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FinCEN Files: Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin linked to $8m Putin ally funding – BBC News

Lubov Chernukhin

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LNP

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Lubov Chernukhin started donating to the Conservative Party in 2012

The husband of one of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors was secretly funded by a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Putin.

Lubov Chernukhin has given £1.7m to the Tories, including paying to spend time with the last three prime ministers.

Leaked files show her husband received $8m (£6.1m). The money initially came from a politician facing US sanctions due to his closeness to the Kremlin.

Her lawyers say the donations are not tainted by Kremlin influence.

A leak of banks’ “suspicious activity reports” – called the FinCEN Files and seen by BBC Panorama – shows Vladimir Chernukhin was sent the money in 2016 from a British Virgin Islands company linked to Suleyman Kerimov.

Officials at Deutsche Bank in New York reported it as being among $278.5m of transactions involving the offshore company.

There has been an increasing focus on donations to political parties from wealthy UK-based Russians in recent years, with July’s parliamentary report by the Intelligence and Security Committee referring to the possibility they could allow people to “assist Russian influence operations”.

‘Not fit and proper donors’

Billionaire Mr Kerimov is the owner of Russia’s biggest gold mine and member of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. He has been under investigation in France over allegations of tax fraud since 2016.

In 2018 he was sanctioned by the US authorities, who were targeting those they said “play a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities”.

Mr Chernukhin, 52, is a former deputy minister of finance under Vladimir Putin, who left Russia for London in 2004 after being sacked by the president.

The Chernukhins – one of the UK’s most prominent Russian-born couples – are now both British citizens and live in London.

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PA Media

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Vladimir Chernukhin with Vladimir Putin – he was sacked as deputy finance minister in 2004

Mrs Chernukhin’s donations to the Conservative Party began in 2012.

The majority – more than £1.5m – came after the $8m payment linked to Mr Kerimov was made to her husband on 29 April 2016, although it is not clear if any of that cash went to the Tories.

Journalist and Russia expert Ed Lucas, who gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into Russian influence, told Panorama: “The Chernukhins, pleasant people that they might be… are not fit and proper people to make donations to a British political party.”

Mr Lucas said he was “profoundly concerned by the access that, not only Lubov Chernukhin but also other rich Russians have to the heights of the Conservative Party, and to the government”.

Winning bids

Mrs Chernukhin’s donations to the Tories have given her access to figures at the top of UK government.

In return for £135,000 she was invited to a ladies’ night dinner at a luxury hotel with Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet in April 2019. She is pictured above, fourth from the right.

And the 47-year-old has twice made winning bids at auction for tennis matches with Boris Johnson. The last, in February this year, cost her £45,000.

In 2014 she paid £160,000 to play tennis with Prime Minister David Cameron and then London Mayor Mr Johnson.

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Getty Images, PA Media

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In 2014 Mrs Chernukhin paid to play tennis with Prime Minister David Cameron and Boris Johnson (Pictures from 2013 and 2008)

As of this year she is the biggest female donor in British history to the Tories. According to Electoral Commission records, she has given about £1.7m in total over the past eight years, including £335,000 between last January and July.

When in 2018, Boris Johnson – then foreign secretary – was asked about the Chernukhins and the £160,000 tennis match donation, he told the BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “If there is evidence of gross corruption in the way that gentleman… obtained his wealth… then it’s possible for our law enforcement agencies to deprive him of his wealth.”

But he added “all possible checks have been made and… will continue to be made” on donations.

‘Property projects loan’

The $8m payment to Mr Chernukhin was made by an offshore company called Definition Services, which is controlled by Mr Kerimov’s children. The documents show their funding comes from their father and it is Mr Kerimov who has the personal relationship with Mr Chernukhin.

As Deutsche Bank was processing the money, it sent questions to officials at another bank involved in the transaction.

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Getty Images

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The $8m payment came from an offshore company linked to Suleyman Kerimov

They said it was a “loan between the two parties aiming to support further immovable property projects of the borrower” and that Definition was involved in real estate investments.

