Leave.Eu backer faces criminal probe into donations

#Brexit special section In the media

The man who bankrolled a group campaigning for Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum is to be investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Insurance tycoon Arron Banks, who pumped £9m into his Leave.EU campaign prior to the vote, was referred to the NCA along by the Electoral Commission.

He and another Leave.Eu campaigner, Liz Bilney, were referred over allegations that “impermissible sources” were used to source funds for the organisation.

Banks has denied that he broke the law and said in a statement that he welcomed the investigation as a chance to clear his name.

He branded allegations that he had used foreign money to fund Leave.Eu as “ludicrous” and was confident that he would be exonerated.

Banks added: “There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and have never received any foreign donations.”

He accused the Electoral Commission of acting under political pressure from anti-Brexit supporters and said it had failed to produce any evidence that he had broken the law.

The original probe by The Electoral Commission concentrated on an alleged £2m loan from Mr Banks and his insurance companies to ‘Better for the Country’, which ran Leave.EU.

Another £6m was alleged to have been given to the organisation on behalf of Leave.EU by Mr Banks personally.

Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s legal counsel, said: there were reasonable grounds to suspect money given to Better for the Country came from impermissible sources.

There were also grounds to suspect that Mr Banks and Ms Bilney “knowingly concealed the true circumstances under which this money was provided,” he added.

Mr Posner said: “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.

“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.”

Transactions investigated included companies incorporated in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, which were beyond the reach of the Commission, he added.

Leave.EU was separate to the Vote Leave organisation, which was the official campaign group pushing for Brexit in the referendum.

The June 2016 referendum ended with a narrow vote to leave the EU and the UK is due to depart on March 29 next year.

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