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Brexiteer 'met Russian officials before vote'

The founder of Leave.EU had undisclosed meetings with officials from the Russian embassy in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, reports allege.
Millionaire Brexit campaigner Arron Banks also held discussions about a business deal involving six Russian goldmines, according to reports.
The news is likely to raise questions over possible Russian influence in the UK's vote to leave the European Union.The Sunday Times said it had seen emails from Mr Banks and the organisation's communications chief Andy Wigmore.These showed they had repeated contacts with Russian officials during the referendum campaign and afterwards, the newspaper said.Mr Banks, who financially supported the campaign of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, was introduced to ambassador Alexander Yakovenko by a suspected Russian intelligence officer, it was alleged.They were also said to have met Alexander Udod, one of 23 suspected Russian intelligence officers ejected from the UK after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.
Brexiteer 'met Russian officials before vote'

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Mr Banks (left) and Andy Wigmore (far right) stand with Nigel Farage after the Leave result
The emails were given to The Sunday Times by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, Mr Banks's ghostwriter on The Bad Boys of Brexit.She came forward after her email accounts were hacked, according to the newspaper.Ms Oakeshott wrote in the newspaper that Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore were "shamelessly used by the Russians".She added: "Perhaps, the Englishmen did not mind."Banks and Wigmore genuinely sympathised - and continue to sympathise - with some of Putin's political views."Mr Banks dismissed the claims, telling the newspaper: "I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him. Bite me."It's a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump."
Something’s clearly up. @Arron_banks and @andywigmore now say they do want to give evidence to @CommonsCMS on Tuesday because of story that’s about to come out about some emails - which I don’t have a copy of btw. Must be significant, to make them change their minds again— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) June 9, 2018
He said that nothing had come of their discussions over the goldmine deal. "We didn't profit from any business deals because I never pursued anything," he said.
Mr Banks, whose wife is Russian, acknowledged making a "family trip" to Moscow in February 2016, but said "no meetings were had with anyone".He said he had also disclosed details of his contacts with the Russians to US officials."We actually saw the suits from the American embassy who introduced us to the State Department to explain what had happened and then we briefed the Americans on our meetings with the Russians," he said.Mr Wigmore told the paper: "We never offered any information to him (Mr Yakovenko) or any Russian any details of our (Brexit) campaign."Mr Banks, who last week announced he was pulling out of the Commons inquiry into "fake news", accusing the MPs of a "witch hunt", said he would now be giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee as planned on Tuesday.
Brexiteer 'met Russian officials before vote'

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Mr Banks funded the Leave.EU campaign
Tory MP Damian Collins, the committee's chair, told Sky News: "What would be most helpful now is disclosure of these emails that have been discussed, we're told there are thousands of them."Probably only a relatively small number of them so far have been published, but it would certainly be very helpful for us to question Mr Banks based on knowing more about what was in the emails themselves."The Conservative backbencher denied a "witch hunt" was being pursued by Remainers against Brexiteers."Not at all, no. This is really important for us to understand why someone like Mr Banks had this level of contact with the Russian government, maybe more of it, a contact that he'd not denied having but certainly downplayed the number of times he'd met with them and the significance of those meetings," he said.Mr Collins agreed there is no suggestion Mr Banks had done anything wrong, as he is a private businessman, but added: "Russia is not a friendly country, Russia has a track record of interfering in the politics of other countries, directly and indirectly."Mr Banks has given a significant amount of money to political campaigns in this country and, therefore, I think it is significant and I think we have a right to ask more questions about it."
More from Arron Banks

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Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage dampens claims he could join DUP


Arron Banks threatens legal action over Leave.EU investigations


Former UKIP donor Arron Banks says he won't run as MP for Clacton


Leave.EU investigated over referendum campaign donations

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed Mr Banks "probably has questions to answer", while Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said: "Clearly they are serious allegations but we have, in this country, a system where there are independent agencies to look at allegations of malpractice."Quite rightly, ministers can't either initiate or stop any such investigations. So, I'd say, those who've got the evidence, let them take it to the relevant authorities and let it be looked into."
news.sky.com
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