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Posts Tagged ‘Dark Money’

We need to talk about #Russian_Money its Effect On #Farage #Ukip & Democracy …

Posted by Greg Lance - Watkins (Greg_L-W) on 07/11/2017

 

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We need to talk about #Russian_Money its Effect On #Farage #Ukip & Democracy …
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Posted by:
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Greg_L-W

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The corruption of EUkip’s leadership,
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is what gives the remaining 10% a bad name!

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Hi,

We need to talk about Russian money….

Worldwide
We need to talk about Russian money….
J.J. Patrick photo
One denial from Russian television network RT leaves us with even more questions over Russia’s state influence on UK politics and a trail of Kremlin money. So far, eight public officials are known to have received £9,000 in Russian state funds and Farage is earning a mystery £60,000.

We know that RT is a state actor. A Russian TV channel directly funded by Vladimir Putin, and the content of which is strictly controlled as part of Russia’s foreign office apparatus.

A fee from RT is a direct payment from the Kremlin.

We also know that key UKIP figures including Nigel Farage are tied to the Kremlin but have either denied or declined to respond to questions around being paid to appear on RT. Farage himself was even knighted on Sam Delaney’s News Thing, a flagship show on the channel.

RT responded to questions by saying they did not pay people themselves, but could not answer for independent production companies.

Because of this single, almost uninteresting line of response we can now expose a number of British public officials being paid Kremlin money to assist a state actor, and delve into the changing fortunes of those linked to UKIP.

“In some sense, not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a ministry of defence. When there is no war, it looks like we don’t need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical…when Russia is at war, we are, of course, on Russia’s side…to make an alternative channel that shares information unavailable elsewhere in order to “conquer the audience” and expose it to Russian state messaging.”

In the words of RT’s Editor-in-Chief, Margarita Simonyan: “In some sense, not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a ministry of defense [sic]. When there is no war, it looks like we don’t need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical.”
She added that “when Russia is at war, we are, of course, on Russia’s side,” adding that “RT’s goal is “to make an alternative channel that shares information unavailable elsewhere in order to “conquer the audience” and expose it to Russian state messaging.”

RT and Simonyan are closely tied to top Russian Government officials, especially Presidential Administration Deputy Chief of Staff Aleksey Gromov, who reportedly manages political TV coverage in Russia and is one of the founders of RT. Gromov oversees political coverage on TV, and he has periodic meetings with media managers where he shares classified information and discusses their coverage plans.

The Russian Government sets rating and viewership requirements for RT and, since it receives budget from the state, it must complete tasks given by the state. RT news stories are written and edited “to become news” exclusively in RT’s Moscow office.

RT hires or makes contractual agreements with Westerners with views that fit its agenda and airs them on RT. Some hosts and journalists do not present themselves as associated with RT when interviewing people, and many of them have affiliations to other media and activist organizations.

“RT cryptically refer to “independent production companies”, who are of course in turn paid by Russia Today, who are paid by the Kremlin. If you checkout some of the members declared interests and payments at Westminster, you’ll find that anyone who appears on Russia Today receives a payment from a company called: Studio Sixty Billion”

Exploring the extensive and murky ties between UKIP and the Kremlin, questions were put to both Gerard Batten and Nigel Farage, on the topic of direct payments from RT. Batten denied ever having been paid an appearance fee and Farage did not respond.

RT however did respond, saying: “RT never paid either of them for their appearances. We cannot comment on whether any compensation was provided by independent production companies.”

One such production company is Studio Sixty Billion, where RT presenter of the show Sam Delaney’s News Thing is registered as the director.

One researcher in the field contacted Byline after the UKIP article, saying: “RT cryptically refer to “independent production companies”, who are of course in turn paid by Russia Today, who are paid by the Kremlin. If you checkout some of the members declared interests and payments at Westminster, you’ll find that anyone who appears on Russia Today receives a payment from a company called: Studio Sixty Billion, who are based near London bridge/Southwark in London. They seem to be quite fond of promoting the bizarre, chaotic and surreal, there’s some frankly bizarre assange stuff theyve [sic] made. They produce programmes for RT too.”

“Much like the Kremlin does in Russia (hyper-normalisation) to confuse people and make them hanker for stability,” they added.

“Studio Sixty Billion were contacted this morning and were asked if their production budgets came direct from RT for RT content, and if RT had correctly asserted that they as the independent production paid guests as part of that budget allocation. The company spokesperson said: “I’m afraid I can’t help you on this, you’ll have to find that information elsewhere.”

Studio Sixty Billion, previously Studio 60 Billion, is now registered in Borehamwood and was incorporated on the 22nd of July 2015 as a £1 limited company.

It was originally registered at Unit 438, Metal Box Factory in Borough, London, and changed the address in March 2017.

Sam Delaney became sole director in July 2016 and Companies House records show it was set up as a mailbox style company, with Delaney owning £5,000 in shares at the 13th of November 2015.

The company accounts for the period ending in July 2016 show net assets of £187,163 and shareholder’s funds of £218,640, with £5,000 in share capital shown as called up at incorporation – Delaney’s shares.

Overall, the balance sheet is healthy.

Studio Sixty Billion were contacted this morning and were asked if their production budgets came direct from RT for RT content, and if RT had correctly asserted that they as the independent production paid guests as part of that budget allocation. The company spokesperson said: “I’m afraid I can’t help you on this, you’ll have to find that information elsewhere.”

RT do clearly allocate a budget to the shows they produce and broadcast, and their content and finances are directly managed at a state level. Because of international investigations and known facts this means Studio Sixty Billion is acting for the Kremlin to help “conquer the audience and expose it to Russian state messaging.”

This also means the guests are directly exposed to a Kremlin asset and unknown human contacts – potentially from intelligence services, receive funds direct from a state actor, and are assisting the Kremlin with their foreign operations.

“using the search facility within the UK’s Parliament website, it immediately returns other occasions where declared payments from a state actor have been made to serving British officials.”

On a cursory search of the terms “MP register of interests Studio Sixty Billion”, three results immediately appear at the top of the search return.

David Davies, MP for Monmouth, lists two payments from Studio Sixty Billion in his register of financial interests for two appearances on Delaney’s News Thing.

The first declared fee was £750 for an appearance on the 22nd of December 2016, and included off-stage preparation time. The second appearance was on the 22nd of March 2017, again with a fee of £750 and a longer period of ‘preparation time’.

Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley, lists two payments from Studio Sixty Billion in his register of financial interests, also for two appearances, and both paid at £750. On the 17th of November 2016 and the 21st of April 2016, Evans lists the payments as from Delaney’s company but notes the purpose of both as “appearing on ‘Russia Today’.”

Former MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, lists two payments of £750 from Studio Sixty Billion in his own register of interests. Both fees, for appearances on the 10th of October 2016 and the 24th of February 2017, were paid to Danczuk Media Ltd.

In total, this shows £4,500 pounds of directly attributable Kremlin state funds paid direct to British MP’s over the years 2016 to 2017.

However, by using the search facility within the UK’s Parliament website, it immediately returns other occasions where declared payments from a state actor have been made to serving British officials.

“Lord Prescott responded to a query on the declared interests saying: “I’ll have to check with my secretary because they do all this admin stuff. I went on there a couple of times I think but when I found out it was a Russian thing I haven’t been on since.”

Lord Prescott shows an entry in his register which reads: “interest deleted 18/01/2017

Guest on ‘Sam Delaney’s News Thing’ programme for RT UK (26 November 2015); fee and travel expenses paid by Studio Sixty Billion.”

A second entry reads: “Interest deleted 18/01/2017 Guest on ‘Sam Delaney’s News Thing’ programme for RT UK (14 January 2016); fee and travel expenses paid by Studio Sixty Billion.”

A third: “Interest deleted 15/06/2017 Guest on ‘Sam Delaney’s News Thing’ programme for RT UK (3 June 2016), fee, travel and hotel expenses paid by Studio Sixty Billion.”

Rosie Duffy, MP for Canterbury, records: “12 October 2017, received £500 from Russia Today (Studio Sixty Billion, Unit 438, Metal Box Factory, 30 Great Guilford Street, London SE1 0HS) for an appearance on News Thing on 28 July 2017. Hours: 3 hrs. (Registered 19 October 2017)”

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golder’s Green, records: “Payments from Studio Sixty Billion, 16 Short’s Gardens, London WC2H 9AU: 4 October 2016, received £1,000 for TV appearance and preparation. Hours: 1.5 hrs. (Registered 06 October 2016)”

Johnny Mercer, MP for Plymouth, Moor View, records: “16 December 2015, received £1,000 from Studio Sixty Billion, 16 Short Gardens, London WC2H 9AU, for filming of a television programme. Hours: 3 hrs. (Registered 07 January 2016)”

Above this entry, Mercer records being paid only £600 by the Daily Mail for four hours work, an amount he specifically states was given away to charity.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, declares: “Payments from Studio Sixty Billion, 16 Shorts Gardens, London WC2H 9AU: 1 December 2015, received fee of £1,000 for appearance on a TV panel show. Hours 2 hrs. (Registered 07 January 2016)” and “28 January 2016, received fee of £1,000 for appearance on a TV panel show. Hours 2 hrs. (Registered 12 February 2016)”.

During the same period, Lammy was paid between £350 and £500 for appearances of similar duration on the BBC.

Lord Prescott responded to a query on the declared interests saying: “I’ll have to check with my secretary because they do all this admin stuff. I went on there a couple of times I think but when I found out it was a Russian thing I haven’t been on since.”

“They’re all over the world poking their noses in everyone’s business,” he added.

While the exact fees paid to Lord Prescott are unknown, this initial search of parliamentary records shows that 8 British officials have declared payments from a state actor in the last few years, totalling £9,000.

This has also exposed to them a Kremlin-managed environment for a period of time, during which intelligence services were presented with opportunities of physical access to them and their belongings.

“During the 2010 to 2014 period alone, the Guardian have previously documented 17 appearances by Farage on RT, escalating over time. UKIP insiders have alleged he was being paid £2,000 per appearance during this period, which would have totalled £34,000 and would have made up the bulk of his 2014 net assets.”

