Vote Leave hit with massive fine and police referral after 'breaking electoral law' ahead of Brexit vote
Election watchdogs have fined the official Vote Leave campaign more than £60,000 and referred it to police after finding it broke spending rules during the EU referendum.
The Electoral Commission also fined activist Darren Grimes £20,000 after concluding his BeLeave outfit colluded with Vote Leave to break spending caps.
Vote Leave funnelled some £675,000 to BeLeave in the final weeks of the EU referendum, which the latter campaign spent on digital ads from Canadian firm Aggregate IQ.
Campaign groups are allowed to give each other money provided they do not direct each other on how to spend it.
But the Electoral Commission said the money was spent on AIQ “under a common plan” - meaning Vote Leave broke its official £7m spending cap by almost £500,000.
It said Mr Grimes - who was a fashion student at the time of the campaign - also committed two offences, busting the spending cap of a non-registered campaigner but reporting it as his own.
And it found that Vote Leave returned an incomplete and inaccurate spending report, with nearly £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending.
The Commission has referred David Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, and Mr Grimes to the Metropolitan Police in relation to false declarations of campaign spending.
Commission finance chief Bob Posner said: “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.”
He added: “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.
“Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”
A Vote Leave spokesperson said: "The Electoral Commission's report contains a number of false accusations and incorrect assertions that are wholly inaccurate and do not stand up to scrutiny.
"It is astonishing that nobody from Vote Leave has been interviewed by the commission in the production of this report, nor indeed at any point in the past two years. Yet the commission has interviewed the so-called 'whistleblowers' who have no knowledge of how Vote Leave operated and whose credibility has been seriously called into question.
"Vote Leave has provided evidence to the Electoral Commission proving there was no wrongdoing. And yet despite clear evidence of wrongdoing by the Remain campaign, the Commission has chosen to ignore this and refused to launch an investigation.
"All this suggests that the supposedly impartial Commission is motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts.
"The commission has failed to follow due process, and in doing so has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories.
"We will consider the options available to us, but are confident that these findings will be overturned."