Despite the response, Deutsche Bank filed a suspicious activity report (SAR), noting the link to Mr Kerimov and the payment to Mr Chernukhin.

Deutsche said Definition was “registered and banking out of high risk jurisdictions and the commercial purpose of the transactions and the relationship between the parties could not be determined”.

What do we know about the Chernukhin’s finances?

Some of Mr Chernukhin’s financial affairs have been made public as part of a long running legal battle with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska over the ownership of a former industrial site in Moscow.

Proceedings at the High Court in London revealed he set up a trust for his wife, and another trust for the benefit of the couple together.

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Central News

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Vladimir Chernukhin has been involved in a long-running legal battle in London

Mrs Chernukhin has been described as a former banker.

She is listed as a director of four UK companies. One of them shares the same London correspondence address detailed in a bank document concerning the $8m payment to her husband from Definition Services.

Lawyers for the Chernukhins declined to say whether Mr Chernukhin had received the $8m.

But they said “Mrs Chernukhin has never received money deriving from Mr Kerimov or any company related to him” and her “donations to the Conservative Party have never been tainted by Kremlin or any other influence”.

They added all her donations have been declared in accordance with Electoral Commission rules.

Lawyers for Suleyman Kerimov said he denies all the allegations made by Panorama, and had “no dealings with Ms Chernukhin whatsoever”.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “There are people in this country of Russian origin who are British citizens and have the democratic right to donate to a political party. Many have been vocal critics of Putin and it is completely wrong and discriminatory to smear them all with the same brush.”

The FinCEN Files is a leak of secret documents which reveal how major banks have allowed “dirty money” to be moved around the world. They also expose how US intelligence sees the UK as a “higher risk jurisdiction” and show it is awash with Russian cash from unexplained sources.

The files were obtained by BuzzFeed News which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 400 journalists around the world. Panorama has led research for the BBC.

FinCEN Files: full coverage; follow reaction on Twitter using #FinCENFiles; in the BBC News app, follow the tag “FinCEN Files; Watch Panorama on the BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only).

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Files Group

Jack Ma’s Ant Group files for IPO, says it made $3.2 billion in first-half profit – CNBC

An employee scans a quick response (QR) code displayed on the Ant Group’s Alipay app. Ant Group is preparing for a dual initial public offering in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba, has given the first look at its financials ahead of its highly-anticipated initial public offering (IPO), in a document filed on Tuesday.

The financial technology powerhouse, which is still controlled by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, reported profit of 21.9 billion Chinese yuan ($3.2 billion) on total revenues of 72.5 billion yuan in the first half of the year, according to the exchange filing.

That represented a more than 1,000% jump in profits from the same period a year ago, when the company raked in 1.9 billion yuan. Revenues were also up significantly, climbing about 38% from the 52.5 billion yuan the firm made in the first half of 2019.

Ant Group, formerly known as Ant Financial, is planning a concurrent listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange and the Shanghai stock exchange’s STAR market, which is a Nasdaq-style tech board.

The company has not yet disclosed details about the pricing of its shares. But one analyst previously told CNBC that its market valuation could be north of $200 billion, making it larger than some of America’s biggest banks. 

Ant Group runs the wildly popular Alipay mobile payments app in China which, according to the company’s filing Tuesday, has over 1 billion annual active users and processed 118 trillion yuan in transactions in mainland China in the 12 months ended June 30. The platform also has an international presence, with annual transaction volume of 622 billion in markets outside China.

But the company also offers financial products beyond that, including wealth management, loans to businesses and insurance. More recently, Ant has pivoted to focus on what it calls technology services — financial technology products that it can sell to enterprise customers for a fee.

Risks

Ant said that geopolitical tensions between the United States and China could “negatively affect” its business. The world’s two largest economies have long been engaged in disputes over trade and technology, the most recent of which have involved the popular Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based internet giant ByteDance, was the target of an executive order seeking to ban the company’s American operations due to national security concerns. TikTok has rebuffed the order and recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government challenging the ban.

