It is illegal for political parties to accept donations of more than 500 pounds from foreign citizens who are not registered to vote in Britain. Mr. Kopytov is not listed on the national voter register, records show. It is not clear why the Barclays alert arrived three years after the donation, or whether the authorities had investigated it.
It is no secret that wealthy Russian industrialists have given heavily to the Conservative Party over the years. Mr. Johnson once played a game of tennis with the wife of a Russian former minister in exchange for a $270,000 donation. But those donors were British citizens, while documents filed in Mr. Sheleg’s case say the money came from a foreign source.
For decades, Russian wealth has poured into the London economy, enriching the lawyers, accountants and real estate brokers who ironed out the details. British leaders looked the other way, even as the Kremlin sowed disinformation, meddled in elections and tried to co-opt politicians.
Now, as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia lays siege to Ukraine, Mr. Johnson and his government are vowing to change course and get tough on Russian money. The donation, and Mr. Sheleg’s subsequent ascent in the party, shows just how difficult that will be.
Banks in Britain are required to alert law enforcement officials to suspected criminal behavior. They do so through the National Crime Agency, which receives more than half a million suspicious-activity reports each year. Most come from financial institutions, but law firms, real estate agents and casinos also contribute.
Alerts can include reports about suspected terrorist financing, romance scams or benefit fraud. Former officials say they receive so many alerts that some never get read — a fact that will be an obstacle to the government’s crackdown on Russian oligarch money.
There is no indication that the Conservative Party or Mr. Johnson knew about the source of the donation as outlined in the alert. But under English law, political parties are responsible for ensuring that their donations come from legal sources.
Lawyers for Mr. Sheleg said that the party made no requests for additional information or documentation when he made the donation.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party said that it accepts money only from permissible donors and that all donations “comply fully with the law.” He would not say whether the party ever investigated the donation or whether it planned to keep the money.
Mr. Kopytov, whom the alert identified as the ultimate source of the donation, is the father of Mr. Sheleg’s wife, Liliia Sheleg. He served in Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin government of Crimea until Russia annexed the area in 2014. Since then, he has largely disappeared from public view.
Corporate filings show that he owns two hotels in Crimea. The source and extent of Mr. Kopytov’s wealth at the time of the donation, however, is unclear. Company filings from that period show business connections only to nonprofit organizations, small or inactive businesses, with his most valuable shares worth less than $300.
Mr. Kopytov, in a statement provided by Mr. Sheleg’s lawyer, said he was a Ukrainian citizen and had not donated to any British political party.
“I have no interest in British politics whatsoever,” he said. “Any donations made by my son-in-law to a British political party have nothing to do with me or with the money I gifted to my daughter.”
The alert said that $2.5 million was transferred from Mr. Kopytov’s bank account in Russia in January 2018. That money pinged across Europe between empty bank accounts belonging to Mr. Sheleg and his wife.
Next, the money landed in an offshore account linked to Mr. Sheleg’s family trust.
Five weeks later, it bounced back into the couple’s joint account in Britain, the records say. The next day, $630,225 was wired to the Conservative Party’s bank account. The transactions were made in dollars, the records show. The party recorded it as a £450,000 donation.
“Kopytov can be stated with considerable certainty to have been the true source of the donation,” the alert reads.
Mr. Sheleg’s lawyer said that is not the case. He said the $2.5 million was a gift, derived from a property sale, which was transferred to the family trust to repay a loan. Mr. Sheleg then borrowed money from that trust to donate to the Conservative Party, he said.
Bank investigators were suspicious, however, because all of the Shelegs’ personal bank accounts used in the transactions had a balance of zero before the money from Mr. Kopytov arrived, the report said. All returned to zero when the money left. This “would make it very difficult to argue that the donation was somehow from Ehud or Liilia Sheleg’s personal wealth,” the alert said, misspelling Ms. Sheleg’s first name.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
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Finland and NATO. Finland’s leaders announced their support for the nation to join the alliance, while Sweden is expected to do the same within days. The Kremlin said that Finland’s possible accession was “definitely” a threat and that it would “take necessary measures” to protect itself.
American aid. The House voted 368 to 57 in favor of a $39.8 billion aid package for Ukraine, which would bring the total U.S. financial commitment to roughly $53 billion over two months. The Senate still needs to vote on the proposal.
Russian oil embargo. European Union ambassadors again failed to reach an agreement to ban Russian oil, because Hungary has resisted the adoption of the embargo. The country is preventing the bloc from presenting a united front against Moscow.
Asked about the zero balances, Mr. Sheleg’s lawyer said account balances fluctuate. What is important, he said, was that Mr. Sheleg did not depend on the money from his father-in-law in order to make the donation.
Rapid transfers in and out of multiple bank accounts, particularly between different countries and offshore jurisdictions, are sometimes signs of what anti-money-laundering officials call “layering.” The process is intended to hide the source of the funds, and officials have urged banks to be on the lookout for such transfers, which may help explain why the donation was flagged.
Suspicious-activity reports are confidential by law. A spokeswoman for Barclays and a spokesman for the National Crime Agency refused to discuss the matter. The crime agency often refers these reports to other agencies to investigate. A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission, the lead agency for investigating campaign finance, said it was unaware of any allegations against Mr. Sheleg.
Mr. Sheleg made several more donations in the following months, including one of £750,000, making him the party’s largest donor that year. The documents reviewed by The Times say nothing about those subsequent donations.
Warnings about Mr. Sheleg’s financial background and connections to Russia surfaced soon after the donation and did nothing to slow Mr. Sheleg’s political ascent — or to stop the party from accepting millions more from him.
Months after the donation, the British political and investigative magazine Private Eye reported that Mr. Sheleg had hosted Russia’s ambassador in London at the height of the fallout from the annexation of Crimea. Around that time, Mr. Sheleg became partners with a businessman in Cyprus accused of connections to organized Russian crime groups, the magazine reported. Photos showed Mr. Sheleg and his business partner meeting the president of the Russian republic of Tatarstan.
Lawyers for Mr. Sheleg said he had met the businessman accused of connections to Russian organized crime groups only “three or four” times and was not his partner. Mr. Sheleg met with the president of Tatarstan for “business purposes” only, the lawyers said.
By the time those revelations had been published, Mr. Sheleg was no longer just a donor. In fall 2018, he became a treasurer of the Conservative Party, a position responsible for fund-raising and ensuring that the party follows campaign-finance rules.