BFF-73 Brexit campaign donor grilled by MPs on Russia links

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Brexit campaign donor grilled by MPs on Russia links

LONDON, June 12, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A British millionaire who helped
bankroll the Brexit campaign played down his connections with Russian
officials on Tuesday, amid lingering concerns Moscow targeted the divisive
2016 referendum with so-called fake news.

Arron Banks, the outspoken founder of the Leave.eu campaign, faced nearly
three hours of questioning by British lawmakers probing the spread of
misinformation online.

It followed weekend newspaper reports that the insurance industry
millionaire was offered business deals in Russia and held previously
undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador.

Critics contend Banks, who donated nearly œ10 million (EUR11.4 million,
$13.4 million) to the pro-Brexit campaign, could have been influenced or used
by the Kremlin, which was eager to break up the EU.

But the 52-year-old called the furore around his ties to Russia “a full-
scale witch-hunt”.

He told MPs he held two lunches with London envoy Alexander Yakovenko,
while a possible business deal involving six gold mines “fizzled out”.

“That’s the extent of it,” he told the parliamentary hearing.

“I don’t regard this… as constant contact with the Russians. It wasn’t.

“I’ve got no business interests in Russia and I’ve done no business deals
in Russia.”

Banks, who is married to a Russian woman, also denied recent claims he made
a February 2016 visit to Moscow.

– No political information –

Banks denied travelling to Russia at that time.

“If anyone’s got evidence I was in Moscow please bring it forward,” he
said.

Banks confirmed reports he gave phone numbers for Donald Trump’s transition
team to Russian officials, after he had met with the US president-elect in
November 2016 in New York.

But he denied passing on other material.

“I can categorically say no, we didn’t,” Banks said. “I don’t have access
to political information.”

Andy Wigmore, a former British diplomat and close associate of Banks who
also appeared at the hearing, said Yakovenko simply “couldn’t believe Trump
had won” and was scrambling for contacts.

Both Banks and Wigmore insisted they had not tried to conceal contact with
Russians and “briefed the American security services on everything that
transpired.”

“If I was intent on hiding my involvement with the Russians, I did a pretty
bad job of that,” Banks said.

After the hearing, committee chairman Damian Collins said it was
“difficult” to know whether to believe the pair.

“(They) themselves put on the record that they frequently lie, exaggerate,
misspeak and misunderstand,” he said.

BSS/AFP/MRI/2300 hrs