Danczuk is not the only official to run media payments through a limited company.

Nigel Farage has his own, Thorn In The Side Limited, registered at Companies House.

It is known that Farage has declared his media activities in Europe to bring in over £5,000 since 2010.

While he declined to answer questions as to whether he had been paid by RT, and whether his own appearance fee was £2,000 as alleged by UKIP insiders, the company accounts are revealing.

Farage is the sole director of the company, first registered in 2011 in Essex.

The balance sheet of the first trading year shows a nominal amount of income, which ties into his declaration in the EU parliament register of interests. He held £9,737 cash at the bank in the period ending May 2012 and owed £6,448, leaving him £3,289 in shareholders funds.

By the 31st of May 2013, the accounts were drastically different. Cash at bank had risen to £62,825 and net assets to £41,227.

By the 31 of May 2014, the finances had grown again. Cash at bank stood at £76,945 and net assets to £57,200, while debts had decreased from £21,548 to £19,745.

By 2016, the net assets had risen to £61,871.

During the 2010 to 2014 period alone, the Guardian have previously documented 17 appearances by Farage on RT, escalating over time. UKIP insiders have alleged he was being paid £2,000 per appearance during this period, which would have totalled £34,000 and would have made up the bulk of his 2014 net assets.

In 2014, the Daily Mail briefly pursued an investigation into Nigel Farage’s company, concluding: “by using Thorn In The Side as a personal service company, he will have only paid £9,097.60 in corporation tax, and a further £1,687.50 on a £7,500 he took as a dividend, taxed at 22.5 per cent.

This will have presented a saving of £11,097.93 on an income tax bill. Mr Farage could then draw the money out as income more slowly, limiting his tax liability. He would be taxed on the money when he draws it later.”

“He used to declare outside earnings on his register of members interests for journalism of €500- €1,000 and lecturing fees of €1,001- €5,000 a month. It is not clear what Mr Farage is actually paid for, but he regularly appears on TV and radio and writes in newspapers, although not all publications pay for articles,” they added.

Further examining Farage’s most recent declaration of interests in the EU, dated 2017, shows he has substantial income from two distinct revenue streams.

“This allows us to accurately estimate that Farage has an annual income of at least £180,000 on top his MEP salary and expenses, at least £60,000 of which comes from unknown sources.”

He declares “broadcast contracts” as a level 4 income, meaning they are valued at “more than EUR 10 000 gross a month.” This will include his LBC show and work on Fox News.

Separately, he declares occasional income under the description “Political and current affairs commentator” as a level 3 income, meaning the work is valued “EUR 5001 to EUR 10 000 gross a month”.

This allows us to accurately estimate that Farage has an annual income of at least £180,000 on top his MEP salary and expenses, at least £60,000 of which comes from unknown sources.

As yet, Farage has not responded to questions as to whether he has been paid fees by Studio Sixty Billion, what for, how often, and how much he has earned from them.

“you’re just looking for a fucking smoking gun mate.”

Studio Sixty Billion’s Ben Rigden made a further comment for the company, saying: “I know what you’re up to. We’re contracted to make shows for RT like any other production company would be. We have a budget from RT and we make the show. They don’t have anything to do with our guests or writers.”

When asked about the MP’s declared payments, he said: “Check your OFCOM rules, I don’t have to talk about who we pay or how much. Whether MP’s declare it is their business.”

When asked if he had ever paid Nigel Farage and how much, he said: “We’re just an independent contractor operating within the rules, you’re just looking for a fucking smoking gun mate.”

He was right.

To view the original article CLICK HERE

Regards,

Greg_L-W.

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Posted in EU, EUkip, Farage, GL-W, GLW, Greg Lance - Watkins, Greg_L-W., UKIP | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

#Dark_Money Funding of #BreXit & How Were #Arron_Banks & #Farage Funded …

Posted by Greg Lance - Watkins (Greg_L-W) on 19/10/2017

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#Dark_Money Funding of #BreXit
& How Were #Arron_Banks & #Farage Funded …
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Posted by:
Greg Lance – Watkins
Greg_L-W

eMail:
Greg_L-W@BTconnect.com

The BLOG:
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~~~~~~~~~~#########~~~~~~~~~~

.
The corruption of EUkip’s leadership,
their anti UKIP claque in POWER & the NEC

is what gives the remaining 10% a bad name!

000a ukip-025 count.png~~~~~~~~~~#########~~~~~~~~~~

.

Hi,

Mystery deepens over secret source of Brexit ‘dark money’

Only one major pro-Leave donor refuses to distance himself from controversial £435,000, which bankrolled DUP’s Brexit spending spree.

lead Richard Cook, chair of the secretive group that channelled £435,000 to the DUP, is interviewed at his home by Channel 4’s Alex Thomson. Image used under Fair Use: Channel 4. All rights reserved.A number of major political donors have denied they are the source of a controversial £435,000 donation to the DUP’s Brexit campaign, openDemocracy can reveal today – with only one person refusing to distance themself from the secret donation.

openDemocracy has investigated a list of key figures in relation to the donation, and all apart from one have either denied involvement or have made public statements indicating opposition to Brexit. The only person we contacted who has told us he will not comment is Henry Angest, a banker and longstanding Conservative party donor, who is known to be a supporter of Brexit. 

Continuing secrecy raises pressing questions about transparency in UK politics.

There is no evidence to suggest that Angest, nor any of the other figures we have contacted, are the source of the £435,000. Nor is there any suggestion that whoever gave this unprecedented sum to the DUP’s Leave campaign broke any laws.

But the continuing secrecy raises pressing questions about transparency in UK politics – particularly as Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party now holds the balance of power in parliament, propping up Theresa May’s minority government as it negotiates Brexit.

The UK government announced earlier this year that it will change the law to end donor secrecy in Northern Ireland, but has rejected calls to backdate the law to 2014, so that the source of the DUP donation could be revealed. Government and DUP sources have rejected accusations that this is ‘protection’ for the DUP, as part of their £1 billion deal to keep the Conservatives in power.

One consistent clue

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has repeatedly refused to reveal the source of the cash, which was spent on lavish pro-Leave campaigning in the weeks before Brexit. But we have consistently been given one clue as to where the money came from: that those behind the donation are passionate supporters of the Union between the four nations of the UK.

After openDemocracy first revealed the scale of the secret donation, DUP leader Arlene Foster was grilled about it on the BBC Northern Ireland show ‘The View’. She said that the money came from “an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept”. Later that month, under continued pressure, her party disclosed that the money came from “pro-Union business people”, via a little-known group called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). Glasgow-based Richard Cook, who chairs the CRC, has claimed that the group was set up to promote the Union, and has also revealed that Scottish people are among the donors.

openDemocracy has since investigated every major political donor who fits this profile. In particular, we contacted everyone who gave £25,000 or more to oppose independence in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum, and asked each donor from that group (apart from those already on record as Remain supporters) if they were the source of the DUP donation.

The findings of our investigation are below.

Ruling out Remainers

‘Vote to Leave the EU’. Flickr/David Holt. CC-by-2.0.In February, we discovered that the £435,000 had been channelled to the DUP via a little-known group, the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). The DUP Brexit campaign manager Jeffrey Donaldson MP has described the CRC as “a group which supports constitutional pro-Union causes”. He added: “they believed, as did we, that Brexit would be good for the Union and bad for those who oppose it.” 

Our first step was to eliminate from our enquiries all the pro-Union donors who have also – vocally or financially – supported the Remain campaign. These include Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who gave a million pounds to the pro-Union Scottish campaign, Better Together, and has also spoken repeatedly in public about her support for EU membership. Donald Houston, whose firm Raindance Investments Ltd gave £200,000 to the pro-Union campaign in 2014, also contributed to the Remain campaign. The billionaire banker Bruno Schroder made significant donations to Better Together, the Remain campaign, and the Kensington Conservative party.

Ian Taylor’s company Vitol, the world’s largest oil trader, was fined $7 million in 2007 for paying $13 million in kickbacks to Iraqi officials during the Saddam Hussein era. Taylor is also the majority shareholder in Harris Tweed Hebrides and chairman of the board of the Royal Opera House. He was a major donor to Better Together before the Scottish independence referendum, and also to the Remain campaign in 2016.

Orion Engineering is also an important player in Scotland’s oil industry, led by Alan Savage. The firm, which specialises in recruitment, gave £50,000 to Better Together ahead of the Scottish referendum. The firm has not responded to our attempts to contact Savage, but given that the firm has also supported the Liberal Democrats (opponents of Brexit), and in 2015 Savage wrote that “being part of the European Union is fundamental to my business”, and that “leaving the EU is a completely absurd idea”, we have ruled him out of our enquiries. 

“Mr Sansom knows nothing about this shower”

Next, there were those pro-Union donors who told us that they supported the Remain campaign, or vocally distanced themselves from the DUP deal.

Author Christopher Sansom is reported on the Electoral Commission website as having given £200,000 to Better Together (though The Scotsman has previously put the figure at £294,000). Speaking to openDemocracy via his agent, he confirmed that he “knows nothing about this shower”, and was a Remain supporter. 

Conservative peer Andrew Fraser is reported on the Electoral Commission website as having given £100,000 to Better Together of which he was treasurer, and also gave £20,000 to the “Let’s Stay Together” campaign (again, this number has been reported in the Scotsman as being higher). He was ennobled in David Cameron’s resignation honours, and, when asked by openDemocracy if he supported a Remain vote said, “I certainly did”.

The Scottish businessman Alan McFarlane, who is chairman of the advisory board of the think tank “Reform Scotland” and founder and senior partner of Edinburgh based investment management company Dundas Partners LLP, gave £20,000 to the Unionist “Vote No Borders” campaign, and also £10,000 to the “WSF2014 Ltd” pro-union campaign. Asked about the Constitutional Research Council, he told openDemocracy “I know nothing about them”, and sources confirmed that he was a Remain supporter.

