Sat, Nov 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Probe opens into Brexit campaign funding

OVERSEAS ORIGINS:The British Electoral Commission said it suspects that Arron Banks was not the true source of funding for pro-Brexit group Better for the Country

AP, LONDON

The British National Crime Agency (NCA) is investigating a main financial backer of the campaign to get Britain out of the EU over suspected illegal funding during its membership referendum, authorities said on Thursday.

The British Electoral Commission said wealthy British businessman Arron Banks, his group Leave.EU “and other associated companies and individuals” are under criminal investigation.

The inquiry concerns £8 million (US$10.4 million) reportedly loaned by Banks and his companies to a pro-Brexit group, Better for the Country.

The commission said it suspects Banks “was not the true source” of the money and concealed its real origins.

“The financial transactions we have investigated include companies incorporated in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man,” said Bob Posner, the electoral watchdog’s director of political finance.

“Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offenses have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the commission,” he said.

“This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law-enforcement action,” Posner said.

The agency confirmed the investigation, but said it could not discuss “any operational detail.”

British political parties and political groups are barred from taking money from overseas-based individuals or businesses during electoral campaigns.

Banks, a multimillionaire insurance executive, said he was confident that a “full and frank investigation” would clear him.

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

Ever since Britain voted by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent in 2016 to leave the 28-nation EU, opponents of Brexit have raised questions about the source of funding for the “Leave” campaign, possible Russian influence on the vote as well as the role of social-media advertising using data harvested from millions of Facebook users by the firm Cambridge Analytica.

A British parliamentary committee is investigating Banks’ role in the referendum and his meetings with Russian officials as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into disinformation and “fake news.”

Earlier this year, the committee criticized Banks for seeming to “want to hide the extent of his contacts with Russia.”

“I’d like to think I’m an evil genius with a white cat that kind of controls the whole of Western democracy, but clearly that’s nonsense,” Banks told a British parliamentary committee in June.

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