Brexit: UK watchdog probes Leave campaign funding
Electoral Commission has ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect offence committed
The UK’s election watchdog is investigating the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign - with key issues including whether the group exceeded its £7m spending limit and why it paid more than £600,000 to a fashion student.
The Electoral Commission says there are “reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed” in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, The Independent reports.
Investigators will examine whether Vote Leave - backed by Tory Cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove - filed returns correctly, says The Guardian. They will also look into why the campaign group channelled £625,000 in donations to fashion student Darren Grimes, then 23, who ran the BeLeave campaign, and a further £100,000 to a group called Veterans for Britain.
As registered independent Leave campaigners, it was permissible for BeLeave and Veterans for Britain to receive donations from Vote Leave, as long as the campaigns were run entirely independently. However, according to media reports, both groups reportedly paid the money directly to a Canadian data analytics firm, AggregateIQ, which was also heavily used by Vote Leave.
The watchdog is already conducting investigations into other areas of the Brexit campaign, including whether multimillionaire donor Arron Banks bankrolled Leave.EU with Russian money, the Daily Mail reports.
If irregularities are found, the Electoral Commission can issue fines of up to £20,000 for each breach of political funding rules.