Angus MacDonald, who made his fortune in the financial information industry and now works in recycling in Scotland, ran his own pro-Union campaign in 2014. He confirmed that he had “no idea about any of this”. The Constitutional Research Council chair Richard Cook also works in the waste management industry in Scotland, but MacDonald said he had “never heard of Richard Cook.”

The Earl of Seafield is the chieftain of Clan Grant and one of Scotland’s biggest landowners. It was the previous Earl of Seafield who, as Scotland’s Chancellor, signed the Act of the Union in 1707, famously saying, “there’s ane end of ane auld sang”. The current Earl made a donation of £100,000 under the name “Sir Ian Seafield” to the Better Together campaign, while his Reidhaven Trust Estate Ltd made a further donation of £20,000. Asked about the DUP donation, his spokesperson confirmed that “Lord Seafield does indeed know nothing about this”.

Banker Ivor Dunbar, former co-head of global capital markets at Deutsche Bank, gave £50,000 to Better Together in 2012. Dunbar is chairman of the Scottish based gap-year charity Project Trust, and has told openDemocracy he knows “nothing about the matters to which you refer”. 

Jimmy Milne is chairman and managing director of the Balmoral Group, a major player in the Scottish oil industry. His firm gave £58,000 to Better Together, but his spokesperson also confirmed that “he has no knowledge of the CRC or Richard Cook so is unable to assist with your enquiry”.

The Buccleuch Estates Limited, the company owned by the Duke of Buccleuch, gave a total of £55,724 to various pro-Union campaigns ahead of Scotland’s referendum, but confirmed to openDemocracy that they know nothing about the £435,000 donation to the DUP.

Sir David Garrard, a major Labour donor and Better Together supporter to the value of £25,000, told us that “I can confirm that I have never given directly, or knowingly indirectly, a penny piece to the DUP”.

Sir Edward Percy Keswick Weatherall’s family fortune comes from its controlling share of the bank Jardine Matheson, which played a notable role in the 19th century Opium Wars, an episode of British history so bloody that it caused William Gladstone to say at the time that he lived “in dread of the judgments of God upon England for our national iniquity towards China”.

Weatherall made a donation of £50,000 to Better Together ahead of the vote in Scotland in 2014. He has told openDemocracy that he was not involved in any donation to the Constitutional Research Council, and has never heard of the organisation or of its chair, Richard Cook. 

Mark Bamford, whose family firm owns the iconic heavy-machinery company JCB gave a £74,747.47 donation to a group called the Scottish Research Society ahead of the 2014 referendum. openDemocracy investigations have ascertained that The Scottish Research Society’s registered address was a flat in Edinburgh which belonged to Christopher Monckton, the former UKIP deputy leader and prominent climate change denier (and subject of previous openDemocracy investigations). However, Bamford responded to our queries saying “I am sorry I am unable to assist and any donations that may have been made are in the public domain.”

Malcolm Offord ran his own pro-Union campaign, named “Vote No Borders”, to which he personally donated £20,000, and which attracted a number of other substantial donations. Offord previously worked in the City, and moved back to Scotland to establish his own firm “Badenoch & Co”.

Badenoch’s office sits at the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town on the top floor of a building otherwise occupied by the firm Murray Capital, owned by the controversial former Rangers owner David Murray. Together, they face across Charlotte Square to Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland.

In 2016, Offord spoke in favour of a Leave vote, and he is well connected with the Unionist, political and business worlds in Scotland. However, his office has told us that he knows nothing about the donation to the Constitutional Research Council and the DUP.

The Marquess of Salisbury and Stalbury trustees

Hatfield House. Imaged used under Fair Use: http://www.hatfield-house.co.uk/. All rights reserved.Stalbury Trustees, who gave to Better Together, are regular donors to the Conservative party. Their trustees include the Marquess of Salisbury, a former leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords who is known to have supported a Leave vote. Salisbury has long taken an interest in Northern Irish Unionism, and, in 2010, hosted talks between the Conservatives and Northern Irish Unionist parties, including prominent DUP figures, at his home, Hatfield House, in Hertfordshire.

The Marquess of Salisbury is also a donor to the think tank Open Europe. As openDemocracy has previously revealed, one Open Europe former staff member, Christopher Howarth, is now responsible for the European Research Group – the secretive pro-Brexit MP group which received funding from the Constitutional Research Council when it was chaired by the now Brexit minister, Steve Baker. Another former Open Europe staffer, Raoul Ruparel, now works as a Special Adviser in the Department for Exiting the EU alongside Steve Baker, the former ERG chair.

‘No one involved with Stalbury is aware of the specific donation which you mention.’

openDemocracy wrote to Mr Ulric David Barnett, who is secretary of the trust (and lists his profession as “gentleman”). We received a phone call from the mailroom of a legal firm named Forsters, in Mayfair. The address belongs to them, and they initially claimed they knew no one of that name. However, we eventually managed to establish that the trust is, in fact, a client of the firm. After emailing and telephoning the relevant lawyer, we finally received this statement:

“I can tell you that Stalbury has made no donation to the Constitutional Research Council, nor, directly or indirectly, to the Democratic Unionist Party and no one involved with Stalbury is aware of the specific donation which you mention.”

The distillers William Grant and Sons, who produce whiskies including Glenfiddich and Balvenie, donated £135,000 to Better Together, and £25,000 each to the separate pro-Union campaigns “Vote No Borders”, run by the businessman Malcolm Offord, and £25,000 to the campaign run by the previously mentioned Angus MacDonald. After chasing up our letters to them, we received a phone call from Jack Irvine, CEO of Media House International, who told us that he had arranged the Better Together donation, and that “I can assure you there was no connection” between the company and the Constitutional Research Council or the DUP. 

The Vestey family

There is one major Unionist donor who has not responded to our repeated attempts to contact him.

The Vestey family are heirs to a vast meat processing fortune, and one of their firms, Western United Investment Management Ltd, gave £40,000 to Better Together. Lord Samuel Vestey is Master of the Horse in the Royal household, and perhaps best known in the UK for the ‘horse meat scandal’, in which his firm supplied horse meat, labelled as beef, to a number of major outlets in 2013. In Australia, he is notorious for the more serious allegation that he used Aboriginal people as “virtual slaves”, leading to the iconic “Wave Hill Walk Off” in 1966 and remembered in the Australian protest song, “From little things, big things grow”. Both Vestey and his father served in the Scots Guards.

We have been unable to establish whether Lord Vestey took a firm public position on the EU referendum, but in an interview with Farmers’ Weekly in April this year he talked about how difficult Brexit would be for farmers, and worried about the shock to British voters as a result of what he called a “divorce settlement” – not language traditionally associated with Leave supporters.

The Vesteys have not responded to our repeated attempts to contact them. 

Henry Angest and Arbuthnot Latham

There is one major donor to the Unionist cause in 2014 who is known to have supported Brexit, and who has refused to deny involvement in the DUP donation.

Sir Henry Angest, Chairman and Chief Executive of Arbuthnot Banking Group PLC. Image used under Fair Use: Arbuthnot Banking Group PLC. All rights reserved.Henry Angest is a Swiss-born banker with an estate in Bridge of Cally, Perthshire. He is chairman and chief executive of the private bank Arbuthnot Latham, owner of the firm Flowidea, and a former treasurer of the Conservative party. He has given over £1.9 million to the Conservative party and made headlines when he was given a knighthood by David Cameron, causing what the Daily Mail called a “cash for titles storm”. He made headlines again when, in 2013, it was revealed that Secure Trust Bank plc, of which he was chair, owned the controversial high-cost loans company Everyday Loans, which was reported to charge interest at an average of 74.8% APR. His bank sold the company in April 2016.

Angest’s firm Flowidea gave £100,000 to Better Together in 2014, and £10,000 to the “North East says No” campaign, against devolution to the North East of England, in 2004. His Arbuthnot Banking Group gave £20,000 to the Vote No campaign in the referendum on the Alternative Vote in 2011. In 2016 alone, Arbuthnott gave £68,500 to the Conservative party, Flowidea gave £185,000 and Angest himself gave £2,000 to the Perth and Kinross Conservatives. 

Angest publicly backed Brexit, and, we are told, has long been involved in the Eurosceptic movement. Despite being a prolific donor to the causes he believes in, neither he, nor Flowidea, nor Arbuthnot, nor any of the 22 companies he is currently or has ever been a director of, are listed with the Electoral Commission as having registered any donations to any of the Leave campaigns in Great Britain.

However, investigations by The Observer in 2010 showed that he had given funds in 2006 to the Freedom Association – a right-wing group which has a number of ties to the Constitutional Research Council, through which the DUP donation was channelled. Steve Baker, the current Brexit minister, was a member of the Freedom Association until “around 2013”, the organisation told openDemocracy. Baker took a donation from the CRC in December 2016 for his work with the European Research Group. As openDemocracy has previously revealed, Richard Cook, CRC chair, has spoken at Freedom Association events, and was the Scottish representative of the Campaign Against Political Correctness – an organisation with very close links to the Freedom Association. In 2007, the two key DUP MPs, Jeffrey Donaldson and Sammy Wilson, were involved in a Freedom Association ‘fact-finding mission’ to Northern Ireland. Donaldson was the DUP’s Brexit campaign manager.

There is one major donor to the Unionist cause in 2014 who is known to have supported Brexit, and who has refused to deny involvement in the DUP donation.

Angest, like the Marquess of Salisbury, has also previously funded the group Open Europe, whose former staff members (as mentioned above) include Christopher Howarth, who now runs the CRC-funded European Research Group, and Raoul Ruparel, now a special adviser in the Department for Exiting the EU.

Finally, Mr Angest has also been a donor to the controversial organisation Atlantic Bridge, which brings together the British and the American neo-Conservative right and whose UK director was listed in 2009 as the Scottish businessman Adam Werritty, whose links to Liam Fox caused the latter to resign in disgrace as defence secretary in 2011.

Angest’s office eventually responded to our attempts to contact him, saying that they “have no comment on this matter”. We informed him that he was the only known Brexit-backer in our survey not to distance themselves from this donation, and asked again if he wanted to comment. His office didn’t reply.

