National Crime Agency launches probe into top Brexiteer Arron Banks over referendum campaign loans
Police have launched an investigation into pro-Brexit millionaire Arron Banks over cash he pumped into the EU referendum campaign.
The National Crime Agency opened an investigation into the controversial insurance tycoon over concerns he was "not the true source" of money he spent on the drive for Brexit.
M Banks - who founded the Leave.EU campaign - was referred to the NCA by election watchdogs, along with Leave.EU chief executive Liz Bilney.
The Electoral Commission said Mr Banks and Ms Bliney gave "unsatisfactory explanations" about £8m-worth of financial transactions to the Better For The Country organisation, which ran Leave.EU's referendum campaign, received money on its behalf and financed its referendum expenses.
It said it had "reasonable grounds to suspect" that the pair "knowingly concealed and sought to conceal the true circumstances" of that money, which the group claimed had come from Mr Banks alone.
The watchdog added: "The law is that loans and donations to registered campaigners can only come from certain permissible sources, which essentially excludes overseas or foreign funding from any consequent impermissible influence on the outcome of the EU Referendum."
In a statement, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance Bob Poster said: "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 £2.9m of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum."
Mr Posner added: “Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offences have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the Commission. This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law enforcement action. This is now a criminal investigation.
“The financial transactions we have investigated include companies incorporated in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. These jurisdictions are beyond the reach of the Electoral Commission for the purpose of obtaining information for use in criminal investigations or proceedings.”
BANKS: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF ANY WRONGDOING
A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency said: "The NCA has initiated an investigation concerning the entities Better for the Country (BFTC) and Leave.EU; as well as Arron Banks, Elizabeth Bilney and other individuals. This follows our acceptance of a referral of material from the Electoral Commission."
The top law enforcement body added: "Our investigation relates to suspected electoral law offences covered by that referral, as well as any associated offences.
"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."
In a statement, Mr Banks said he was "pleased" that the Electoral Commission had reffered him to the NCA.
"I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleasgues.
"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 Leave.EU founder also took aim at the Electoral Commission, accusing the watchdog of caving in "to intense political pressure from anti-Brexit supporters" and hitting out at George Soros, the high-profile billionaire who is the biggest individual donor to the pro-Remain Best for Britain campaign.
He added: "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."
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