Arron Banks under investigation for “criminal offences”
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
The self-anointed 'bad boy of Brexit' Arron Banks is being investigated for 'suspected criminal offences committed during the EU referendum'.
The Electoral Commision's director of poltical finance said the commission has 'reasonable grounds' to suspect money donated to Better for the Country came from 'impermissible sources'.
However, Banks blamed 'intense political pressure' from anti-Brexit supporters for the National Crime Agency's (NCA) decision to launch an criminal investigation.
He claimed the investigation would end what he says are 'ludicrous' allegations of wrongdoing during the referendum campaign.
In a statement, the Commission said: 'Following its investigation into funding for the 2016 EU referendum, the Electoral Commission has referred: Better for the Country, the organisation that ran the Leave.EU referendum campaign; Arron Banks; Leave.EU; Elizabeth Bilney; and other associated companies and individuals. The National Crime Agency has now launched a criminal investigation.
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'The investigation focused on £2m reported to have been loaned to Better for the Country by Arron Banks and his group of insurance companies and a further £6m reported to have been given to the organisation, on behalf of Leave.EU, by Arron Banks alone.
'£2.9m of this money was used to fund referendum spending on behalf of Leave.EU and donations to other campaign groups during the EU referendum.
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'Following its investigation, the Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that:
• Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8m loans made to Better for the Country.
• Loans to Better for the Country, on behalf of Leave.EU, involved a non-qualifying or impermissible company - Rock Holdings Limited, which is incorporated in the Isle of Man.
• Arron Banks, Elizabeth Bilney and others involved in Better for the Country, Leave.EU and associated companies concealed the true details of these financial transactions.
• A number of criminal offences may have been committed.
'Due to multiple suspected offences, some of which fall outside the Commission's remit, the Commission has referred this matter and handed its evidence to the NCA.'
Bob Posner, the Commission's director of political finance, added: 'We have reasonable grounds to suspect money given to Better for the Country came from impermissible sources and that Mr Banks and Ms Bilney, the responsible person for Leave.EU, knowingly concealed the true circumstances under which this money was provided.
'This is significant because at least £2.9 million of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum.'
In a statement, Aaron Banks said: 'I am pleased that the Electoral Commission has referred me to the National Crime Agency.
'I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues.
'There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations. The Electoral Commission has produced no evidence to the contrary.
'The Electoral Commission has referred me to the National Crime Agency under intense political pressure from anti-Brexit supporters.
'I am already in court with the Electoral Commission. In witness statements the Commission has admitted it got its figures wrong in relation to a previous investigation and it even submitted its final report without taking evidence from us.
'Isn't it funny that none of the financial contributions made by George Soros to British political campaigns are ever subject to any level of scrutiny by the Electoral Commission despite his being a foreign national.'
Bilney also accused the Commission of having a 'biased approach' in its investigations and said she was confident she would be 'exonerated'.
She told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: 'I hope that the matter will be shortly concluded to demonstrate that no crimes have been committed.'
'They are looking at it how they want to through their own biased lens,' she added.
The Electoral Commission's review of referendum finances focused on £2 million reported to have been loaned to Better for the Country by Mr Banks and his insurance companies and a £6 million donation he made alone.
The NCA said its investigation relates to suspected electoral law offences.
A spokesman added: 'While electoral law offences would not routinely fall within the NCA's remit, the nature of the necessary inquiries and the potential for offences to have been committed other than under electoral law lead us to consider an NCA investigation appropriate in this instance.'
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