We have no evidence to suggest that Henry Angest is the source of the DUP donation, and he is welcome to contact us to clarify the matter.

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‘Substantial’ fine linked to DUP’s secret Brexit donors

Former minister demands answers on £6,000 fine, questioning legality of DUP’s mystery source of Brexit cash

DUP leader Arlene Foster and UK prime minister Theresa May. Image, gov.uk, fair use.

A former Europe minister has today called for a “full and proper investigation” into a controversial £435,000 donation towards the DUP’s Brexit campaign, as new details emerge of a substantial fine linked to the transaction.

Theresa May’s allies in parliament, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), have always insisted that the donation, channelled via a secretive group known as the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), complied fully with the law.

However, openDemocracy has now learned that a £6,000 fine imposed by the Electoral Commission and paid in full last month was connected to the CRC. Labour MP Chris Bryant has written to the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, stating that it “cannot possibly be right” for details of one of the highest-ever fines imposed by the Electoral Commission to be kept secret.

“Failures by a regulated entity”

The Electoral Commission revealed on its website last month (as first spotted by The Detail) that it had imposed a £6,000 sanction connected to a political donation in Northern Ireland, but gave no name, offence, or summary of the decision. The Commission stated only that it imposed the penalty due to “failures by a regulated entity” but could not “disclose further information” because of legal restrictions.

Bryant has asked Brokenshire to confirm who the “regulated entity” is, and whether the fine relates to the unprecedented £435,000 donation given to Mrs May’s Westminster allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in order to campaign for Brexit.

The £435,000 donation – a much larger sum than the DUP has ever spent on an electoral campaign in its history – attracted particular controversy because almost none of the cash was spent in Northern Ireland. Yet the donor secrecy laws which apply to Northern Ireland, and not the rest of the UK, have allowed the donors(s) to remain anonymous.

In his letter to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Bryant says of the Electoral Commission’s £6,000 fine:

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of maintaining secrecy about financial donations in Northern Ireland, it cannot possibly be right to keep secret the details of a regulated entity being found to have broken electoral law and being fined a substantial amount. No other judicial or quasi-judicial decision of this nature is kept secret in the UK.”

“No comment”

The Electoral Commission’s office in Belfast would make no comment on their own investigation nor on the casework that led to the high-level fine.

However, political sources in Northern Ireland with knowledge of the Commission’s affairs have confirmed to openDemocracy that the substantial sanction was connected to the Constitutional Research Council (CRC) – the secretive group that channelled the £435,000 to the DUP in Belfast.

The £6,000 fine was paid in full to the Commission on August 30.

openDemocracy contacted the CRC’s chair, Glasgow-based Richard Cook, and asked him to confirm details of the fine; why his organisation had been sanctioned by the Electoral Commission, and what part of Northern Ireland’s electoral law had been broken. He was also repeatedly asked why both he and the DUP had insisted no laws had been broken, and when he had learned that the Commission was investigating the cash transfer.

Throughout the conversation, Mr Cook was given multiple opportunities to dismiss the listed £6,000 fine as nothing to do with the Constitutional Research Council or the DUP. He declined to do so, or to make any further comment.

End donor secrecy

After openDemocracy first revealed the scale of the secret donation to the DUP earlier this year, we reported on Mr Cook’s business connections to a former Saudi spy boss and to an individual with alleged links to a major arms scandal, and yesterday published the results of our investigation into a list of key figures in relation to the donation.

Although current electoral rules in Northern Ireland allow political parties to protect the identities of donors and funding, the government is expected to announce this will soon change.

However the UK government’s policy strategy on full transparency is likely to be highly influenced by their £1 billion deal with the DUP. The Conservative party’s minority government is being propped up in parliament by the DUP, and any change which exposed the DUP-CRC donation arrangement is likely to be resisted.

Rather than backdate transparency rules to 2014 – which would reveal the source of the £435,000 DUP cash – Brokenshire announced earlier this year that the change, which will be made through secondary legislation, would only apply to donations and loans received after 1st July 2017.

Government and DUP sources have denied that this is ‘protection’ for the DUP, as part of their deal to keep the Conservatives in power.

‘A full and proper investigation?’

Last month the Electoral Commission published details of a £3,500 fine on UKIP related to campaign expenditure.

In June, the Commission fined the owner of Butlin’s, Peter Harris, £12,000 for breaking spending return rules. Mr Harris spent £420,000 on the Leave campaign in last year’s EU referendum.

Also in June, the DUP were fined £4,000 for failure to complete campaign expenditure returns for the 2016 Assembly elections.

Bryant’s letter to Mr Brokenshire regarding the mystery £6,000 fine pointedly ends: “Does the fine relate to the DUP’s donation from the CRC? Will you launch a full and proper investigation into how the money was spent? And will you ensure that the truth comes to light?”

This is day two of openDemocracy’s week-long #BrexitDarkMoney series. See yesterday’s revelations here and our reasons for publishing this series here.

We need your help to expose the DUP

Theresa May is desperately clinging to power, relying on the DUP, the hard-right party that has blocked same-sex marriage, and kept abortion illegal.

Worse still, they’re bankrolled by dark money – we’ve exposed the shady group behind their lavish pro-Brexit campaigning, but they’re still refusing to name their secret donors. Now they hold the balance of power at Westminster, it’s even more vital that we find out who their paymasters are.

Can you chip in to boost our investigation now, so that we can expose the dark money bankrolling British politics?

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Can we return to Europe after Brexit?Since the referendum, opponents of Brexit have tried to prevent it. Now that it seems definite, for the first time Remain supporters debate how to reverse it once it has taken place. Join the discussion with Caroline Lucas MP, Clive Lewis MP, Anthony Barnett & Suzanne Moore moderated by John Harris.
Tuesday 31 Oct 2017, 7.30 – 9.15, in London.

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How did Arron Banks afford Brexit?

The self-styled ‘bad boy’ who bankrolled the Leave campaign appears to have exaggerated his wealth. So how did he pay for his Brexit spree?

lead Arron Banks in 2014, when he pledged £1million to the UK Independence Party. Ben Birchall/PA Images. All rights reserved.

In September 2013, the man who bought Brexit – Arron Banks – was in trouble. 

For the past two years, financial regulators in Gibraltar had been scrutinising his insurance under-writer, Southern Rock. They had discovered it was keeping reserves far below what was needed.

This was a serious problem. Banks claimed he had already provided £40 million to plug the hole. He also told the regulator he would step down as a director, but has since been required to find an eye-watering £60 million in extra funding. 

A year later, these financial worries seem to have completely evaporated. Banks had begun buying diamond mines, investing millions into chemical companies and wealth management firms, setting up loss-making political consultancies, and most famous of all – funding the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). 

One question remains though. If Banks was in such a tight spot in September 2013, how did he manage to be so generous the following year?

Over the past four months, openDemocracy has conducted an in-depth review of Bank’s business dealings since he first started out in business in the early 2000s. As well as his own public statements about the sources of his wealth, we have spoken to his former employers, and obtained and reviewed court documents. There are of course a number of perfectly innocent ways that Banks could have obtained the extra funds, but given Banks’ significance to British politics, what have found so far is extremely troubling. 

“Quite good at persuading people to buy things they didn’t want to buy”

Banks had started out selling vacuum cleaner appliances door to door in Basingstoke in the late 1980s. “I was quite good at persuading people to buy things they didn’t want to buy,” he told the New Statesman in October 2016. He also briefly worked as an estate agent, and ran a failed bid to become a Conservative councillor. He married young and was soon the father of two daughters. 

After leaving school with few qualifications, he had eventually found himself in a junior position in the Lloyds’ insurance market. This is where Banks gained his first exposure to the industry, where syndicates of insurers spread risks between themselves and traded financial assets to cover their positions. Banks spent seven years at Lloyds’, working his way into a junior underwriting position before he moved to Bristol, following a split from his first wife.

If Banks was in such a tight spot in September 2013, how did he manage to be so generous the following year?

It is here the cracks in Banks’ biography start to appear. Banks has claimed he was promoted and rose to lead his own sales team at Norwich Union – now part of Aviva. However, Aviva say they have no record of Banks ever having worked for Norwich Union. He has also claimed to have worked for Warren Buffett around this point in his career. We asked Buffett about this. He replied. “I have no memory of ever hearing of the name Arron Fraser Andrew Banks. He certainly never worked for me.” Further checks across the Berkshire Hathaway group, made by Buffett’s office, yielded no evidence he had ever worked for any of his subsidiaries. In a letter delivered by his lawyers, Banks declined to comment on either of these points. 

In 1998, Banks got taken on by a tiny broker focussed on motorcycle insurance run from offices above a shop in the sleepy village of Thornbury. He was granted a 20% shareholding in the fledgling business. In November 2000, he resigned as a director of the firm, and two months later, sold his shares for £251,000. 

Shortly afterwards, Banks met the woman who was to become his second wife, a Portsmouth-based Russian called Ekaterina Paderina. According to the Sunday Times, Paderina’s former husband had been interviewed twice by Special Branch because they suspected her of working for the Russian government. Ekaterina moved to join Banks in Bristol but stayed on the electoral roll in Portsmouth until 2008, still registered to a council flat overlooking the naval base. When Portsmouth Council found out she should not have been entitled to the flat because she was living with Banks, council officials reportedly demanded a cash payment be made by the Banks family in recompense.

Banks and Ekaterina wed in 2001 and in the autumn of that year Banks set up his own insurance company, with financial backing from his relatives and from the Northern Irish insurance tycoons, Leslie Hughes and James Bowers. The business focused on motorcycle, motorhome and van insurance.

The new businesses were also the first he formed with two men who would become his long term business partners, the Australian solicitor Jim Gannon and the accountant Paul Chase-Gardener.

In June this year, the Financial Times published their own analysis of the overlapping businesses of Arron Banks, the “Bad Boy of Brexit”, and its editor Lionel Barber quite reasonably asked on Twitter: “but how rich is he really?”. 

