Arron Banks held secret business meetings with Russian officials

10 Juin, 2018, 18:20 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau

The Brexit campaign's biggest donor secretly met with Russian officials multiple times before the referendum to discuss business opportunities, according to an explosive report.

The news is likely to raise questions over possible Russian influence in the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore also discussed potential business opportunities in Russian Federation, emails reportedly show, including a proposal involving six goldmines.

The Sunday Times said it had seen emails from Mr Banks and the organisation's communications chief Andy Wigmore.

Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, has said he will question Mr Banks about the allegations, citing the newspaper's "evidence of very close contact" with Russian Federation during the referendum campaign.

The Sunday Times report, based on a huge cache of leaked emails, also alleged that Banks also had undisclosed meetings with Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to Britain, set up by a suspected Russian spy, and that he visited Moscow before the referendum in a previously undisclosed trip.

The report is based on a series of emails leaked to the Sunday Times by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who ghost-wrote Banks' account of the European Union referendum, titled "The Bad Boys of Brexit".

Banks and Wigmore were introduced to Yakovenko by Alexander Udod, a suspected Russian spy who was expelled from the United Kingdom after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Ms Oakeshott passed them to the paper after her email accounts were "hacked".

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She suggested Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore were "shamelessly used by the Russians".

"Banks and Wigmore genuinely sympathised - and continue to sympathise - with some of Putin's political views".

Mr Banks dismissed the claims, telling the newspaper: "I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him".

"It's a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump".

He said that nothing had come of their discussions over the goldmine deal. "We didn't profit from any business deals because I never pursued anything", he said.

The paper said that Mr Banks and Leave.EU director of comunications Andy Wigmore had also had lunch with the ambassador in November 2016 - just three days after they and the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage had met Donald Trump in NY following his election victory.

He said he had also disclosed details of his contacts with the Russians to USA officials.

Mr Banks, who last week announced he was pulling out of the Commons inquiry into "fake news", accusing the MPs of a "witch hunt", said he would now be giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee as planned on Tuesday.

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