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Conservative donor charged in Puerto Rico bribery scheme

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US authorities have charged a major Conservative Party donor, alleging he illegally provided campaign donations to a former Puerto Rico governor as part of a scheme to remove a top banking regulator from his post. .

Charges brought by the US Department of Justice against Julio Herrera Velutini, a Venezuelan banker who has moved to London in recent years, threaten to reignite controversy over Conservative party fundraising.

He has donated over half a million pounds to the party since Boris Johnson took office, including 100,000 days before the 2019 general election. The donations were made through Britannia Financial, the London-based Venezuelan financial group, which has not been accused of wrongdoing.

More recently, Britannia Financial sponsored the Platinum Jubilee competition, which marked the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne.

Herrera Velutini was charged Thursday with conspiracy, federal program bribery and honest services wire fraud, for his alleged role in campaign financing for former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vzquez Garced ahead of the election. for Governor of the U.S. Territories in 2020.

Vzquez Garced was arrested by the FBI on Thursday and charged with accepting bribes while in office. The indictment, filed Wednesday, alleges Herrera Velutini wanted Vzquez Garced to help quash an investigation into his Puerto Rico-based lender Bancredito, which is called the Bank in the filing.

Herrera Velutini and an adviser allegedly paid more than $300,000 to political consultants to support Vzquez Garceds’ campaign, according to the indictment. In return, she formally requested the resignation of the then-commissioner for the islands’ financial regulator to appoint a replacement who had been chosen by Herrera Velutini, the DoJ claimed.

OCIF, Puerto Rico’s financial regulator, had been investigating Bancredito since 2019 and last December imposed sanctions on the bank. Bancredito did not respond to a request for comment.

The former chief executive of Bancreditos and a political consultant who worked on the Vzquezs 2020 campaign each pleaded guilty to conspiring with Herrera Velutini and others to bribe Public Official A in March, according to the DOJ.

Representatives for Britannia Financial and Herrera Velutini did not provide recorded comment.

The charges against Herrera Velutini threaten to put further pressure on the Conservative party and its chairman Ben Elliot, whose strenuous fundraising efforts have sparked controversy.

During Elliot’s tenure, which began in July 2019, the Conservative party accepted controversial donations, including from the wife of Vladimir Putin’s former finance minister, who led opposition leader Keir Starmer to ask for his resignation.

Elliot, the well-connected nephew of Prince Charles’ wife Camilla, has also faced questions about the links between his businesses and his fundraising campaign.

Last year, the Financial Times reported that a number of clients of Hawthorn Advisors, a public relations firm co-founded by Elliot, including Herreras Britannia Financial Group, have made substantial donations to the Conservative Party since Elliot took over. responsibility for fundraising.

Herreras’ executive assistant at Britannia previously worked for Elliot, according to her LinkedIn profile, which has since been redacted. Elliot resigned as manager of Hawthorn in April 2020. Hawthorn declined to comment.

If convicted on all counts, Vzquez Garced, Herrera Velutini and his consultant each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to US authorities.

A lawyer for Vzquez Garced said she is absolutely and completely innocent of all charges against her and plans to defend her case at trial.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said: Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently reported to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them and are in full compliance with the law.

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