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Brexit funder expects 'fireworks' at hearing

By Greg Heffer, political reporter
A top Leave funder has hit out at a "concerted campaign" to "smear" Brexiteers as he prepares to faces MPs questions over his links to the Kremlin.
Millionaire businessman Arron Banks, who bankrolled the Leave.EU campaign during the EU referendum, laughed off calls for a police inquiry into his meetings with Russian embassy officials.
It follows newspaper allegations of undisclosed meetings, set up by a suspected Russian spy, and discussions of a potential business deal involving six Russian gold mines before and after the 2016 referendum.Speaking to his friend and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage on LBC Radio, Mr Banks said: "What's the crime? I would like to know what the police are going to investigate - lunch with the Russian ambassador?"Mr Banks described how he met the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for a "boozy lunch" in 2015, after being approached by a Russian "observer" at UKIP's party conference that year.The insurance tycoon, who donated millions to Leave.EU and also previously funded UKIP, said: "We had about four shots of Stalin vodka, brandy, wine. We were pretty trollied."The ambassador was probably in a worse state than we were."
Brexit funder expects 'fireworks' at hearing

Image:
Mr Banks (left), Nigel Farage and Andy Wigmore (far right) on the morning after the Brexit vote
Mr Banks said further meetings were undisclosed because they took place after the end of a book he wrote on the EU referendum campaign; titled "The Bad Boys of Brexit" and in which he revealed the lunch.In total, Mr Banks said he had two lunches with the Russian ambassador and one cup of tea where he was introduced to a businessman with the gold mines proposal.One of those meetings was three days after Mr Banks, his associate Andy Wigmore and Mr Farage met newly-elected US President Donald Trump.But, Mr Banks described it as "complete nonsense" he was reporting back to the Russians on his meeting with Mr Trump.
Brexit funder expects 'fireworks' at hearing

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Mr Banks had a 'boozy lunch' with Alexander Yakovenko
Mr Wigmore, also appearing on LBC, revealed he passed on a telephone number for the Trump transition team to the Russian ambassador.
He also said there was "not one penny or one rouble" of Russian money given to Leave.EU.The pair and Mr Farage have had a meeting with a senior official at the US embassy over claims made against them, Mr Wigmore added.On Tuesday, Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore will appear before the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of an inquiry by MPs into fake news.The pair promised "fireworks" at their committee appearance, with Mr Banks declaring: "They might be in for a tough time of it."He criticised the committee's chair Damian Collins, by highlighting how the Tory MP this year received two tickets worth €1,060 from Chelsea football club, which is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Brexit funder expects 'fireworks' at hearing

Image:
The Leave.EU campaign were fined ?70,000 for breaches of electoral law
Also on Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May was asked in the House of Commons by Labour MP Ben Bradshaw whether the newspaper revelations about Mr Banks showed it is "now time for a full police inquiry into the relationship between the Kremlin and the leave campaign in the EU referendum".In response, the prime minister said a police inquiry would be "a matter for the police".Earlier, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock told Sky News he would be sending a letter to the police urging them to launch a criminal investigation into links between Mr Banks and the Russian government.He said he wrote to the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police in early 2017 to express his concerns, but the police said they would only get involved if the Commission asked them to.
More from Brexit

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From Great Escape to Dad's Army: How Theresa May staved off key Brexit bill rebellions


Brexit funder Arron Banks walks out of MPs' questions for lunch date


Will more ministers follow Phillip Lee and resign over direction of Brexit?


How far will Tory rebels go over 'meaningful vote'?


Leave.EU donor Arron Banks denies Russia links as police asked to investigate him

Leave.EU were not the officially Brexit campaign, having lost out in a battle with the Boris Johnson-backed Vote Leave for designation.Last month, Leave.EU were fined a maximum €70,000 for breaches of electoral law during the EU referendum campaign.
news.sky.com
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