an “outrage”, said this suggested “the lawyers clearly do not understand parliamentary privilege” and were “trying to repress free speech and transparency” in the UK.

“This is a clear case of an ultra-wealthy individual using the British legal system to try to scare his critics into silence, and what the honourable gentleman refers to is their trying to extend that to his actions – proper actions – in this House,” he sad.

Davis added: “The work of those who have been targeted is all the more important considering that Nazarbayev has himself had a law passed in Kazakhstan preventing him from being prosecuted there. What he is doing with this lawfare is trying to extend that protection to this country, which, frankly, is an outrage.”

Ukrainian journalists share their stories of war

Hear Igor Burdyga and Kateryna Semchuk explain what it's like working in a homeland under threat. Plus British author Oliver Bullough and chair Daniel Trilling.

We've got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you're interested in, there's a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData