Arron Banks met Russian ambassador more than once. So what?
Millionaire ‘not remotely remorseful’ over repeated contact with Russian officials in run-up to EU vote
Arron Banks, the biggest financial donor to the Brexit campaign, has claimed that he is the victim of a “witch-hunt” after facing calls to explain his links with the Kremlin.
The millionaire businessman, who co-founded Leave.EU, was yesterday the subject of a four-page spread in The Sunday Times, which accused him of holding undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador to the UK.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has called for an investigation.
So, why are the revelations significant and how has Banks responded?
What is Arron Banks accused of?
In his book, The Bad Boys of Brexit, Banks said that he had met Putin’s envoy, Alexander Yakovenko, for a “six-hour boozy lunch” in September 2015. However, leaked emails - seen by The Sunday Times - reveal that there were two further meetings and that he made “repeated contact” with Russian officials before and after the EU referendum, to discuss business opportunities and other issues.
Banks visited Moscow in February 2016, was offered a business deal involving six Russian goldmines, and even invited Yakovenko to a party on the day of the referendum, the emails show.
“The revelations raise explosive questions about attempts by Moscow to influence the referendum result,” claims the newspaper.
The accusations come as Donald Trump’s campaign staff face investigation by a special prosecutor over whether they colluded with Moscow to influence the US presidential election.
The Russian Embassy insists that it “has not in any way intervened in the domestic UK political process, including the Brexit referendum” and that meeting stakeholders from across a country’s political spectrum is a “natural element of the work of any embassy”.
How has Banks responded?
The Brexiteer, who is due to give evidence to MPs on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee tomorrow as part of its “fake news” inquiry, said “most of the facts” within The Sunday Times report were correct, but told the newspaper: “Bite me.”
He confirmed that he had two lunches and a cup of tea with Yakovenko. However, when asked why he had only disclosed one of the meetings in his book, he said: “It’s not a court of law. So what? I’m not remotely remorseful.”
Any suggestion that Leave.EU received financial help from Russia was “complete, absolute garbage”, he said, positioning himself as the victim of a “witch-hunt”.
Banks later told ITV News: “We did meet the Russian ambassador. We did have a cup of tea. At the end of the day, so what?”