Banks fumed in a tweeted reply: “I founded and sold a listed insurance business for £145m! Not even mentioned – no FT, fake news.” That listed company was Brightside.

The amounts Banks has given to British politics are extraordinary.

The amount Banks made from the sale of Brightside is crucial to understanding whether Banks is really as rich as he says he is.

Company documents we have reviewed show Banks made £22 million from share sales, £1.2 million in salary from serving as the group’s CEO and Chief Insurance Officer, and just £270,000 in dividends.

So when Banks had told the Financial Times in 2015 he was worth £100 million, where did this valuation come from? More importantly, if he only made £22 million from Brightside share sales – where did all this cash for Brexit campaigning come from? 

The amounts Banks has given to British politics are extraordinary. A total of £6 million in loans, still outstanding, was made to Leave.EU. He famously pledged £1 million to UKIP in 2014, at a time when the organisation’s finances were stalling. Without Banks, the political potency of the party may well have fizzled out. In 2016, his company, Better for the Country Ltd, also bought almost £2 million in pro-Brexit merchandise and donated it to Grassroots Out, another Brexit campaigning group. In total, his political contributions have come to nearly £10 million. 

That would mean he might have given away almost half of what he made from Brightside to political causes. That seems amazingly generous.

“Serious and widespread failings” 

As his own tweeted rebuke of the Financial Times suggested, central to the Banks mythology is the sale of Brightside Plc. in 2014. The buyer was private equity firm Anacap. Although he tweeted that the sale had been for £145 million, it was reported at the time as being worth only £127 million. How much, though, did Banks get? 

The story starts in 2001 when Banks set up Group Direct, which was the principal operating company for his insurance brand Commercial Vehicle Direct. Group Direct made losses of over £400,000 in its first two years of operation, before finally turning a profit in 2004. 

By 2006, overall debts had increased to £34 million, but the group appeared to be growing strongly, with turnover of £20 million. Banks began to aim for a public listing of the group. The same year, he became a director of Brightside, at that time a recently formed debt management service aimed at the personal insolvency market. Crucially, Brightside was already listed on AIM, the junior stock exchange.

In June 2008, the original Banks insurance group took part in a transaction known as a ‘reverse takeover’, in which a listed company takes over a much larger unlisted company. This allows the unlisted company to obtain a listing on a stock exchange quicker than usual. Under the terms of the deal, Brightside duly bought the three companies which constituted Group Direct. The £50 million valuation put on these companies seemed high but the deal did not boost Banks’ bank account – as the consideration for the deal was in Brightside shares. 

Then, in 2008, the financial crisis hit. As with many businesses, Banks’ lending facilities came under pressure. But Banks was still able to raise money from Brightside’s shareholders: in 2009 and 2010 the company raised a total of £29 million, attracting investors with its eye-catching growth rate and ambitious plans to acquire other companies. 

Two of the assets Banks’ firm acquired were the little-known insurance brands “E-Car” and “E-Bike.” The price was an initial £15.5 million, with £19.1 million deferred, based on future profitability.

In fact, both brands were owned by Southern Rock Insurance, a company of which Banks, Gannon and Chase-Gardener collectively owned 72%.

Two other companies, “E Systems” and “E Development” were bought for a further £17 million in 2011. At the time E Development had net liabilities of over £500,000. E-systems had been set up just months before the sale by Banks, and Brightside IT director Simon Jones. It had no other customers than Brightside.

These acquisitions seem hard to justify, but in documents sent to Brightside shareholders notifying them of the proposed purchase of E-Systems and E-Development, the company stated that they had received undertakings from Banks and his fellow directors that the funds would be used to shore up the firms under-writer, Southern Rock, and thus allow Brightside to continue trading. And this is, indeed, what happened.

However, within the year Banks was fired from his role at Brightside. He famously recounted how he punched his partner and friend, Jim Gannon, in the face, when the solicitor broke the news to him. 

Banks remained a shareholder in Brightside and in 2013, sold a tranche of his shares for £6 million to a competitor, Markerstudy, which was said to be contemplating a bid for the company. After conducting due diligence and negotiating with the Brightside board however, Markerstudy declined to make a full bid, with their CEO describing Brightside as “over-valued”.

In 2014, the investment firm Anacap arrived and thought differently. They bought Brightside in its entirety, paying £127 million to take control. 

Anacap have since alleged in court that the new management team discovered “serious and widespread failings” throughout the company, many dating from Banks’ time as CEO and Chief Insurance Officer. All of the purchases of Banks’ companies (E-Car, E-Bike, E-Systems, and E Development) were confirmed to be worth far less than had been paid for them. The software supplied by E-systems was said to barely function and the Brightside website was hacked and remained inoperable for over a month. Court documents obtained during our investigation allege widespread failings, including an incendiary allegation that the company was “in breach of its banking covenants and insolvent on a net asset basis.” There were also, according to the same documents, no correct systems in place for the handling of client funds. 

All of the purchases of Banks’ companies were confirmed to be worth far less than had been paid for them.

For an insurance company, this was a particularly serious problem. Anacap replaced several senior staff and board members including the CFO, Paul Chase-Gardener. Over £35 million of value had to be written off from the Brightside balance sheet, in part because Anacap deemed the E-Car, E-Bike, E-Systems and E-Development purchases had been grossly overvalued. Within a year of the takeover, the new owners also had to plough in an additional £40 million to prevent the business from going bust. Further large write downs were made in 2015. Court documents show that £12 million had to be inserted in a failed attempt to repair the IT system alone, with numerous other consultants brought in to clear up the problems the new owners found.

openDemocracy asked Banks to comment on Anacap’s view of the value of these businesses. He declined to reply to our specific questions, instead sending a copy of a letter which his lawyers wrote to the BBC in May of this year. In this letter his lawyers say: “The offer from Anacap to acquire Brightside was announced in May 2014 nearly two years after Mr Banks had left the company.” 

In 2016, Anacap began legal action against Chase-Gardener and Brightside’s auditors for failures to adequately manage the business and present accurate financial reports. With the assistance of his brother Jonathan, a Hong Kong based lawyer, Banks was able to settle out of court in May 2015. Privately, many of the new senior management team brought in by Anacap wanted to pursue the case against him. As part of their settlement with Banks, Anacap were able to extricate Brightside from contracts with other Banks controlled businesses, such as Southern Rock, which they described as “onerous.” The case against Chase-Gardener is still being pursued in the High Court, where Anacap are seeking £20 million in damages from him. The auditors, BDO (now part of RMS Tenon), are facing a claim of around £50 million. 

Southern Rock in difficulty

Arron Banks with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Ben Birchall/PA Images. All rights reserved.While at Brightside, Banks had been able to partly re-finance the ailing Southern Rock, through buying E-Cars, E-Systems, E-Development and E-Bike from the Gibraltar based group. But the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission had also passed their report to the Financial Conduct Authority in London for review.

The authorities in London concurred with the Gibraltar regulator’s findings, that Southern Rock had been trading without sufficient reserves, and in 2013 Banks voluntarily recused himself from the FCA register. He stepped down as a director of Southern Rock in 2014. Both regulators had effectively barred him from holding a position of control within an insurance business. 

He also had to balance the books. While the funds from the sale of E-systems and E-development were passed to Southern Rock, this still left the business short of the capital needed to fund its loss reserves as the company struggled with high claim levels and a challenging market. He told Private Eye he had agreed to find £40 million to re-capitalise the business. Banks claims that Southern Rock is now a profitable company. The letter from his lawyers to the BBC, forwarded to openDemocracy, says “Southern Rock Insurance Company Limited recorded a profit of £42 million in its latest set of filed accounts (2015).”

Banks frequently boasts about running an insurance business. The reality is that he is not permitted, at the moment, to run his own insurance company.

In fact, the accounts show an underlying loss of £27.9 million on its underwriting and insurance activities in 2015 – and while the company did report a profit of £41.5 million overall, this came only after selling the rights to the “ancillary income” on its motor insurance policies for £17.5 million, and the rights to the “finance arrangement fees” for £60.2 million to another company owned by Banks, Isle of Man-based ICS Risk Solutions. Ancillary income is an umbrella term for any money an insurance company makes on top of ordinary under-writing risks, for example from instalments or administration charges. 

Given Southern Rock had only written 197,000 motor insurance policies at this time, paying nearly £78m for these rights seemed a high valuation. These assets had also not been recorded in the Southern Rock balance sheet prior to their sale, and resulted in the company booking a large capital gain. Crucially, it was the value of these sales that enabled Southern Rock to meet its obligation under the solvency regulations, and post a profit in its accounts for this year.

Whether Southern Rock will be able to do the same next year, which will likely be required under the terms of capital restructuring deal mandated by the regulators, is unclear. Banks strongly contests the assertion that Southern Rock is in difficulty, pointing out that the Gibraltar regulator, Southern Rock’s independent auditors and the London-based Financial Conduct Authority have approved the arrangements, and that all the payments to date from ICS Risk Solution, which Southern Rock relies on to remain solvent, have been made on time and in full. The letter from his lawyers states: “The future solvency of [Southern Rock] is not dependent on any particular future transaction.”

As for the regulators’ demand that Banks “voluntarily” recuse himself, he has abided by the ruling, but appointed his Hong Kong-based brother in his stead. His name and signature still appeared on a 2014 annual report filed at Companies House, where he was named as a “director.” “This mistake arose from an administrative error,” he told us in a written statement, “which was corrected as soon as it was detected. Once the error was noted, the accounts were withdrawn and resubmitted to Companies House.” He continues to control Southern Rock and Eldon Insurance, owner of the GoSkippy brand, through his holding company ICS Risk Solutions. 

Banks frequently boasts about running an insurance business. The reality is that he is not permitted, at the moment, to run his own insurance company. A letter from the Financial Conduct Authority concerning the investigation into his insurance activities, dated 17th July 2017, states that “Mr Banks does not have FCA approval to carry out an operational executive role at Eldon Insurance Services Ltd,” his new firm.

