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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

MPs back probe into Brexit-backer’s donations

Businessman Arron Banks failed to convince lawmakers over source of cash to support Brexit campaign

Leave.EU Brexit campaign co-founder Arron Banks on his arrival to face questions by members of the British Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in London. EPA
Leave.EU Brexit campaign co-founder Arron Banks on his arrival to face questions by members of the British Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in London. EPA

The businessman who bankrolled Brexit should face a police inquiry if officials cannot establish the source of his £8.4 million (Dh40.4 million) in donations to the UK campaign to leave the European Union, according to a leaked report by British lawmakers.

The MPs are expected to back calls for a limit on the level of individual donations for a political campaign following the controversy over the money spent by Arron Banks, an insurance tycoon and outspoken critic of the EU.

The £8.4 million represented the largest ever political donation in the UK and was followed by claims of possible foreign influence peddling surrounding the referendum to leave the EU, which was backed by 52 per cent of voters and is expected to happen on March 29 next year.

The lawmakers said they had failed to be convinced by Mr Banks’ explanations that the money had come from the UK following revelations of meetings between the businessman and senior Russian officials over diamond and goldmine deals. The report said that Mr Banks and a colleague misled the committee about the number of meetings they had with the Russian embassy, and then walked out of a session to avoid scrutiny about the content of the meetings.

Election officials “should pursue investigations into donations that Arron Banks made to the Leave campaign, to verify that the money was not sourced from abroad,” according to a leaked version of the MPs’ report. They said if there was any doubt, he case should be passed to the UK’s National Crime Agency, which handles the most complex cases involving serious and organised crime.

The finding was included in an 89-page version that was due to be released on Sunday, but was posted on the blog of Dominic Cummings, the Leave campaign’s director. He was criticised in the report for failing to appear before MPs.

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Read more:

Brexit backer Arron Banks 'met Russian ambassador 11 times' before EU vote, report

Brexit’s big short: how hedge funds cashed in on exit polls

Brexit backer Arron Banks dismisses row over Russian links as ‘full-scale witch hunt’

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The report follows 18 months of public sessions and the questioning of 61 witnesses during an inquiry into so-called ‘fake news’ that has broadened into questions about the role of targeted political adverts on social media, the conduct of the Brexit campaign, the role of the disgraced polling firm Cambridge Analytica and its influence over foreign elections.

The MPs said that the effect marked a crisis for democracy and called for new laws to prevent the voters’ data being abused by technology companies for political gain. The “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour” posed greater fears than obviously false information spread on social media, said the report by the digital, culture, media and sport committee. “Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions.”

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