Brexit donor Arron Banks 'met with Russian officials in months leading up to EU referendum'

Leave.EU founder responds to revelations in leaked emails by saying: 'Bite me. It’s a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump'

Sunday 10 June 2018 08:37 BST
Leave.EU funder Arron Banks: 'They say we overspent by £7,000 which we dispute'

Arron Banks, a major funder of the Brexit campaign, met with the Russian Ambassador to the UK three times in the run up to the EU referendum, it has emerged.

The millionaire co-founder of Leave.EU also made repeated contact with Russian officials and flew out to Moscow to discuss business opportunities, according to reports.

Mr Banks has previously said his “sole involvement with the Russians was a boozy six-hour lunch with the ambassador”, Alexander Yakovenko, in September 2015.

Leaked emails now suggest there were further links between the Leave.EU campaign and Russian officials, according to The Observer and The Sunday Times.

Mr Banks and Andy Wigmore, the director of communications for Leave.EU, are said to have had a further lunch with the Russian ambassador in November 2015 – three days after they visited US president Donald Trump in New York with Nigel Farage.

The ambassador introduced them to a Russian businessman who reportedly offered Mr Banks an opportunity to buy Russian goldmines and make a potential profit of several billion dollars, it is claimed.

Mr Banks then visited Moscow in February 2016 to meet investors in the gold project.

It is not clear if he put money into the deal, which was announced 12 days after the referendum, but he later tweeted he was “buying gold at the moment”.

There was further contact in the run-up to the US election, during which Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore campaigned in support of Donald Trump.

On Friday the pair announced they were pulling out of a grilling by MPs after claiming they were being targeted in a “co-ordinated witch hunt” of Leave groups.

Mr Banks later said they would appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s fake news inquiry on Tuesday as planned.

Damian Collins MP, who chairs the committee, said: “We will look forward to reading any more news on this and to discussing with [Arron Banks] and Andy Wigmore on Tuesday.”

Mr Banks admitted that he handed over telephone numbers for members of Mr Trump’s transition team to Russian officials, according to The Sunday Times.

However he denied that Russian officials sought to influence his Leave.EU referendum campaign.

“I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him,” Mr Banks said. ”Bite me. It’s a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump. Make your own mind up.”

The paper said the 40,000 emails were obtained by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, Mr Banks’s ghostwriter on The Bad Boys of Brexit.

Mr Banks used Twitter to accuse Observer writer Carole Cadwalladr of obtaining “emails stolen from Isabel Oakshott’s computer”. Ms Cadwalladr rejected the allegation.

In a statement, the Russian embassy said: “The Russian Embassy has not in any way intervened in domestic UK political process, including the Brexit referendum. Meeting stakeholders representing all political spectrum of the host country is a natural element of the work of any embassy.”

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