GEORGE OSBORNE, the finance spokesman for Britain’s Conservative opposition, denied a businessman’s assertion that he had sought a donation for his party from Oleg Deripaska, Russia’s richest man.
“We neither asked for any money, nor did we receive any,” Osborne told reporters at a press conference.
Osborne was responding to a letter written to the Times newspaper by Nathaniel Rothschild, co-chairman of the Atticus Capital LP investment company, claiming that the lawmaker asked the Russian for a donation when he visited Deripaska’s yacht in the summer.
Because Deripaska isn’t British, any direct donation to a British political party would be illegal, although his companies, including the Birmingham-based van maker LDV could contribute. In a Conservative government, Osborne would be in charge of tax policy.
Osborne’s denial that he solicited a donation stops short of saying money wasn’t a topic of conversation. While his spokesman put out a statement saying that donations hadn’t been discussed with Deripaska, Osborne refused to go that far. Under questioning from reporters, he said only that he hadn’t asked for money.
“Political parties are offered donations, sometimes by intermediaries, all the time,” Osborne said. “We’re absolutely clear and rigorous that donations have to be legal.”
In a later emailed statement, Osborne said it was Rothschild who raised the possibility of Deripaska giving money, first when Osborne was staying with him on vacation this year, and then again in a call to Andrew Feldman, chief executive of the Conservative Party, on September 18. Osborne and Feldman said the offer was refused.
Party funding issues have dogged Britain’s political parties in the last three years, prompting two police investigations of the Labour government and the resignation of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s pensions secretary.
Deripaska is the world’s ninth-richest man, with a fortune estimated at $28 billion (€21.4bn) by Forbes magazine. His holding company Basic Element spans a business empire that includes aluminum, mining, construction, aviation, insurance and media.
In the Times, Rothschild wrote that he decided to come forward because he was angry about coverage of “a private gathering of my friends this summer in Corfu”.
Newspapers have questioned whether another of the guests, Peter Mandelson, who was European trade commissioner at the time, should have spent time with Deripaska, whose companies sell to European markets. Mandelson quit his EU post to join Brown’s Cabinet as business secretary.
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