Politics: Leading Brexit campaigners held secret meetings with Russian officials arranged by suspected Kremlin spy before referendum, report says

Politics: Leading Brexit campaigners held secret meetings with Russian officials arranged by suspected Kremlin spy before referendum, report saysArron Banks

It forms part of a mounting pile of evidence that Russia attempted to influence British democracy and engineer the EU referendum in favour of Brexit.

  • Explosive emails suggest the Brexit campaign's biggest donor met with Kremlin-linked figures multiple times before the referendum.
  • The emails, seen by the Sunday Times, alleged that Arron Banks, the millionaire businessman who funded Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, was reportedly offered a business deal involving six Russian goldmines.
  • It forms part of a mounting pile of evidence that Russia attempted to influence British democracy and engineer the EU referendum in favour of Brexit.

LONDON — 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.

Arron Banks, the millionaire businessman who funded pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU, was reportedly offered a business deal involving six Russian goldmines.

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.

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It forms part of a mounting pile of evidence that Russia attempted to influence British democracy and engineer the EU referendum in favour of Brexit.

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 EU referendum, titled "The Bad Boys of Brexit."

They allege that:

  • Arron Banks and his sidekick, Andy Wigmore, made repeated contact with Russian officials before the referendum to discuss business opportunities
  • Yakovenko proposed a business deal that would see Banks and Wigmore involved in the consolidation of six Russian goldmines into one company
  • Banks and Wigmore were introduced to Yakovenko by Alexander Udod, a suspected Russian spy who was expelled from the UK after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
  • Banks made a previously undisclosed visit to Moscow in February 2016, months before the EU referendum.
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Theresa May told the Times on Saturday: "I am sure if there are any allegations that need investigation the proper authorities will do that."

In response to the allegations, Banks said: "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."

Ultimately, Leave.EU lost the battle to be designated the official "leave" campaign to rival organisation Vote Leave. But the group played a significant role in the referendum, bankrolled by Banks to the tune of over £12 million and credited with using Trump-style shock tactics to generate press coverage.

After learning about the allegations on Saturday, Banks and Wigmore announced that they would not appear before MPs to answer questions as part of an inquiry into fake news.

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