Those watching the spectacle of Arron Banks and his pal Andy Wigmore demonstrating their contempt for Parliament this morning, by systematically flanneling the DCMS Committee, and then walking out when the questions became too challenging for them, may have received a few minutes’ divertissement. But the bigger questions are already being asked. And another has just been added to their number.
Banksy, so legend has it, was “the man who bankrolled Brexit”. Yet back at the turn of the Millennium, he was far from well-known, and far from financially comfortable. Then came the run-up to the 2016 referendum, and Banks was there handing out millions in loans and donations, much of which appears not to have been spent, even though spending limits have been so blatantly breached as to incur fines. How can that be?
Let’s piece together some of the information we now have available. Here’s Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer, talking of “An introduction to a Russian businessman, by the Russian ambassador, the day after Leave.EU launched its campaign, who reportedly offered Banks a multibillion dollar opportunity to buy Russian goldmines … A trip to Moscow in February 2016 to meet key partners and financiers behind a gold project, including a Russian bank”. But Banks didn’t have the means to stump up those amounts.
Never mind, though, the bank could help out. “The deal to buy the goldmines with funding from the bank was announced on 5 July 2016, 12 days after the referendum. It is not clear if Banks invested, although he tweeted on 17 July 2016 : ‘I am buying gold at the moment & big mining stocks.’” And that under-spending of his largesse?
That is covered by Adam Ramsay at Open Democracy, who has told “Nearly £11 million of donations to major Brexit campaign groups funded by Arron Banks has not been accounted for publicly … Grassroots Out and Leave.EU - the two main groups funded primarily by the self-styled ‘bad boy’ of Brexit Arron Banks - have not disclosed what happened to £10.8 million of the money they received”. And there is more.
“From 9th March until polling day, Leave.EU received donations and loans worth £9.2 million. The group claims that it only spent £693,000 of this during the ‘controlled’ campaigning period … A second campaign group funded by Banks, Grassroots Out, received donations worth £2.5 million in the early months of 2016 … However, the group claims to have only spent £232,000 … between 15 April and the referendum on June 23”.
Ramsay noted “The gap between the amounts the groups raised and the amount of spending they declared amounts to £10.8 million - more than the Labour Party spent on its 2010 election campaign”. Wigmore had “no idea” where it all went.
Almost £11 million did not just vanish. But then, the thought occurred that the short timescale and fever-pitch excitement of the referendum campaign would be an ideal opportunity for the less than totally principled to do a little money laundering.
So the question for Banksy, Wiggy, and indeed anyone with an interest in tracking down the allegedly missing £11 million is this: has money laundering been going on, under the guise of a UK-wide election campaign? Don’t all shout at once.