Johnson’s mysterious Russian links continue to dog him

U.S. Department of State from United States / Public domain

The prime minister seems unable to shake off his mysterious connections to Russians and their money. The BBC is now reporting an $8m transaction between a Russian politician and the husband of Lubov Chernukhin, who is famous for donating £1.7m to the Tory party and paying handsomely for the privilege of playing tennis with David Cameron.

The payment was made in April 2016, just two months before the referendum, and came from a Russian politician Suleyman Kerimov, who is facing US sanctions due to his close links to the Kremlin. The payment was later flagged as suspicious by officials at Deutsche Bank in New York.

This story breaks, as sensational news comes out of Italy claiming that Boris Johnson spent the weekend before last in Perugia at an Italian castle with Evgeny Lebedev, his billionaire Russian friend and the man he nominated for a peerage.

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Johnson has visited Palazzo Terranova, Lebedev’s lavishly restored Italian retreat, many times as mayor of London and, in April 2018, as foreign secretary when he travelled without luggage or his security detail on a scheduled Ryanair flight looking somewhat dishevelled and the worse for wear, according to eye witnesses. The day before he had attended a NATO conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The latest story comes from a report in La Repubblica where sources said, “Johnson landed in Perugia on Friday 11 September at 2 pm and left on Monday morning”.

This would be an embarrassment at the very least but, if the dates and times are correct, it is even more amazing because it coincides with Johnson’s Zoom conference call with Tory MPs, which must have taken place while he was in Italy, in the castle of his Russian friend (allegedly). The call with 256 Tory MPs on Friday 11 September was designed to reassure them about the UK internal market bill, which had caused a stir in Westminster a couple of days before. The internet line was unstable and cut out altogether for about 20 minutes.

John Sweeny tweeted:

Perugia San Francesco d’Assissi airport was a former military aerodrome converted to civil use and renovated around 2010. Ryanair have regular flights from Stansted and while it has expanded considerably, it is still a very small regional airport used mainly by tourists to Umbria and nearby Assissi.

Apparently the ex-Liverpool football star Luis Suarez passed through last week and the tiny airport, no doubt seeing an opportunity for a bit of self-promotion, released a short statement to the press about celebrities who have used the airport recently. La Repubblica translated it:

“On the afternoon of Thursday September 17th, a famous Uruguayan Barcelona footballer, Luis Suarez, arrived in Perugia, welcomed by cheering fans and supporters, to take an Italian exam in order to obtain the Italian passport. Immediately afterwards, the international airport of Perugia issued a proud statement: ‘Over the past few days, many names and personalities from the political, sporting and economic world have arrived here in Perugia. From Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli to the British PM Boris Johnson, preceded by Tony Blair (former UK premier) and not least the champion footballer Luis Suarez from Barcelona, who landed this afternoon to take an Italian language exam at the University for Foreigners of Perugia. Umbria and our airport are at the center of the world at this end of the season, with more and more personalities choosing the San Francesco d’Assisi airport thanks to its strategic position in the center of Italy, the speed of connection and the always punctual and efficient service that the airport is able to guarantee’.

Downing Street are denying the reports and say the claim was “wrong”, without giving details of how it was wrong. It was a non-denial denial.

It’s hard to see why a small Italian airport would lie about Johnson visiting Italy. His spokesperson claims the prime minister and his partner Carrie were baptising their son on Saturday at Westminster abbey and could not have visited Italy. The fact they are pushing back hard suggests it might be embarrassing. If evidence turns up that he was in Italy then he is in big trouble.

Someone on Twitter has apparently uncovered the flight from Perugia to Northolt, in London, mentioned in the La Repubblica article. The aircraft left Italy at 10:30 am on Monday 14 September and returned to Northolt, the airport normally used for official prime ministerial flights.

Another tweet gave details of trips made to Lebedev’s castle while Johnson was London mayor:

This morning the chief medical officer and the chief scientific officer are to give a press conference at 11am. They are expected to issue a warning about the coronavirus numbers rising again, possibly paving the way for a second national lockdown.

It is Britain’s tragedy to be saddled with a hedonistic charlatan like Johnson during the greatest crisis in our lifetime. God help us all.

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