As the sun came up in London on June 24, 2016, Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore were strolling through Westminster, the political district of London, smoking cigarettes and swigging champagne from a bottle.
The shock outcome of the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union had just been announced. Leave had won.
Arron Banks is an entrepreneur whose wealth comes essentially from owning insurance companies and he’d financed and led the most militant wing of the Leave campaign, Leave.EU and he’d given or loaned a sum of thirteen million dollars to numerous anti-EU causes.
In Britain, campaign spending laws have historically been extremely stringent and donations modest by American standards and Arron Bank’s offerings are believed to constitute the most generous sum ever given by a person to a political campaign.
He’s one of the self-styled bad boys of Brexit and he made history by giving the largest donations in British political history to the Leave.EU campaign and he’s worth anything between £100 million and £250 million and gave a reported £12 million in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes.
Arron Banks was born in 1966 in Northwich, Cheshire and educated at private schools and he’s credited and condemned in equal measure for bankrolling Brexit and the foundation of his immense fortune is shrouded in mystery.
He co-founded the Brightside insurance firm and established the brokers Go Skippy, but much of his money is held offshore in Belize, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar, making interpretation tricky.
And the source of some of the money he donated to Leave.EU was subject to investigation by the Electoral Commission, which investigated donations worth £2.3 million, to access whether Arron Banks was the actual source of the funds.
The National Crime Agency began an inquiry into the questionable insurance magnate over concerns he wasn’t the true source of the money he spent on the drive for Brexit and Arron Banks who funded the Leave.EU campaign was referred to the NCA by election watchdogs, along with Leave.EU chief executive Liz Bilney.
The Electoral Commission stated Arron Banks and Liz Bilney gave inadequate explanations about the £8 million worth of financial transactions to the Better For The Country organisation, which ran Leave.EU’s referendum campaign and who received money on its behalf and funded its referendum expenses.
It said it had just grounds to suspect that the pair intentionally hid and attempted to conceal the actual happenings of that money, which the group alleged had come from Arron Banks only.
The law is that loans and donations to registered campaigners can only come from certain sanctioned sources, which primarily prohibits overseas or foreign funding from any resulting impermissible influence on the outcome of the EU Referendum.
The Electoral Commission inquiry centred on loans calculating £8 million contributed to Better for the Country Limited and Leave.EU and on 17 October 2018, the National Crime Agency accepted a referral from the Electoral Commission of possible crimes under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) and potential shortcomings under company law.
The referral from the Electoral Commission covered the following named persons and entities:
- Better for the Country Limited
- Arron Banks
- Elizabeth Bilney
In its published referral (1 November 2018) the Electoral Commission said it had reasonable grounds to suspect that Arron Banks was not the real source of the £8 million loans made to Better for the Country Limited and Leave.EU.
Loans to Better for the Country Limited on behalf of Leave.EU involved a non-qualifying or impermissible company, Rock Holdings Limited, which was incorporated in the Isle of Man.
And that Arron Banks and Ms Bilney and others involved in Better for the Country Limited, Leave.EU and associated companies concealed the true details of those financial transactions and that various criminal offences may have been perpetrated.
Arron Bank’s Leave.EU campaign team met with Russian embassy officials as many as 11 times in the run-up to the EU referendum and the two months beyond, documents seen by a media agency suggest it was seven more times than Arron Banks admitted.
The same documents suggest the Russian embassy extended a further four invitations to Brexit’s biggest funder, but it’s not known if they were accepted and it had been the third time the number of such meetings had been revised upwards.
For two years, Arron Banks maintained his only contact with the Russian government consisted of one debauched lunch with the Russian ambassador but it was reported that he had many meetings at which he had been offered profitable business deals.
And when Arron Banks was pressed, he revealed the fourth meeting but evidence suggested that there were at least seven more and when he was challenged about this, he submitted no response.
A leader of the Leave.EU campaign proposed conveying a message of support to the Russian ambassador after the then foreign secretary made a speech that was critical of Russia.
The material also appears to show that Andy Wigmore, spokesperson for the Leave.EU campaign and the business partner of Arron Banks, the biggest funder of Brexit, passed confidential legal papers to high-ranking officials at the Russian embassy and then denied it to parliament.
The documents related to George Cottrel, an aide to Nigel Farage who was with him on the campaign trail for Donald Trump in July 2016. George Cottrel was arrested by the FBI and indicted with 21 counts of money laundering, bribery and wire fraud.
Arron Banks and Mr Wigmore seem to have misled parliament and what we need to know is why and it does make you question what side they were on.
