Britain’s serious crime agency launched an investigation on Thursday (1 November) into Brexit backer Arron Banks, over the true source of million of pounds in loans he gave to Leave.EU, one of the main campaign groups in the Brexit referendum.
Announcing the inquiry, the National Crime Agency (NCA) – which usually focuses on tackling serious and organised crime – said its involvement was due to offences other than breaking electoral law.
The UK’s Electoral Commission said it had found serious offences in the funding of the Leave.EU campaign during the Brexit referendum in June 2016, including loans from impermissible donors and the concealment of financial transactions from companies based in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.
The Commission said it suspected criminal offences had been committed and that Banks was not the true source of £8 million pounds (€9 million) in loans to the Brexit campaign groups.
In response, Banks, who published a book ‘The bad boys of Brexit’ chronicling his exploits, said he welcomed the inquiry, and was “confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues”.
He also claimed the Electoral Commission had acted “under intense political pressure from anti-Brexit supporters”.
The announcement of the probe prompted a number of ‘Remain’ supporters to call for the Brexit process to be put on hold pending the inquiry. Britain is due to leave on March 29, 2019.
The Electoral Commission investigation focused on £2m reported to have been loaned to Better for the Country, which ran Leave.EU, by Mr Banks and his group of insurance companies.
It also examined a further £6m reported to have been given to the organisation, on behalf of Leave.EU, by Mr Banks alone.
“We have 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,” said the Electoral Commission’s legal adviser Bob Posner.
“This is significant because at least £2.9m of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum,” he added.
Specifically, the Electoral Commission said some loans made to Leave.EU and Better for the Country Limited (BFTCL) in 2015 and 2016 by the Isle of Man-incorporated Rock Holdings Limited were impermissible.
It said Banks, Elizabeth Bilney and others in the campaign concealed the true details of financial transactions. Banks and Bilney deny any wrong-doing.
“Rock Holdings is a company I own and control and I’m a U.K. taxpayer, no Russian or foreign money has ever come into it,” Banks told Reuters.
Leave.EU failed to be designated as the official ‘Leave’ campaign group at the referendum but operated as a separate, and well-staffed and resourced, campaign unit. Before the referendum, Banks provided an estimated £9.6 million to finance Leave.EU, a campaign led by then UKIP leader Nigel Farage and donated £1 million to UKIP in 2014.
Banks has repeatedly dismissed questions about the sources of his own wealth, particularly his companies’ mining activities in several southern African countries. He also made a fortune from a successful insurance business and has been a donor to the Conservative Party.