The Labor party has written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to sack Ben Elliot as co-chair of the Conservatives for securing nearly £ 2mn of Russia-linked donations for the party while also courting Russian oligarchs as clients.
Anneliese Dodds, Labor’s chair, pointed out the Tory party has raised £ 1.96mn from donors with links to Russia since Elliot was appointed in July 2019.
The British entrepreneur and nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall is one of the most well-connected figures in London. He is co-founder of Quintessentially, a luxury concierge company that launched its Russia office in 2006, and has expanded it to roughly 50 employees at its base in Moscow.
The concierge group removed some content related to its Russian operations from its global website this week after Vladimir Putin, the country’s president, launched his invasion of Ukraine.
However, it has not taken down its separate Russian-language site with the slogan: “Access the inaccessible. Achieve the impossible. ”
It also references a corporate contract that Quintessentially has held with Gazprombank, Russia’s third-largest bank by assets, which was not included in the list of banks to be excluded from the Swift messaging system.
Quintessentially designed an app for “premium customers” of Gazprombank that allows them to access its services anytime, according to its website.
Quintessentially has boasted of how it helped wealthy Russians in London find properties, advise on the best schools and staff such as nannies. One former staffer said the group often helped its Russian clients hold lavish parties.
It has a tiered membership, including an “elite” membership that costs about $ 20,000 a year, and its “Quintessence” membership, which is by invitation only and costs roughly $ 40,000 a year.
Two industry sources have told the Financial Times that Roman Abramovichthe oligarch who this week put Chelsea Football Club for sale, has been a client of Quintessentially.
One person close to the company said Quintessentially had tailored its membership fees according to the requirements of its wealthy clients.
Quintessentially said: “The group continues to actively monitor its member base and corporate clients to ensure that it is not servicing any individual or corporate body that is on the sanctions lists that have been issued by the UK, EU and US governments. Moreover, it can confirm that it is definitely not engaged with anyone on those lists. ”
Elliot told the Gentleman’s Journal in 2013 that “we added a dedicated Russian team to our London offices due to the influx in Russian-speaking clients coming into London, so we’re still doing very well within the Russian market”.
In his role as Conservative co-chair he set up an “advisory board”Of generous party donors, some of whom have links to Putin’s regime. They include Lubov Chernukhin, a former banker who is the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, a former deputy finance minister under Putin. Chernukhin has given £ 1.94mn to the Conservative party since 2005.
The Conservative party did not respond to a request for comment.
Dodds said there were serious questions about a “cash for access culture” at the heart of government. “You can not tell the British people that you are serious about tackling Russian dirty money and influence and also retain Mr Elliot as co-chair of your party.”
After Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last week Johnson’s spokesperson said Putin and his oligarchs should be treated like “pariahs on the world stage” with “no engagement with them”.
Last September, the UK lobbying regulator warned Elliot to draw a clearer line between his private interests and public duties, warning that he risked falling foul of the industry’s rules.
Harry Rich, who heads the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, advised Elliot: “To be cautious about the possibility of engaging in consultant lobbying activity (perhaps unintentionally) by not making a clear enough distinction between his role as a director of Quintessentially and his other activities connected to government. ”
Additional reporting by Arash Massoudi