Pro-Brexit campaigner threatens to sue Electoral Commission
Pro-Brexit campaigner Arron Banks has threatened to sue the Electoral Commission after he was cleared of any criminality over £8 million in EU referendum campaign funding.
The outspoken businessman reacted with triumph after the National Crime Agency’s announcement that he had been exonerated on Tuesday.
Following the decision, the body expressed concern that there was a “weakness” in UK law that allowed foreign money into British politics.
Mr Banks said on Twitter: “Victory is sweet,” before adding: “No overseas money was used in the Brexit campaign, it was my money. We intend to issue a claim against the EC for the decision to refer this matter to the @NCA publicly. We calculate the losses well over £10million.”
The Electoral Commission referred a series of claims about the Leave.EU campaign to the NCA in October last year, alleging that Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8 million.
But investigators found that he was legally entitled to take a loan from his company Rock Holdings Ltd, which is registered in the Isle of Man, and then donate it to Better For The Country Ltd, which administered the Leave.EU campaign.
The NCA said that no further action would be taken against Mr Banks, the Leave.EU campaign’s chief executive Liz Bilney, or the campaign bodies Better For The Country or Leave.EU.
It said in a statement: “In carrying out its complex investigation the NCA analysed information, including banking information, which had not formed part of the Electoral Commission’s investigation. It also interviewed Mr Banks and Ms Bilney.
“In reaching its decision, the NCA obtained advice from the Crown Prosecution Service and expert independent counsel due to the technical nature of Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) offences and the company structures involved.
“The NCA has found no evidence that any criminal offences have been committed under PPERA or company law by any of the individuals or organisations referred to it by the Electoral Commission.
“It will therefore take no further action against Mr Banks, Ms Bilney, Better for the Country Ltd or Leave.EU in respect of this specific matter.”
Investigators found no evidence that Russian money had been donated to the campaign.
The NCA statement said: “The NCA has not received any evidence to suggest that Mr Banks and his companies received funding from any third party to fund the loans, or that he acted as an agent on behalf of a third party.”
Earlier this month the Metropolitan Police found that the Leave.EU campaign committed technical breaches of electoral law over its EU referendum spending return, but would face no further action.
The Electoral Commission referred the campaign to police over its spending during the 2016 poll and fined it a record-equalling £70,000.
Ms Bilney accused the Electoral Commission of being “biased”.
She tweeted: “Met Police – investigation dropped. NCA – investigation dropped. Both referrals from the Remain biased Electoral Commission fuelled by @DamianCollins @SKinnock @MollyMEP @CarolineLucas. Remain MP’s desperately trying to overturn the result of the Referendum”.
Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage also welcomed the decision, hitting out at the Electoral Commission saying “heads must roll”.
The commission said the Leave.EU case highlighted an “apparent weakness” in the law which allowed foreign money into British politics.
“We are concerned about the apparent weakness in the law, highlighted by this investigation outcome, which allows overseas funds into UK politics,” a commission spokesman said.
“We have made recommendations that would tighten the rules on campaign funding and deter breaches.
“We urge the UK’s governments to act on those recommendations to support voter confidence.
“Significant sums were spent on campaigning at the 2016 EU referendum and it is vital that voters have transparency over the way these campaigns were funded.
“It is therefore right that suspected offences are investigated by the appropriate authorities, as the NCA has done in this case.”
The NCA would not comment on whether it is investigating allegations against Mr Banks concerning “business dealings overseas”.
It said: “There have also been media reports alleging that Mr Banks has been involved in other criminality related to business dealings overseas.
“The NCA neither confirms nor denies that it is investigating these reports.”