A Tory donor who has been described as a friend of Vladimir Putin, and who donated £400,000 to the party before the Brexit referendum, is facing charges of forgery in Luxembourg.
Gérard Lopez, 50, who chaired the Lotus Formula One team in the UK, donated to the Tories in April 2016, two months before the referendum. He has denied the charges.
It has been reported in D’Lëtzebuerger Land, a Luxembourg weekly political journal, that investigators have examined transfers of hundreds of thousands of pounds between the former operations of Lotus in the UK, a Luxembourg football club and a Hong Kong-based investment company. The judicial department in Luxembourg would not comment on the scope of the investigation.
A spokesperson said: “Luxembourg public prosecutor’s office has asked the Luxembourg district court sitting in chambers to refer Mr Lopez to a criminal court. The offences in question are forgery and use of forgeries.” The spokesperson said Lopez and Eric Lux, a business partner, had both been charged.
A spokesperson for Lopez said: “[Mr Lopez] categorically denies the allegations against him. He is confident that the [court in chambers], which has yet to hear his position, will clear his name. The [court] is yet to rule on whether to hold a trial or dismiss these proceedings.”
Lux also denies the allegations and his spokesman said any suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to Lotus F1 is “totally refuted”.
The spokesperson said Lopez had donated to the Conservatives to support Zac Goldsmith as the Tory candidate in the London mayoral election, in May 2016. They said he was not committed to any one political party.
Lopez was an early investor in Skype and has been an influential figure in European sports, from Formula One to French football. He was a co-founder, with Lux, of the private equity firm Genii Capital, which agreed a deal in late 2009 to buy the British-based Renault Formula One team, which was later rebranded Lotus F1.
Lopez’s donation to the Tory party faced scrutiny at the time over his links to Russia. He is a Spanish citizen but was allowed to donate to the party because he was on the electoral roll. The entrepreneur is among a number of foreign donors who have been permitted under electoral law to donate to the Conservative party.The Observer revealed last month how the supermarket rice magnate Karan Chanana donated to the party through a foreign-owned company with millions of pounds of debt.
The Electoral Commission says it would like tighter controls on foreign money being used to fund political parties.
Lopez has served as chairman of Rise Capital AB, which agreed a string of deals in Russia infrastructure projects worth billions of pounds. It was reported in 2016 that Rise Capital listed as partners three Russian banks that had sanctions imposed after the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
In June 2015, Lopez signed a major infrastructure deal in Russia on behalf of Rise. The signing ceremony at the St Petersburg economic forum was attended by Igor Kholmanskikh, the former head of a tank factory who was appointed by Putin as presidential envoy to the Urals.
During Lopez’s involvement in Formula One, he was pictured with Putin, who test-drove a Renault racing car on a racetrack near St Petersburg in November 2010. Lopez is said to have become friends with the Russian president. The book Putin’s People, by Catherine Belton, includes a report of how Lopez spent time with Putin at his summer residence several years ago, “feeding apples to his pets and listening to piano music”.
Lopez’s spokesperson said the businessman had been a guest at “accommodation close to the racetrack” with other members of the Formula One team. The spokesperson said Rise Capital had no active investments in Russia. Lopez sold most of his stake in Lotus F1 in 2015. He was confirmed as the new owner of French football club Girondins de Bordeaux in July last year. He previously owned the top-flight French club Lille.
The Luxembourg judicial spokesman said the district court will now decide whether or not to refer the matter to a criminal court. The spokesperson said the decision can also be appealed against. Lux did not respond to a request for comment.