US officials have accused a key donor to the Tory party of illegally providing campaign donations to a former Puerto Rico governor in a plan to remove a senior banking regulator from his post.
The charges leveled by the US Justice Department against Julio Herrera Velutini, a Venezuelan banker who moved to London in recent years, threaten to rekindle controversy over Tory party fundraising.
He has donated more than half a million pounds to the party since Boris Johnson took office, including £100,000 ahead of the 2019 general election. The donation was made through Britannia Financial, the London-based financial services group of a Venezuelan financier that has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Recently, Britannia Financial sponsored the Platinum Jubilee pageant, which marked the 70-year anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne.
Herrera Velutini was charged on Thursday with conspiracy, federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud for her alleged role in providing campaign funds to former Puerto Rico governor Wanda Vazquez Garcád ahead of the US territory’s 2020 gubernatorial election.
Vázquez Garced was arrested by the FBI on Thursday and charged with taking bribes while in office. The indictment, filed Wednesday, alleges that Herrera Velutini wanted Vazquez Garcide to help quash the investigation of his Puerto Rico-based lender Bancredito, which he called a “bank” in the filing.
According to the indictment, Herrera Velutini and an adviser allegedly paid more than $300,000 to political advisers in support of Vazquez Garsed’s campaign. In return, it officially requested the resignation of the then commissioner for the island’s financial regulator in order to appoint a replacement who had been chosen by Herrera Velutini, the DOJ alleged.
OCIF, Puerto Rico’s financial regulator, had been investigating Bancredito since 2019 and fined the bank last December. Bancredito did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the DOJ, Bancredito’s former CEO and a political adviser who worked on the Vazquez 2020 campaign each pleaded guilty in March to “conspiracy to bribe public official A along with Herrera Velutini and others”.
Representatives for Britannia Financial and Herrera Velutini did not provide any on-record comment.
The allegations against Herrera Velutini threaten to put further pressure on the Conservative Party and its president, Ben Elliott, whose vigorous fundraising efforts have attracted controversy.
During Elliott’s tenure, which began in July 2019, the Tory party accepted controversial donations – including from the wife of Vladimir Putin’s former finance minister – which led to opposition leader Keir Starmer calling for her resignation.
Elliot – the well-connected nephew of Prince Charles’ wife Camilla – has also faced questions over the relationship between his businesses and his campaign’s fundraising.
The Financial Times reported last year that several clients of Hawthorne Advisors, a PR firm co-founded by Elliott – including Herrera’s Britannia Financial Group – made substantial donations to the Conservative Party as Elliott took over fundraising. Was.
Herrera’s executive assistant at Britannia previously worked for Elliot, according to her LinkedIn profile that has since been redacted. Elliott stepped down as director of Hawthorne in April 2020. Hawthorne declined to comment.
Vazquez Garsed, Herrera Velutini and their adviser face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges, according to US officials.
A lawyer for Vazquez Garcid said she was “completely and utterly innocent of all the charges against her” and planned to defend her case at trial.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Election Commission, published openly by them and fully compliant with the law.”