Brexiter Arron Banks to be Investigated
Once the Trump campaign’s threats to “crooked” Hillary to “Lock her up” might have meant something, but since the terms of the game changed and roles reversed, “Lock her Up” sounds ironic. Some of Trump’s campaign officials are now being charged in Russia probe and others, related in various ways to the Trump campaign, are starting to worry. So far, all looks very American. But in comes Arron Banks, the British businessman, millionaire and founder of the Leave.EU.
Arron Banks: “Gosh I’m terrified”
The British millionaire spent £3.5m of his £200m fortune to support the Brexit campaign but now the Electoral Commission will investigate donations of £2.3m to see whether these funds were really loans made in his name or such donations to Brexit campaigners were given by other players, possibly in the US or Russia. He has bragged about his connections with Russian officials and his meetings with the Russian ambassador, but he denied that funding ever came from Russian sources. In response to the investigation today, Banks tweeted: “Gosh I’m terrified.”
However, Bob Posner, the director of political finance and regulation and the legal counsel at the Electoral Commission said that the donations were questionable and that “questions over the legitimacy of funding provided to campaigners at the referendum risks causing harm to voters’ confidence. It is therefore in the public interest that the Electoral Commission seeks to ascertain whether or not impermissible donations were given to referendum campaigners and if any other related offences have taken place.”
The Electoral Commission will investigate whether Banks and one of his companies, Better for the Country, were the true source of the donations to Brexit campaigners or whether others were involved. We all know that Nigel Farage led the Leave.EU campaign which is investigated by the Electoral Commission too, over the EU referendum spending. The assessment of the watchdog stated that “there were reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences under the law may have occurred." The watchdog is also investigating the spending returns of VoteLeave and the official Remain campaign Stronger In. But it is early yet to say whether any offences have been committed by these two.
Banks’ donations to Leave.EU are considered to be the biggest amount of money ever donated in British political history. The questions to be answered would revolve around the possible facilitation of the transaction by a “non-qualifying person,” and whether appropriate measures were taken to identify the source of the funds.
While Banks was registered as a “permitted participant” in the EU referendum, Better for the Country was not registered. However, it donated to Brexit campaigner groups such as Ukip, Grassroots Out Ltd and Trade Unionists Against the EU.
Farage and Russia
But what is worrying, is that there were already signs connecting the Leave.EU campaign to Trump and Russia. Farage visited Trump and Julian Assange, is friends with Breitbart’s Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, and he was the leader of the Leave.EU campaign. He was considered as a “person of interest” in the FBI’s criminal investigation into the Trump-Russia collusion and now with today’s Electoral Commission investigation, the alleged connections between Brexit campaigners and Russia come back to the forefront. Andy Wigmore, Arron Banks and Nigel Farage’s right-hand man, has already been questioned by Robert Mueller, who is the Special Counsel in the Russia probe.
As the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr wondered, “Who headed an organisation – Ukip – which has multiple, public, visible but almost entirely unreported Russian connections. Who is paid by the Russian state via the broadcaster RT, advertising from which was banned last week from Twitter. And who appears like clockwork on British television without any word of this. This is a power network that involves WikiLeaks and Farage, and Cambridge Analytica and Farage, and Robert Mercer and Farage. Steve Bannon, former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, and Farage. It’s Nigel Farage and Brexit and Trump and Cambridge Analytica and WikiLeaks… and, if the Senate intelligence committee and the House intelligence committee and the FBI are on to anything at all, somewhere in the middle of all that, Russia.”
The investigation seeks to uncover whether Arron Banks donations are dark money, whose source can be traced overseas, increasing the possibility and concern of “foreign and particularly Russian interference in western democracies.”