Banks’s Isle of Man-based ICS Risk Solutions is a curious organisation too. In theory, this is the ultimate holding company for Banks’s insurance empire. Yet according to a source with good knowledge of its finances, ICS Risk Solutions has just £1 million in assets, and still owes £60.2 million in monthly instalments, to Southern Rock. These payments are expected to continue until December 2020. A letter from Banks’ lawyers confirming this also said “there is no reason to doubt that the remaining outstanding amounts will be paid in full and on time,” and that Southern Rock is required to report monthly to the Gibraltar authorities, “to confirm the payment of each monthly instalment,” and so “any failure to pay would be immediately apparent.”

Banks’ present financial status is then somewhat unclear, and sometimes dependent on buying assets from one company, in order to shore up another company he himself holds a stake in. But it does seem clear that his claimed worth of £100 million is hard to justify. In the letter sent to openDemocracy, Banks claimed his worth could be even higher than £100 million, saying that he would “broadly agree” with an analysis made by the Sunday Times Rich Times list that his net worth could instead be some £250 million. When asked to explain how he accounts for all this extra wealth, Banks declined to comment.

A Lazarus-like recovery

Banks’s finances seem to have had a remarkable recovery in early 2014. But based on a full review of all the publicly available information about his companies, it is unclear where this money could have come from. 

He first had to settle a tax bill with HMRC for £1.86 million, a cheque which he subsequently sent to the Guardian newspaper to prove he was paying his taxes.

In April 2014, the MailOnline reported how Banks had raised eyebrows when he bought £2 million of shares in an AIM-listed chemicals company called Iofina – a sector he had shown no prior interest in. The company produces iodine in an industrial process which takes place alongside fracking. It had never turned a profit and swallowed up large amounts of capital as chemical prices shrank due to reduced demand. Banks’s investment is nursing a huge loss.

In June 2014, he set up Chartwell Political, a PR company which would go on to work on the Leave campaign with Jim Pryor, a former Tory party spokesman who had also worked on FW deClerk’s campaign against Nelson Mandela in South Africa and former Sunday Mirror editor Bridget Rowe, a close friend of Nigel Farage. The company would rack up losses of over £300,000 by June 2015.

Banks would go on to spend a total of £9.6 million of his personal fortune funding the organisations which arguably clinched Brexit. This accounted then for half of his lifetime earnings.

The next month, in July 2014, Banks bought more shares in STM Group plc, which offers “wealth preservation solutions,” and specialises in setting up offshore trusts and companies. He bought over £600,000 worth of shares – on top of an existing shareholding. This brought his total share value up to £1.5 million. 

By September 2014, Banks had also bought a loss-making, family-run jewellery shop in Bristol, for an undisclosed sum, and lent the firm some £200,000, and by February 2015 he was the owner of four diamond mines in South Africa.

The diamond market had fallen sharply since the financial crash and big players, such as de Beers, began to withdraw from older mines picked clean and requiring huge investment to return to profitable production. Many of these mines had changed hands several times in the years since. One of the mines Banks picked up had collapsed in value from a reported £12 million valuation in 2005, to as little as £200,000 by the time Banks bought.

One of the four mines also remains closed, according to Banks’s website, another contains just “tailings,” meaning there little more than piles of waste to scrabble through. What exactly motivated Banks to buy these mines remains unclear.

Crucially, October 2014 also marked the time Banks began his extraordinarily lavish political spending campaign, with his first £1 million pledge to the United Kingdom Independence Party. Interestingly, Banks never came fully good on this promise – dripping in just over £400,000 in cash instalments over the next six months. Nevertheless, Banks’s 2014 spending alone, or what can be seen of it from publicly available records, came to an estimated £5 million. This was a very large sum given the pressure he was under from the Gibraltar regulators. We also estimate it to be just under a quarter of his total gross earnings of £22m – from his various businesses – since 2001. 

Nor did his political spending slow down. Banks would go on to spend a total of £9.6 million of his personal fortune funding the organisations which arguably clinched Brexit: Leave.EU, UKIP and Better for the Country Ltd (set up by STM Fidecs). This accounted then for half of his lifetime earnings – an amazingly generous amount. 

One of his most lavish donations was some £2 million to Grassroots Out via Better for the Country Ltd, which was categorised to the Electoral Commission as “non-cash” – a designation usually reserved for the provision of office space or in-kind services to political parties. In reality, even this “non-cash” donation cost Banks significant amounts of hard cash. In a letter to openDemocracy, Banks’ lawyers say Better for the Country bought “merchandise, leaflets, billboards, pens, badges and other paraphernalia,” before donating all of this to Grassroots Out. 

In early 2016, he used Better for the Country to make cash donations to Trade Unionists Against the European Union, and another pro-Brexit group called Veterans for Britain. Banks also provided £100,000 to Martin Durkin, a climate change sceptic and producer of “Brexit: The Movie,” a controversial online documentary produced to support the campaign. The sum was equivalent to a third of the documentary’s reported budget.

These donations were all the more remarkable because his new insurance company, founded after Banks left Brightside, was now also requiring large amounts of investment, according to industry experts. Eldon Insurance achieved a profit of just £281,000 on a turnover of £33.6 million in 2015. 

Earlier this year, Banks attempted a £200m fundraising effort for Eldon, according to the Times, but was unable to raise the finance from City investors and abandoned the listing. Profits fell further in 2016, to just £165,000. Earlier this month, Banks announced he was attempting a second public listing, and aiming for a valuation of some £250m. He claims to be forecasting a dramatic increase in profits – anywhere between £25m and £28m for the year. To support this claim he provided the Mail on Sunday with unpublished figures showing the profits for the first six months of the year. We asked for a copy of these, but his spokesperson did not respond.

To drum up business, Banks’ insurance brand GoSkippy now advertises heavily on Leave.EU’s websites, social media and email marketing. However there are numerous reports of poor customer service, onerous terms obfuscated in confusing small-print and administrative failings by the company, some of which have left motorists unaware that they were no longer insured. In response, Banks commented that “Eldon works very hard on complaints and actively reviews its processes off the back of both internal and external audits of both customer service quality and compliance with regularity requirements,” saying their main brand GoSkippy had complaint levels below 3 per 1000 customers, and that a maximum of 4 per 1000 was the industry guideline.

Southern Rock, despite its difficulties both before and after the regulators’ intervention, has until very recently been the principal under-writer of both Banks’ Go Skippy brand and the Debenhams Insurance brand. The letter from Banks’ lawyers points out that the recapitalisation plan designed to allow Southern Rock to meet its solvency obligations were approved by the regulator and the company’s independent auditors and that they have a perfect record of delivering their monthly payments to date on time and in full. 

It is clear, however, that the company only posted a profit last year by relying on the £60 million generated from selling rights to other companies controlled by Banks. To continue to trade on a solvent basis in the years to come, Southern Rock will need to have a profitable underlying business, or have additional cash injections.

And Banks’ own Eldon Insurance, which owns GoSkippy, now plans to move its business from Southern Rock – instead setting up a “managing general agent” called Somerset Bridge, which will be arranging under-writing services from a different Gibraltarian under-writer, backed by a Bermuda-based reinsurer.

The fabric of our democracy 

Interestingly, our review of Banks’ business empire also shows a huge cross-over between the key figures in Leave.EU and Banks’ businesses. Leave.EU’s Chief Executive Officer Liz Bilney serves on the board of numerous Banks’ companies.

Leave.EU’s director of communications, the Belizean diplomat and close associate of Lord Ashcroft, Andy Wigmore, was appointed to the board of Southern Rock in 2014 and joined Eldon Insurance in December 2015, despite having no background within the industry. 

Crucial to maintaining the fabric of democracy in Britain is understanding where large donors have made their money, and just as importantly, how.

Banks holds a substantial share in Manx Financial, an Isle of Man banking group controlled by Leave.EU’s early backer and co-founder Jim Mellon. The meagre profits of Manx Financial have not yet provided dividends to its investors – including Banks. 

Crucial to maintaining the fabric of democracy in Britain is understanding where large donors have made their money, and just as importantly, how.

Our review of the publicly available records for Banks’ business empire, and his own public statements, has revealed a patchwork of legal disputes, regulator interventions, and poor corporate governance. Two of Banks’ claimed previous employers have denied he ever worked for them. The value of his businesses are materially lower than Banks’ own inflated boasts and, while still a wealthy man, was he wealthy enough to give so much to the Brexit campaign, without some other undisclosed source of income?

How Banks could afford to give so lavishly remains a mystery. There is no doubt that Banks did more than most to make Brexit happen – the question is, how could he afford it?

To view the original of this article CLICK HERE

MP calls for inquiry into Arron Banks and ‘dark money’ in EU referendum

Ben Bradshaw raises concerns over ‘foreign interference’ and says there are questions over wealth of leave campaign’s biggest backer

 
 
Arron Banks
The money given by Arron Banks to Leave.EU in the run-up to the referendum was the biggest donation in British political history. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

A Labour MP has said there are “real questions” about how much Arron Banks – the entrepreneur who bankrolled Brexit – is worth as he called on the government to investigate the possible role played by “dark money” in the EU referendum.

Speaking in parliament, Ben Bradshaw said there was “widespread concern over foreign and particularly Russian interference in western democracies”. He described as “very worrying” a series of investigative reports published this week by the Open Democracy website into the funding of the Leave campaign.

The money given by Banks to Leave.EU in the run-up to the referendum was the biggest donation in British political history. The Bristol-based businessman says he contributed almost £9m in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes. It is impossible to determine what impact – if any – his donations had on the result.

Banks has previously claimed he is worth £100m. An estimate by the Sunday Times puts his fortune at £250m. However, an analysis by Open Democracy suggests the actual figure may be considerably lower.

Bradshaw asked the leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, if she had seen the reports “about the role of dark money in the EU referendum campaign”. They included “revelations of illegal donations” and “new questions today over the real wealth of Arron Banks, the main financial backer of leave”.

Bradshaw urged parliament and the Electoral Commission to examine these claims “very carefully”. Given the Kremlin’s role in influencing elections elsewhere, they should “reassure the country that all the resources spent in the referendum were from permissible sources”, he told MPs.

