Arron Banks referred to UK crime agency over Brexit campaign funding
Electoral Commission refers Leave campaigner after investigation into referendum funding
Arron Banks: denied any wrongdoing in connection to the 2016 Brexit referendum. Photograph: Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has launched an investigation into whether claims that Aaron Banks, who bankrolled one of the Brexit campaigns, committed criminal offences by hiding the source of funds.
The Electoral Commission said on Thursday that it had asked the NCA to investigate whether Mr Banks was the true source of £8 million (about €9 million) in funding for campaigns during the 2016 referendum campaign.
The investigation will look into whether Mr Banks and his longtime business associate Elizabeth Bilney sought to conceal the source of a loan and other funds given to Better for the Country (BFTC), a company that was used to finance Leave.EU.
The Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation, Bob Posner, said there were reasonable grounds to suspect money given to Better for the Country came from impermissible sources and that Mr Banks and Ms Bilney, the responsible person for Leave.EU, knowingly concealed the true circumstances under which this money was provided.
“This is significant because at least £2.9 million of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum,” he said.
“Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offences have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the commission. This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law enforcement action. This is now a criminal investigation.”
Mr Banks said he was pleased that the commission had referred his case to the NCA for investigation and insisted that he had done nothing wrong.
“I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations. The Electoral Commission has produced no evidence to the contrary. The Electoral Commission has referred me to the National Crime Agency under intense political pressure from anti-Brexit supporters,” he said.
Opponents of Brexit have long pointed to Mr Banks’s business links to Russia but he has consistently denied that there was any Russian funding for the Leave campaign. Prime minister Theresa May’s official spokeswoman said on Thursday there was no evidence of successful interference in British democratic processes.
“We of course remain vigilant and we will continue to work to strengthen our democracy against potential interference,” the spokeswoman said.
Former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble on Thursday claimed that Ireland’s approach to Brexit was undermining the Belfast Agreement. Accusing the Government of “riding roughshod” over the agreement, he said in a foreword to a think tank report that its achievements were being put at risk.
“There is a genuine risk that Northern Ireland will end up as part of an effective EU protectorate, without the say-so of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This would be an appalling breach of the principle of consent, which runs through the agreement,” he said.