Leave campaign donor Aaron Banks denies new allegations of Russian collusion

FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage (L) and UKIP party donor Arron Banks (R) leave the party's head offices after holding a meeting in London, Britain 15 May 2015.

Leave campaign donor Aaron Banks denies new allegations of Russian collusion


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The man who founded and financed the Leave.EU campaign in the UK, Arron Banks, will be testifying in the House of Commons on Tuesday to address allegations of links to Russia.

Banks confirmed on Sunday that he will attend the hearing; other Leave campaigners have refused to testify.

New evidence has emerged of the alleged links between the main funder of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Russian officials, raising suspicion of collusion. The Sunday Times reported that Mr Banks had three meetings with the Russian ambassador in London, whilst he previously admitted to only one.

In a statement to Reuters, Mr. Banks admitted to meeting the Russian ambassador and discussing business. “So, what” Mr. Banks asks.

Banks categorically denies receiving any funding from Russia, countering that he met with other diplomats as well, including the State Department.

The millionaire vehemently denies coordination with the Kremlin for the campaign and suggests he’s the victim of a political “witch-hunt,” drawing analogies with President Donald Trump.

Mr. Banks admits only that he had “two boozy lunches” with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea, accusing the Remain campaign of trying to discredit everyone involved in Brexit.

The Times base their report on a trove of 40,000 emails obtained by the former Sunday Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott, the ghost-writer the “Bad Boys of Brexit” book signed by Aaron Banks. Ms Oakeshott passed the emails to The Times after, she claims, her account was hacked.

Ms Oakeshott claims the campaign was shamelessly used by Russia but expresses confidence that Moscow did not influence the referendum result.  “Had voters known about the links between Banks and Russia, I am certain they would still have made the same decision,” Oakeshott told the Sunday Times.

According to the Sunday Times, Mr Banks was not the only one to lunch with the Russian ambassador. The director of the Leave.EU communications Andy Wigmore also lunched with the Russian diplomat in November 2016, three days after US President Donald Trump met with Nigel Farage in New York.

Wigmore told The Sunday Times that no information regarding the campaign was ever passed on to Russia but did go on to Tweet that emails cited in the report had been illegally obtained.

Wigmore and Banks have previously denied testifying before the parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee as part of its fake news inquiry and the use of online advertising, which has been bolstered following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The director of the rival Brexit campaign Vote Leave, Mr Dominic Cummings has also refused to testify.

Mr Banks is accusing the parliamentary committee of failing to remain impartial, citing as evidence alleged collusion with the Fair Vote Project initiative that is taking legal action against Leave.EU in the US. The initiative claims that the University of Mississippi acted as a databank for the Leave.EU campaign and is pursuing legal action to prevent the university from destroying the data it holds.

The director of the Fair Vote Project, Kyle Taylor, told The Independent that the initiative is seeking the truth and, therefore, has common interests with the ongoing parliamentary and Electoral Commission enquiries in the UK.

Challenged to comment during the G7 summit in Canada, prime minister Theresa May said it was up to “proper authorities” to investigate such allegations. For its part, the Russian embassy denies an involvement in UK politics.

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