Arron Banks, the millionaire businessman who bankrolled Nigel Farage’s campaign to quit the EU, had multiple meetings with Russian embassy officials in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, documents seen by the Observer suggest.
Banks, who gave £12m of services to the campaign, becoming the biggest donor in UK history, has repeatedly denied any involvement with Russian officials, or that Russian money played any part in the Brexit campaign. The Observer has seen documents which a senior Tory MP says, if correct, raise urgent and troubling questions about his relationship with the Russian government.
The communications suggest:
• Multiple meetings between the leaders of Leave.EU and high-ranking Russian officials, from November 2015 to 2017.
• Two meetings in the week Leave.EU launched its official campaign.
• An introduction to a Russian businessman, by the Russian ambassador, the day after Leave.EU launched its campaign, who reportedly offered Banks a multibillion dollar opportunity to buy Russian goldmines.
• A trip to Moscow in February 2016 to meet key partners and financiers behind a gold project, including a Russian bank.
• Continued extensive contact in the run-up to the US election when Banks, his business partner and Leave.EU spokesman Andy Wigmore, and Nigel Farage campaigned in the US to support Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Banks and Wigmore – who was also present at many of the meetings – were due to appear before the select committee for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Tuesday to answer questions about Leave.EU’s role in the European referendum.
Hours after the Observer contacted them for comment on Friday, they published a letter stating they would not attend the hearing, and accused the committee of colluding with a pro-Remain campaign group.
But on Saturday Banks suggested that he would attend after all, and accused the Tory chairman, Damian Collins, of colluding with journalists.
Controversy has grown over Russia’s alleged interference in a series of key polls, including the election of Donald Trump, last year’s French presidential elections and the Brexit referendum, to secure outcomes favourable to President Putin. Putin has long seen the eastward expansion of EU influence as a threat.
Towards the end of last year, Banks issued a statement saying his contacts with “the Russians” consisted of “one boozy lunch” at the Russian embassy. Documents seen by the Observer, suggest a different version of events.