Labour MP wants police probe into Russian Brexit links after Leave.EU boss revelations
A prominent Labour MP last night called for a police probe into Russian links to Brexit after it emerged the boss of the Leave.EU campaign held previously undisclosed meetings with Moscow top brass.
Millionaire insurance tycoon Arron Banks had repeated contact with Russian officials - including ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko - during the referendum campaign and afterwards.
It also emerged that he gave the Russian embassy a phone number for a member of the new US presidential team just weeks after he met Donald Trump in the wake of his White House victory.
The revelations came amid fears Russia tried to influence the outcome of the EU referendum, after evidence emerged of interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
They suggest Moscow tried to target Mr Banks - who headed the controversial campaign which was denied the chance to lead the Brexit charge - and win his sympathy.
MP Stephen Kinnock, who sits on the European Scrutiny Committee, said Scotland Yard should launch a criminal investigation “based on an in-depth forensic look into the Kremlin connection”.
He told the Guardian: “When foreign powers are aggressively targeting the values, systems and institutions upon which our democracy is built, then it’s absolutely essential that we have regulatory, security and intelligence-based organisations who are ready, willing and able to intervene.
“This is about whether we are able to uphold and defend our political culture, because we can no longer take it for granted that it can simply look after itself.”
His Labour colleague and Home Affairs Committee member Stephen Doughty said MPs would want to probe the latest findings.
But he added: “Some of the allegations are particularly serious and will no doubt need to be investigated by other authorities as well”.
Mr Banks said calls for a police investigation were “political mischief-making”, telling the paper: “What are the police going to investigate? Lunch?”
He added: “I am not involved in Russian espionage. I saw the ambassador once, I saw him twice, so what? I don’t care.
“At the first lunch, we had a discussion about how unlikely he thought Brexit was.”
Mr Banks - who pumped millions into Ukip and the Brexit effort and was reprimanded by electoral watchdogs for busting spending caps - claimed in his ghostwritten book The Bad Boys of Brexit that he met Mr Yakovenko just once.
But leaked emails reportedly show he and his press chief Andy Wigmore met the ambassador on two other occasions, including just three days after he and ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage met Donald Trump in November 2016.
Other emails are said to show he and Mr Wigmore held numerous meetings with other Russian officials and discussed potential business opportunities in Russia including a proposal involving six goldmines.
Mr Banks said: "We didn't profit from any business deals because I never pursued anything."
He will face questions about the latest claims from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee tomorrow.