Arron Banks' Russia links being examined 'very seriously' by UK


Home secretary Sajid Javid has said that Arron Banks’s Russian connections are being examined “very seriously” by two ministers in two departments who want to establish if there was an attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy during the Brexit campaign.

Javid’s unexpected intervention came on the eve of what is expected to be a stormy select committee meeting in which the Brexit-backing tycoon and his colleague Andy Wigmore are expected to be questioned by MPs over their links to Russian officials and business leaders.

Javid was asked in the Commons by the Labour MP Stephen Doughty if he would comment further on reports that Banks had met Russia’s ambassador to the UK three times in 2015 and 2016, and had been asked by him if he was interested in participating in a Siberian gold mining deal.

The home secretary said his department was liaising with the Cabinet Office and both were “taking this issue seriously, I know they are looking at intelligence and other information they are receiving alongside my department. The two departments are working closely on this issue. I would assure him we are taking it very seriously indeed.”

Doughty, after the debate, described Javid’s answer as revelatory. The Labour MP had asked if Javid could “say a little bit about the allegations that we have heard over the weekend in the Observer, Sunday Times and elsewhere about other Russian attempts to undermine parliamentary democracy and our democracy in this country?”

MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport select committee are gearing up to ask Banks and his associate Wigmore about the extent of their dealings with the Russian ambassador, and whether Banks took part in the consolidation of a company called GeoProMining as proposed by ambassador Alexander Yakovenko in a meeting scheduled to last at least three hours.

A cache of emails leaked first to the Observer and subsequently to the Sunday Times revealed that Banks had three meetings with the Russian ambassador and met other officials in 2015 and 2016, rather than the single “six hour boozy lunch” he had previously acknowledged.

The leak came from research conducted by journalist Isabel Oakeshott who is working on a book about the future of Britain’s armed forces with Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft, and was sent via crowdsourced website Byline Media to the Observer.

It is understood that Banks hopes to take a combative approach at the select committee meeting, telling people that he has conducted “opposition research” on some of the MPs involved, highlighting for example the fact that, as declared by the committee’s chair Damian Collins in the register of members’ interests, Collins had accepted two tickets worth £1,060 to watch Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea play Crystal Palace in March.

The Brexit campaigner also tried to embark on a public relations offensive ahead of the meeting, although he pulled out at the last minute from a pre-recorded interview on the BBC’s Newsnight.

Instead he chose to be interviewed on LBC radio by Nigel Farage, where the former Ukip leader turned radio host did ask Banks about the Siberian gold deal and whether it amounted to an attempt by him to “use the Brexit campaign to further his business interests”. Banks, who denies participating in the proposed deal, said in reply “not really”.

A statement released in 2016 – at the time when the mining company deal was completed – said a key investor in GeoProMining is Kirill Androsov, a former deputy chief of staff to Vladimir Putin, via his Altera Fund.

Banks and Wigmore also told LBC that they would provide to the select committee details of all the meetings they had with CIA and other US officials in the UK to demonstrate they had been talking to a wide range of interested parties ahead of the Brexit referendum.

During the radio interview, Farage asked Banks and Wigmore: “Was there, at any point, Russian – or Russian individuals, or Russian businesses that gave money to Leave.EU?” In reply, Wigmore said: “No. Not one penny or rouble”, while Banks said: “Where is the evidence that we took Russian money? There’s no evidence.”

Labour’s front bench weighed in on the controversy for the first time on Sunday. Tom Watson said: “I thought the idea of Kremlin gold being used to destabilise our democracy became redundant at the end of the cold war. Try as he might, Mr Banks can’t just bluster his way out of these serious allegations. Democratic integrity is too important. If it’s true that his account of events is inaccurate, his links to Russian financiers and mine owners must be subject to detailed scrutiny.”

Banks was the key financial backer of Farage’s Brexit strategy, providing at least £9m in loans and other donations to the Leave.EU and Grassroots Out campaigns, the small unofficial campaigns that were closely aligned with Ukip. After the unexpected vote for Brexit, Banks has faced questions about the origin of his money with the Electoral Commission conducting an ongoing investigation into the “true source” of his donations to Leave.EU.



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