Another executive order centers on WeChat, the messaging app owned by Tencent. Tencent said in its latest quarterly earnings call that it is “seeking further clarification” on the order.

Such restrictions “may materially and adversely affect our ability to acquire or use technologies, systems, devices or components that may be critical to our technology infrastructure, service offerings and business operations; to access U.S. cloud-based systems and other infrastructure; and to operate in the U.S.,” Ant said in the filing Tuesday.

“In addition, these policies and measures directed at China and Chinese companies could have the effect of discouraging U.S. persons to work for Chinese companies, which could hinder our ability to hire or retain qualified personnel to work for our business,” the company added.

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Files Hertz

Hertz Files For Bankruptcy After 16,000 Employees Were Let Go And CEO Made Over $9 Million – Forbes

Seattle Rides Economic Boom

(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)


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After 100 years in business, Hertz filed for bankruptcy on Friday, proving to be yet another casualty during Covid-19. 

The old-time entity now joins the likes of J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Gold’s Gym, Pier 1 and the McClatchy newspaper chain—companies that have all sought bankruptcy protection in recent weeks. Hertz was just another victim of the pandemic, people will say. It’s easy to blame the company’s misfortunes, as well as the other corporate casualties, on the pandemic. The reality is a different story. The failures of Hertz and the others have more to do with their own arrogant inertia and inability to recognize the fast-changing trends and a refusal to adapt their business models accordingly. 

Back in the day, Avis was Hertz’s major rival. Avis branded itself as the scrappy underdog and adopted the advertising tagline, “We Try Harder.” It was meant to convey that the folks at Avis will do whatever it takes to make its customers happy. Hertz’s slogan should’ve been “We Didn’t Try Hard Enough.”

The Wall Street Journal reported, “Hertz Global Holdings Inc., one of the nation’s largest car-rental companies, filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, saddled with about $19 billion in debt and nearly 700,000 vehicles that have been largely idled because of the coronavirus.” The company has lost money for the past four consecutive years, including $58 million in 2019.  

Back in March, responding to the deteriorating economic circumstances, Hertz laid off 12,000 workers and furloughed an additional 4,000 employees—25% of its workforce. Car rental companies are heavily dependent upon travel. People will rent cars for family vacation. A business person flying out to a client will go to a Hertz and rent a car for the duration of their visit. With air travel coming to a near halt, the need for car rentals has plummeted. 

It’s true that Covid-19 has had an impact on Hertz—as well as an array of other large and small companies—but it was suffering long before we even heard of the coronavirus. Hertz had to contend with tough competition in the car-rental space, in addition to the onslaught from Uber and Lyft. Customers preferred the ease of use with car-sharing apps. There wasn’t a need to take the time to fill out long and one-sided contracts, wait for your car then have to drive it yourself in an unfamiliar location. Compared to this experience, it’s much more convenient to open an app, request a ride and get whisked to your location. 

Some of Hertz’s problems have been self-inflicted. The company, which was founded in 1918, recently went through a number of restructures and four CEOs have gone through the turnstile. A private equity firm heaped a whole lot of debt on Hertz, which didn’t help matters.

Hertz’s bankruptcy will have a big impact. It’s likely that there will be future layoffs, in addition to the 16,000 employees who have already lost their jobs or have been furloughed. It’s reasonable to believe that the hours of the remaining staff will be reduced and furloughed workers won’t be asked to return. 

Hertz bought and leased cars from General Motors and other carmakers. Now, it won’t be, which will hurt the automakers and all of their parts suppliers. Hertz will be forced to sell parts of its fleet of cars. This will put downward pressure on the used-car market. People who have considered selling their cars—to earn money because they may have lost their jobs—will not receive much for it, as there will now be an overabundance of used cars for sale.

