Vote Leave whistleblower Shahmir Sanni calls for criminal investigation in electoral spending allegations

Vote Leave fined and referred to police over Brexit campaign spending, Electoral Commission announces

Official Brexit organisation – fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – breached electoral law by co-ordinating illegally with another group

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Tuesday 17 July 2018 08:17
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The Vote Leave campaign has been fined and referred to the police after being found guilty of busting spending limits for the Brexit referendum.

The official Brexit organisation – fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – breached electoral law by co-ordinating illegally with another group, the Electoral Commission concluded.

The watchdog has referred David Halsall, the “responsible person” for Vote Leave, to the Metropolitan Police for making false declarations of campaign spending.

Darren Grimes, the head of a separate youth Brexit group called BeLeave – which received a £675,000 donation from Vote leave – has also been referred to the police.

If the gift had been recorded as part of Vote Leave’s referendum expenditure, it would have taken the campaign’s spending over the £7m limit, the Commission said.

Crucially, the cash was used to pay data firm Aggregate IQ and – a whistleblower claimed - potentially enabled it to precisely target enough voters on social media to have swayed the Brexit result.

David Lammy, a Labour MP and supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, said: “This news makes the narrow referendum result looks dodgier than ever. It's validity is now in question.”

Bob Posner, the Commission's director of political finance and regulation, accused Vote Leave of trying to obstruct its investigation – which had uncovered “clear and substantial” evidence.

“Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation.

“It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence.”

The watchdog fined Vote Leave £61,000 after finding it also failed to correctly report spending of nearly £234,501 and for missing invoices of £12,849.99.

Mr Grimes, who “wrongly reported” the £675,000 donation “as his own” was fined £20,000 for committing two offences.

Mr Posner added: “We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits.

“These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.

The watchdog fined Vote Leave £61,000 after finding it also failed to correctly report spending of nearly £234,501 and for missing invoices of £12,849.99.

Mr Grimes, who “wrongly reported” the £675,000 donation “as his own” was fined £20,000 for committing two offences.

Mr Posner added: “We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits.

“These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.”

Earlier this year, whistleblower Christopher Wylie told an inquiry by MPs that BeLeave was effectively a money laundering vehicle to breach the £7m campaign spending limit

Mr Wylie said Aggregate IQ had a conversion rate of between 5 per cent and 7 per cent – and targeted five to seven million people for the referendum.

“I think it is completely reasonable to say there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” he told MPs.

Shahmir Sanni, a former Vote Leave volunteer, alleged that the organisation had offered advice and assistance to BeLeave and helped them to decide where their cash would be spent.

Earlier this month, Mr Gove refused to comment when the commission’s draft conclusions were leaked by Vote Leave, insisting he had not read its report.

The campaign group’s chief executive, Matthew Elliott, had attacked the Commission for listening to “fantasists” and branded its upcoming report a “huge breach of natural justice”.

The Commission fined a separate campaign group - Veterans for Britain - £250 for inaccurately reporting a donation from Vote Leave.

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