Two Russian businessmen behind a controversial £1.2 billion energy scheme shared a table with the Secretary of State of the department responsible for approving it at a Tory fundraiser, the Mirror can reveal.
USSR-born Alexander Temerko, who is behind £1.3 million in donations to the Conservative Party shared a £12,000 table with Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), at the notorious Black and White Ball fundraiser in February.
As Business Secretary, Mr Sharma would normally have been responsible for giving final approval for the scheme at the time of the dinner.
However, he recused himself from decisions relating to it two months later over fears of a conflict of interest.
The Mirror understands they were joined at the table by Mr Temerko’s business partner Kirill Glukhovskoy.
Both men are directors of Aquind, a scheme planning to run a giant power cable under the English Channel, emerging in Portsmouth and linking up the English and French power grids.
There’s no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Aquind Ltd, Mr Temerko or Mr Glukhovskoy.
Because the project has been designated a “nationally significant infrastructure project”, it requires final sign off from the relevant Secretary of State.
Ordinarily, this would be Mr Sharma – and until the Mirror approached BEIS about this story last week, there had been no suggestion publicly that the decision would be made by anyone else.
As well as a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party in February – which is thought to be the cost of a table with a high-ranking minister at the lavish fundraisers – Aquind donated £10,000 directly to Mr Sharma in January this year, a few weeks before he took the job as BEIS Secretary.
The Mirror understands Mr Sharma agreed to step back from the decision in April 2020, because of a potential conflict of interest.
Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng is now expected to take the final decision next year.
A spokesman for Mr Sharma said: “Alok formally recused himself from the process months ago, and has not and will not have any involvement in the decision on this proposal.”
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth council, has written to Communities secretary Robert Jenrick to demand decisions over the project be made locally.
Two weeks on, Mr Vernon-Jackson has not received a reply.
He told the Mirror: “Government ministers have said we’re locally not allowed to make this decision and I’m concerned that one of the two directors of the company has donated over £1m to the Conservatives and that I think it’s now necessary for ministers to step away from being involved in this decision.
“It’s a hugely controversial decision to bring this power line in to the second most densely populated city in the country and dig this trench all the way through the city.”
He added: “Ministers need to be really careful that there is no impression that planning permission can be bought.”
It emerged last week that a third individual behind Aquind Ltd had been granted anonymity by Companies House.
The names of persons with significant control of such a company would normally be published under anti-corruption rules.
But the Times today reported the mystery backer had applied to have their name kept secret under an exemption that applies to people who could be at risk of “serious violence or intimidation” should their name be published.
Mr Temerko, 53, was head of a Russian state arms firm before moving to the UK and gaining citizenship in 2011.
He was born in Ukraine, which at the time was still part of the USSR.
He’s thought to be a member of the “leader’s group” – an elite club of high-value donors frequently given direct access to the PM and senior ministers.
Mr Glukhovskoy, 45, worked as a legal advisor at Yukos, a formerly Russian state-owned oil firm for several years, according to a LinkedIn page under this name.
He’s also thought to have worked for mining giant Interros before coming to the UK to study at London Business School.
While in London he worked for a private firm called Russian Legal Advisors.
Since 2018 Aquind has donated £242,000 to the Conservatives, including £67,000 during the general election campaign last year.
A spokesperson for Mr Temerko and Aquind Ltd said: “Aquind has complied with all its legal and regulatory obligations including those specifically applicable to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
“The Development Consent Order process has been introduced to enable the development of nationally important infrastructure, the scale and significance of which is not addressed by standard planning procedures. An independent Examining Authority will undertake a comprehensive Examination of the project which is in fact even more rigorous than any other planning regime in this country.”
They added: “Aquind is in the process of finalising the supply chain for the construction stage of the project in accordance with the public procurement rules. The interconnector will help to reduce energy prices and ensure that the supply of electricity is more secure for consumers and businesses in Great Britain, generating more than £2billion in benefits for consumers.
“The project’s capacity is sufficient to keep the lights on in 5 million British homes, satisfying 5% of the country’s demand for electricity. It will create hundreds of jobs during construction and contribute millions of pounds to the local economy in the South East of England.”