According to Bradshaw, the “illegal” donation to Brexit was made via the Democratic Unionist party in Northern Ireland. The person behind the £435,000 payment made in 2016 before the referendum remains a mystery. Rules have now been changed to introduce greater transparency, but it is unclear who – or what – lay behind these funds.

The analysis by Open Democracy says that in September 2013 Banks’s financial affairs were in trouble. His underwriting business Southern Rock was under scrutiny from financial regulators in Gibraltar and had reserves below what was required. Banks said he invested £40m in the business to plug any shortfall and resigned as a director.

“A year later, these financial worries seem to have completely evaporated. Banks had begun buying diamond mines, investing millions into chemical companies and wealth management firms, setting up loss-making political consultancies, and most famous of all – funding Ukip,” Open Democracy wrote.

The article adds: “One question remains though. If Banks was in such a tight spot in September 2013, how did he manage to be so generous the following year?”

There are a number of perfectly innocent ways that Banks could have obtained the extra funds, Open Democracy admits. Much of his wealth is held in opaque offshore jurisdictions including Belize, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar, making an assessment of his fortune difficult.

Banks didn’t immediately comment. His spokesman has previously described his businesses including Southern Rock as profitable and sustainable, and says that Banks “broadly agrees” with the £250m estimate of his fortune.

Replying for the government, Leadsom described Bradshaw’s question as “incredibly important” and said that any specific information concerning wrongdoing should be referred to the Electoral Commission.

“I absolutely share his concern that all donations should be permissible and legal,” she said.

To view the original of this article CLICK HERE

Regards,

Greg_L-W.

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Was It #Dark_Money, #Russian_Money Or What – Fronted By Arron_Banks That Bought Us #BreXit? …

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.

Hi,

the bottom line is that there was an overwhellming British vote for the UK to Leave_The_EU

I am personally relieved that the British peoples voted for BreXit by such a majority – the majority was akin to the vote to remai9n in the EU all those years ago when the Government so clearly lied to the electorate, well this time despite the Government lies the people chose to Leave-The-EU

In times of National danger when the people seek victory against overwhellming odds perforce we choose strange allies – consider the allies thes United Kingdoms had in World War I & II, so9me were natural allies but some were very alien, some even sided with Britain in liberating Europe, on both occassions for their own ends, consider the deal Britain struck with Russia then and the cost to Britain in the loss of India which was a condition of their allegiance.

That Nikki Sinclaire used much of her own money to mount the petition which delivered the debate in The House of Commons that resulted in the Conservative Government including the promise of a Referendum in their manifesto is conveniently overlooked.

Just as it would seem that the criminal collusion of John Ison with Nigel Farage to try to sabotage the chances of a Referendum and fabricate evidence against Nikki Sinclaire is overlooked!

I find Arron Banks an odious and untrustworth individual with a long list of failures behind him but on this occassion I am glad he was able to access money whether Dark Money, Russian Money or even if it was Columbian Drug Money laundered through Panama matters little to me as we won!

Sometimes unpleasant people do good things!

Arron Banks: ‘Brexit was a war. We won. There’s no turning back now’

Now out of Ukip – the party he bankrolled – Arron Banks is creating a political movement of his own. We met the ‘bad boy of Brexit’ just before article 50 was triggered – and found his ambitions go far beyond leaving Europe
Arron Banks in the boardroom at his office in Bristol last month.
Arron Banks in the boardroom at his office in Bristol last month. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Observer

It is five days before article 50 is triggered, and I’m sitting in the sunshine outside a pub in Islington with the man who bankrolled Brexit. If victory lies with anyone this weekend, it maybe lies with Arron Banks.

Though Nigel Farage is the face of Brexit, Arron Banks is the man who made it possible. He bought Brexit. Or at least paid for it. Until 2014 he was an unknown Bristol businessman. Now he’s the biggest political donor in British political history. The most powerful. He put more money into funding the Leave campaign than anyone else – more than £7m. He donated his office space, his computer equipment, his senior staff. He’s the co-founder of Leave.EU, the so-called “provisional wing” of the Leave campaign, spearheaded by his close confidante Nigel Farage, and he’s now contemplating his next move: taking an axe to the rest of the parliamentary system.

He only began pouring his money into politics in earnest in 2014 with a splashy donation to Ukip but he’s now out of the party and in the throes of creating a new “movement”. In his sights: the seats of more than 100 Remain MPs. Although, he’s not partisan – he’s aiming to dislodge all “bad MPs”. (“Bad MPs” being, as far as I can make out, anyone from Oxford PPE-ists to people he’s had a spat with on Twitter.) He tells me he’s working with Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s former head of strategy, to come up with “a points system that grades them on their awfulness”, and from that he’ll formulate “a target list of the most hated people”.

It will be that defining phenomenon of our age: a grassroots movement funded and built by a multimillionaire. And, potentially, the next political earthquake. Taking us out of Europe was only step one of the big disruption, it turns out. Next up: the party political system, and the destruction of the traditional boundaries between left and right.

And if that sounds like a stretch, well, we’ve been here before. Banks has the money, the drive and, as we’ve latterly come to realise, the connections. He and his business partner, Andy Wigmore, together with Nigel Farage and Raheem Kassam, the editor of Breitbart London, are the self-styled “bad boys of Brexit”. They’re key partners in a transatlantic alliance, the depth and extent of which is only now, slowly, coming into the light. An alliance that has been cultivated for years by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist.

The sun is shining. Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP and Banks’s mortal enemy, had just resigned from the party. Banks intends to stand against him – and beat him; he plays to win – in the next general election. He has just been on the phone with Farage, who he says is cockahoop. Everything is going exactly to plan.

“The needle on public opinion has shifted so far now. And trying to shift it back is as hard as it was for us to shift it the other way. There’s people protesting, all the rest of it. But the fact is, they’re not going to shift public opinion. It has shifted. It is what it is. It’s permanent.”

It’s hard to argue with this theory of permanent revolution. And part of it – a big part, he enjoys telling me – was playing and beating the media at its own game. “As businessmen, we sat down with a clean sheet of paper and said, ‘How do we beat these people?’ And then we figured out how the mainstream media works – how they operate – and we turned it back on them.

“We worked out how to take their outrage, how to take their pain – in your case – and feed it back into the system. You know we spent £12-14m on the campaign? And we calculated what our column inches and TV coverage was worth. It was over £150m .”

All of which makes me wonder: what exactly is the game he’s playing here, now? A month ago I interviewed Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s director of communications, and as a result of what he revealed to me, the Electoral Commission is now investigating whether Leave.EU should have declared the donation of services by a company largely owned by Robert Mercer, the billionaire who bankrolled Trump, and who works closely with Steve Bannon.

Banks’s autobiography, The Bad Boys of Brexit, was written for him in the Jeremy Clarkson style, and the whole aesthetic is Top Gear. A lot of people portray Farage, Banks and Wigmore as the three stooges: Clarkson, James May and “the Hamster” (Richard Hammond), the jolly chumps who more or less accidentally took the country out of Europe. But that’s not my view. They’re smart, and in triangulation with Bannon there has been a huge amount of strategy – and crucially an understanding of technology – behind everything they’ve done. This just feels like the next stage. Ukip was the host body, and now they’re pupating.

Andy Wigmore celebrates with Arron Banks in Westminster on 24 June 2016, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU.
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Andy Wigmore celebrates with Arron Banks in Westminster on 24 June 2016, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU. Photograph: Ben Cawthra/Rex/Shutterstock

“Whatevs,” says Banks when I bring up the Electoral Commission. “I don’t give a monkey’s what the Electoral Commission says.”

To be clear, the Electoral Commission rules aren’t guidelines for the tombola at the village fete. He’s talking about UK electoral law. Electoral law that Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, says isn’t fit for purpose. Tambini met with the regulators and other parties and they’ve joined forces this week to call for a parliamentary commission to urgently review it.

Modern online campaigning has fundamentally changed everything, Tambini tells me. “And the existing framework is utterly weak and helpless.” The cost of building databases, money poured into third-party campaigns, offshore spending – these were either largely or totally unregulated. There is no longer any way, with current legislation, of guaranteeing a free and fair election.

Or as Banks puts it: “We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were.”

He didn’t break the law, he says. He “pushed the boundary of everything, right to the edge. It was war.” And later: “You’re looking for a smoking gun but there’s a smoking gun on every table! And no one cares. No one cares!”

Banks is a gambler: both calculated and reckless. It’s his choice to do the interview in the pub. His to get stuck into the wine. He likes the thrill of this, the game. And he likes winning more. His main business is insurance, and calculating the odds then beating them is what he does. Brexit: a £7m gamble that was… what? An investment? And if so, into what?

A brave new Brexit world, obviously, but there’s also this new movement he’s airing for the first time. He has policy ideas that are either radical or nuts, possibly both (selling off all government property to create a sovereign wealth fund to bankroll new housing). He’s suggesting things that are genuinely innovative in the turgid world of UK politics: looking to young people; taxing old, wealthy people.

But there’s some other agenda in play, too. And moments into my first question, about Trump, he has segued. “We had no Russian money into Brexit,” he says. “I’ve had two very nice lunches with the Russian ambassador, where Andy and I got completely pissed. And that’s it. Why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t I go and have lunch with him? We’d met diplomats and all sorts of different people. Not a single penny of Russian money has been put into Brexit.”

Which would be a perfectly reasonable answer, if he had been asked if Russia had put money into Brexit. But he hadn’t. He asked and answered his own question. I know about his six-hour lunches at the Russian embassy, not least because he makes a point of writing about one of them in The Bad Boys of Brexit. It’s Trump’s links to Russia, I’m asking about, not his, but he brings it immediately around to himself. Or to be more accurate, he makes an equivalency between them. “Come on!” he says when I ask him what he makes of the accusations against Trump. “I’ve got a Russian wife. I got an early taste of it about six years ago when the Daily Mail put her on the front page and called her a Russian spy.”