An unlikely group has also lost out due to Hertz’s bankruptcy filing. Robinhood, the trading app, had about 45,000 day traders holding stock in the company—most of whom presumably lost money while betting on the chance of a resuscitation for the car rental company. Creditors to the company will also lose out under the Chapter 11 restructuring and be forced to accept less repayments. 

Former CEO Kathryn Marinello succinctly summed up Hertz’s sad state of affairs, “No business is built for zero revenue.” In a regulatory filing for the fiscal year of 2019, Marinello walked away with $9,138,362 in total compensation. According to Salary.com, “Of this total, $1,450,000 was received as a salary, $1,405,050 was received as a bonus, $567,663 was received in stock options, $5,635,758 was awarded as stock and $79,891 came from other types of compensation.”

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Files JCPenney

JCPenney Files For Bankruptcy, Other Stores Ending ‘Hero Pay’ | NBC Nightly News – NBC News











Published on 16-May-2020

The retailer has struggled with slowing sales for years with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating its problems. Starting tomorrow, Kroger will end the extra $2 an hour of “hero pay” for essential workers, with other major chains following suit by the end of the month. Kroger will instead offer a new bonus payment of up to $400 for full-time employees and $200 for part-time workers.» Subscribe to NBC News: http://nbcnews.to/SubscribeToNBC

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JCPenney Files For Bankruptcy, Other Stores Ending ‘Hero Pay’ | NBC Nightly News

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Files Illinois

Illinois AG files appeal in state Rep. Darren Bailey’s lawsuit over Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order – Chicago Tribune

The Illinois attorney general’s office filed an appellate court brief Wednesday seeking to overturn a southern Illinois judge’s ruling that temporarily exempts a Republican state representative from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide stay-at-home order.

State Rep. Darren Bailey request for a personal exemption from the order “besides being dangerous — is flawed as a matter of law,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office argues in the filing with Illinois 5th District Appellate Court.

State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, poses at his district office, April 29, 2src2src, in Louisville, Ill. Bailey challenged in court Gov. J.B. Pritzker's authority to extend the stay-at-home order.

State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, poses at his district office, April 29, 2020, in Louisville, Ill. Bailey challenged in court Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s authority to extend the stay-at-home order.(John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

The filing comes two days after a Clay County judge issued a temporary order freeing Bailey from Pritzker’s directive, which is aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

In his lawsuit, Bailey argues that Pritzker has exceeded his legal authority under the state Emergency Management Agency Act by extending the order beyond 30 days.

The AG’s office argued the lawsuit rests on an erroneous reading of the act and ignores the governor’s independent authority under the Illinois Constitution to take the actions Bailey challenged,” the filing says.

“It also contradicts the long-standing practice by numerous governors of issuing multiple and often successive emergency disaster proclamations that have allowed them to continue exercising emergency powers for the duration of the disaster.”

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Pritzker and his two immediate predecessors, Republican Bruce Rauner and Democrat Pat Quinn, issued disaster proclamations for flooding and extended them beyond 30 days, according to the filing. When Pritzker did so last May, “his efforts were celebrated by Bailey himself,” the filing states.

The judge’s order also “improperly disrupts the status quo and places undue weight on the personal harm to Bailey as compared with the immense public health crisis that will occur should Bailey and others cease compliance with the governor’s orders.”

The attorney general’s office also seeks to poke holes in Bailey’s argument that approval from the General Assembly is required to extend a disaster declaration beyond 30 days.

While the legislature gave itself “an express oversight role” in some aspects of emergency management through the Emergency Management Agency Act, the fact that the section that gives the governor the power declare disasters contains no such language “demonstrates that it intended to grant the governor the authority to issue disaster proclamations and use his emergency powers without the limitations suggested by Bailey,” according to the attorney general’s office.

The appeal comes the same day a second GOP lawmaker, Rep. John Cabello of Machesney Park, filed a separate lawsuit in Winnebago County challenging the stay-at-home order on similar grounds to Bailey’s lawsuit.

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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