In September 2013, Arron Banks was the man that bought Brexit, so was he in trouble?
For two years, financial regulators in Gibraltar had been scrutinising his insurance under-writer, Southern Rock and they’d found it was keeping reserves far below what was needed.
This was a serious dilemma because Arron Banks claimed he’d already provided £40 million to plug the hole and he also told the regulator he’d step down as director but had since been required to find an eye-watering £60 million in additional funding.
A year later, those financial problems seem to have disappeared and Arron Banks had started acquiring diamond mines, investing millions into chemical companies and wealth management firms, setting up loss-making political consultancies and most famous of all, funding the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
One question remains though. If Arron Banks was in such a tight spot in September 2013, how did he manage to be so generous the following year?
MPs asked for the police and parliament to examine the links between the millionaire Brexit donor Arron Banks and the Russian government after it surfaced that he’d met the Kremlin’s ambassador in the United Kingdom three times, rather than the once he originally maintained.
With the pressure mounting on Arron Banks to reveal his relationships with Moscow through and after the EU referendum campaign, he faced a deferred hearing before the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee, which investigates fraudulent news.
As well as his encounters with the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, leaked emails revealed that he shared at least one phone number for the Trump transition team with the Russians and he was offered the opportunity to engage in a potentially profitable gold-mining venture in Russia.
The emails further revealed that Arron Banks visited Russia in February 2016 and was invited for a further meeting with another Russian embassy official in August 2016 and Labour MP Stephen Kinnock asked Scotland Yard to launch a criminal investigation based on an in-depth forensic look into the Kremlin connection.
But the murky funding arrangements of the supposed grassroots Leave.EU campaign raises questions about who was paying to influence major constitutional issues.
The funds came from Arron Banks, Wigmore and Tice but that’s all the detail we have and we don’t know if the funds came from overseas. These men do, however, have some impressive connections.
Arron Banks who’s married to Katya, formerly Ekaterina Paderina, a Russian who was married to a Portsmouth seaman twice her age in the 1990’s but was investigated over her allegations of a fake marriage.
She was reportedly spared with the help of the then local MP, Mike “Handy” Hancock, who she described as a nice person. Hancock was then linked to a succession of young Russian ladies, one of whom was accused by MI5 of spying.
The pro-Brexit campaign group, Leave.EU also falsified a viral video and appeared to have staged photos of migrants shortly before the EU referendum, and an investigation by Channel 4 News discovered that pictures purporting to show migrants attacking young women in London appear to have been staged.
The group, backed by businessman Arron Banks, was also behind a fraudulent video, alleging to show how simple it is for migrants to sneak into Britain but in actuality, satellite data shows the men on board had not left UK waters and this shows you, folks, that you can’t believe everything that you see and hear and you can’t ever be certain if its fake rubbish you’re being fed.
The images and video both involved an ex SAS soldier, Jonathan Pollen, who worked for Arron Bank’s corporate intelligence agency and even though the photos were never used, the bogus video went viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook, and reacting to the investigation Arron Banks cited Channel 4 News journalists of generating fake news themselves.
The Metropolitan police took no further action against the Leave.EU campaign for spending offences in the Brexit referendum, despite admitting that it broke the law and in a statement, the Met decided that there was inadequate evidence to support further investigation of the group, which was set up by the insurance businessman Arron Banks.
And they stated that whilst it was apparent that there were some technical breaches of electoral law by Leave.EU in respect of the spending return submitted for their campaign, there was insufficient evidence to justify any further criminal investigation.
It further added that Leave.EU’s responsible person for legal purposes was Liz Bilney, a business associate of Arron Banks but that she would also face no further police action.
The investigation was launched after the Electoral Commission decided in May 2018 that the group had committed multiple breaches of electoral spending law throughout the EU referendum and fined it £70,000.
Arron Banks was also criticised after he appeared to wish harm upon Greta Thunberg as the 16-year-old activist set sail across the Atlantic on a two-week excursion in a zero-carbon yacht.
The contentious Brexit backer warned the teenager that freak yachting accidents do happen in August when he responded to a tweet by Green party MP Caroline Lucas who said Greta Thunberg was carrying an important message to the UN that time was running out to address the climate emergency.
His remarks sparked outrage amongst MPs, celebrities and academics, but he defended the comment in a series of late-night tweets in which he blamed lefties of having no sense of humour.
Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi was amongst the first to reprimand the ex UKIP donor and pay tribute to the work Greta Thunberg had done to boost awareness around the imminent ecological crisis.