Leave.EU 'downplayed Russian links'

Arron Banks

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Arron Banks is a former UKIP donor and friend of Nigel Farage

The founder of Leave.EU, Arran Banks, has confirmed he will appear before MPs this week to answer new allegations about his links with Russia.

Its been reported that Mr Banks, who bankrolled the unofficial leave campaign, had more contact with Russian officials than he previously admitted.

The allegations raise new concerns over whether the Kremlin sought to influence the outcome of the EU referendum vote.

Mr Banks has suggested he is the victim of “a political witch-hunt”.

The millionaire Brexit backer dismissed the claims, telling the Sunday Times: “I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him. Bite me.

“It’s a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump.”

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 Russia during the referendum campaign.

The Sunday Times reports that Mr Banks had three meetings with the Russian ambassador to the UK. In his book, The Bad Boys of Brexit, Mr Banks had previously admitted to only one.

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 New York following his election victory.

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

‘Shamelessly used’

The scale of the pair’s links to Russia is revealed in a series of 40,000 emails obtained by the former Sunday Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who ghost-wrote Mr Banks’s Bad Boys of Brexit book.

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

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

Mr Banks, who previously pulled out of a Commons inquiry into “fake news”, said he would now be giving evidence, as planned, on Tuesday.

“We didn’t profit from any business deals because I never pursued anything,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Wigmore denied handing over any Brexit-related information.

“We never offered any information to… any Russian any details of our campaign,” he told the Sunday Times.

In a tweet, Mr Wigmore went on to suggest the emails had been illegally obtained.

When asked about the claims during a press conference at the G7 summit in Quebec, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I am sure that if there are any allegations that need investigation the proper authorities will do that.”

The Russian embassy has said it has not intervened in UK domestic politics.

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