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A leading member of Britain's Conservative Party was left fighting
A leading member of Britain's Conservative Party was left fighting for his political life after a new witness emerged backing up claims that he sought an illegal donation from Russia's richest man.

On Tuesday, The Times published a letter from a former close friend of shadow chancellor George Osborne, saying they and the party's chief fundraiser Andrew Feldman had been guests on Oleg Deripaska's yacht in Corfu in August, and had solicited the billionaire for a 50,000-pound ($83,000) donation.

The party denied British financier Nathaniel Rothschild's allegation. Donations to political parties from foreign nationals are banned under British law.

On Tuesday evening Rothschild reinforced his claim with new allegations, and produced a witness, James Goodwin, a former special adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Rothschild said Goodwin was present at his Corfu villa when the Conservative Party members discussed securing a donation from Deripaska via one of his U.K.-based companies, Leyland Daf. The Conservatives then continued the conversation on Deripaska's yacht.

While admitting to being a guest on Deripaska's yacht and discussing a party donation, Osborne has said the suggestion was put forward by Rothschild, and promptly rejected.

However, The Times quoted sources close to the Russian oligarch backing up Rothschild's version of events.

The Russian aluminum magnate has not commented on the story, but The Times' sources flatly denied that Deripaska had initiated discussions on a donation.

The allegation follows a controversy that emerged last week over Business Secretary Peter Mandelson's links with Deripaska.

The British Cabinet minister was also a guest on Deripaska's yacht during the summer, and had met him for dinner in Moscow several times during his time as European Union trade commissioner.

The Conservatives had demanded that Mandelson provide full details of his links to the oligarch, to avoid "the perception of any possible conflict of interest," while the Liberal Democrats suggested he had been using his connections as trade commissioner to secure lucrative personal connections.

The allegations from Rothschild, who is also a close acquaintance of Mandelson, came as a surprise given his past involvement in Tory fundraising.

The Times cited sources close to Rothschild as saying he had gone public with the story as he felt Osborne "had been guilty of bad manners by allegedly encouraging media reports that embarrassed two of his friends, Mr. Deripaska and Lord Mandelson."

Deripaska, 40, is the owner of the industrial holding Basic Element (BasEl). The Kremlin-friendly oligarch was ranked by Forbes magazine as the world's ninth richest person in May, with a fortune of $28 billion.

However, reports in financial media have said that Deripaska may have lost a large share of his wealth with the plummeting Russia stock market, which has lost around two-thirds of its value since peaking in May.


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