He’s referring to an incident in 2010 before anyone knew who he was, when his wife, Katya Banks – formerly Ekaterina Paderina – came up in conjunction with a court case involving a suspected Russian spy. “She was on the front page as a Russian spy! I was killing myself. It was very funny.”

What happened was this: a 64-year-old MP for Portsmouth, Mike Hancock, who was on the Commons defence select committee, instigated a four-year affair with another Ekaterina, the striking 24-year-old Ekaterina Zatuliveter, whom he met in St Petersburg and later made his researcher. MI5 believed she was working for Russian intelligence and applied to the Home Office to deport on the grounds of national security. She appealed and her case was brought before the Special Immigration Appeal Commission.

Some of the evidence was held behind closed doors but the judgment is full and detailed, and utterly compelling reading. She had previously had an affair with a senior Nato official and a Dutch diplomat. And MI5 disclosed that they had warned Hancock that he may be being targeted by foreign agents – he had had a string of Russian and eastern European girlfriends.

The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, heard all the evidence, including excerpts from Zatuliveter’s diary, which she had stated in her original evidence that she didn’t have (she produced it on the first day of the trial, saying she had forgotten about it) and ruled in her favour, concluding that she was an “immature” young woman with an understandable crush on an older man. In summary, he wrote: “We cannot exclude the possibility that we have been gulled – but, if we have been, it has been by a supremely competent and rigorously trained operative.”

Banks’s wife, Katya, comes into the story because, according to follow-up reports in several newspapers, she also had links to Hancock before she met and married Banks. Her first husband – in a marriage of just three months– was a retired merchant seaman, Eric Butler. The Home Office suspected it was a marriage of convenience and tried to deport her, at which point she wrote to her local MP, Hancock, for help. Butler told reporters that he had discovered them looking “very cosy” in the conservatory.

I ask Banks: “Did you know about that bit of history before the story came out?”

“I knew that she had been in, lived in Portsmouth and I knew… yeah, I knew broadly the kind of, you know, thing.”

What do you mean?

“Well, broadly the fact that she had written to her local MP and various other things.”

That her ex-husband had said he’d found her and Hancock together?

“Well, you know, that’s the evil of an ex-husband or wife, isn’t it? They’re hardly on your side. As far as I can see, it’s just a pack of Daily Mail lies.”

Are you saying that she hadn’t met Mike Hancock, then?

“The only thing that’s true in the Daily Mail story is that she fluently speaks six languages and she has the profile that would fit a Russian spy. But that’s about it.”

To date, Arron Banks’s strategy with the press has been this: if he doesn’t like what they say, he instructs his lawyers at Mishcon de Reya and threatens to sue. He threatened to sue Matthew Elliott – the director of the official Vote Leave campaign – for calling Leave.EU racist. He threatened to sue a thinktank, American Bridge, which featured him in an article entitled “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses”. He threatened to sue the Guardian for publishing his business dealings as described in the Panama Papers. He threatened to sue a newspaper that described him as having business interests in Belize. And he threatened to sue a commentator on CNN for making certain statements about him on air.

“They called me a Russian actor! And I’ve got no feelings one way or another other than having a Russian wife. I felt that was just wrong. They said that Brexit was funded by the Russians. That’s a bit rich.”

It’s not rich to ask the question though, is it?

“If you lied and said Russians funded Brexit, I would be pretty annoyed.”

But what if I say, “Arron, the question is are you a Russian actor?”

“I wouldn’t care in the least. They said I was a Russian actor and that Russian money had funded Brexit, and it was wrong. There has to be a point where you draw the line in the sand.”

“I’m not going to say that,” I tell him. “Because it’s impossible to know what the sources of your wealth are. That’s the whole issue.”

“That’s wrong as well because I made a fortune in the insurance industry. I’m taxed in northern Bristol. My money is made in the UK.”

Some of it is. And the rest? Who knows. That’s my beef, not so much with him but our electoral finance rules. He’s free to donate, even though nobody knows quite where the £7m he put into the Leave campaign came from, or the millions he put into Ukip: his financial arrangements include a complex structure of companies based in secretive low-tax jurisdictions. Even Leave.EU was set up by an offshore company. It’s the offshoot of STM Fidecs, which the Observer reported was incorporated in Gibraltar.

In Britain he has his insurance companies, various security and intelligence companies, a new data company. He’s a director of nearly 40 different companies using slightly different variations of his name. He has installed employees as directors of other companies. And then there’s a whole offshore empire. A bank he co-owns on the Isle of Man. A slew of things in Gibraltar. The “defunct shell companies”, as he describes them, in the British Virgin Islands. And diamond mines in South Africa – he owns a whole supply chain of diamonds, from mines to shops.

How many companies do you actually own? He shrugs. “I’ve no idea.”

This is how offshore can work: a web of deliberate secrecy. A web that is now being brought into politics. Not just directly via the money that Banks is pouring in, but indirectly too. The digital marketing of the Vote Leave campaign was offshored too: funnelled through a tiny company on the west coast of Canada.

In America, the restrictions on political funding were dismantled in a 2010 case, bankrolled by Robert Mercer, which an organisation called Citizens United took to the supreme court, opening up the way to Super Pacs – “political action committees” – which have become unlimited donation vehicles. The sums in Britain are tiny in comparison, but you don’t even need to create a system of Pacs: there’s no way of knowing how much money was poured into the Leave campaign before the “regulated period” (the weeks before the campaign when spending is monitored and capped). Banks is setting up a movement not a party, at least initially. Parties are subject to some political financing rules. Movements aren’t.

Why are your companies based in low-tax jurisdictions with no disclosure requirements, I ask Banks.

“Why should I pay more tax?” he answers.

Going up… Gerry Gunster, Arron Banks, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Andy Wigmore and Raheem Kassam at Trump Tower in New York, in November 2016, just before Trump’s election victory.
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Going up… Gerry Gunster, Arron Banks, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Andy Wigmore and Raheem Kassam at Trump Tower in New York, in November 2016, three days after Trump’s election victory. Photograph: Wigmore/Finn/Splash News

Because you’re a citizen of this country? And it pays for schools and hospitals. “I’m an internationalist, OK? If I own diamond mines in South Africa, why would I register a company in the UK?”

It’s one thing to be an internationalist if you’re only a private individual. But he’s not. He’s the man who bankrolled Brexit. But what does it matter? He’s already told me the mainstream media is worthless. That the BBC lies. “What you write is completely valueless because it’s sitting under another bunch of papers almost straightaway.”

More precisely, who needs to sue in the age of #fakenews, anyway? Later he gives me a lift to the station, and Andy Wigmore – they call each other Wiggy and Banksy – is on speakerphone. Wigmore has family links to Belize, and he was that country’s trade envoy to the UK until January, when the foreign office stripped him of his diplomatic status because of his political activity. And Banks lost his status too: he was Belize’s special envoy to Wales. It’s all a terrific joke. “But what?” I say. “You’re telling me you have a diplomatic passport?”

“Yes,” he says. “We both do.” Proud British citizens both.

Then Wiggy pipes up: “Did you know Paul Manafort [Trump’s ex-campaign manager] is accused of laundering Russian money through Belize?”

Are Banksy and Wiggy trolling me? Using me – a feature writer on a remoaner newspaper – to get this stuff out into the sunlight? But all hopelessly mixed up together? Banks has chucked it all at me: his diplomatic passports and diamond mines, Russians spies, offshore tax havens, circumvention of electoral law. All those individual facts are true, but together it feels like one big confected mess? #Fakenews? Is that what’s going on here? That’s what it feels like.

There is weirdness threaded through this story in all sorts of ways. Talking to Banks, my grasp on normal feels slippery. It’s like the weirdness of reading a Trump tweet. The weirdness of playing what feels like a high-level game of chess with Banks, but in the British style – with banter and jokes. Banks has a good sense of humour. One of the first things he tells me is how much he enjoys it when Marina Hyde, the Guardian’s peerless columnist, rips the piss out of him. I bait him relentlessly and I can tell he’s enjoying that, too.

But the weirdness still cuts through. There’s the moment when I challenge Banks to a toast in my pidgin Russian. “You really don’t speak Russian, do you?” he says after I accidentally throw in some Czech. “Maybe I’m fluent,” he says, although he refuses to say a single word.

The lifebuoy I find myself grasping hold of is a piece in last Sunday’s New York Times by Masha Gessen, the biographer of Putin, who now lives in the US. One should resist “trafficking in exaggeration and unsubstantiated allegations,” she writes. It’s pointless looking for a conspiracy, she says. The unimaginable has already happened. “The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day, not only continues to dull our defences but also creates a need to see a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our own country.”

And here too. Out in the open is the fact that Arron Banks is pro-Putin. “I tell you what I’m pro,” he tells me. “I’m pro Putin being actually for his country. It’s not possible to run that entire country as a pure democracy. It’s not possible. The whole history of Russia is that there has to be someone strong in control or it breaks up.”

Out in the open is that he’s just said that democracy isn’t necessarily the answer. Out in the open is that Nigel Farage has voted multiple times in alignment with Russian interests in the European parliament. Out in the open is that Banks defends Putin’s invasion of both Crimea and eastern Ukraine. “It’s 85% ethnic Russian,” he says.

You don’t need to look at the inputs. Just look at the outputs. There’s no need to go looking for a conspiracy. What’s right here, in plain sight, is troubling enough. Andrew Foxall, the director of the Russian Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, tells me that is the point he is always making. “Join the dots that are in full view. There’s a tendency right now to see Russian agency in everything, given the heightened awareness. To think Russia must be in play.

“There are commonalities that are there anyway. It just so happens Russia overlaps with the alt-right, as they call it in the US, and the far right in Europe, and Ukip in Britain. Farage has been part of a pan-European, pro-Russian network in the European parliament. And Russia helps to facilitate and amplify those discourses.

“The Russian state uses different tactics in different countries, and sometimes it doesn’t need to do much at all. Farage was one of the first Ukip politicians to embrace RT [Russia’s state broadcaster, formerly Russia Today, which has a channel in the UK] in 2007-2008.”

It was one thing for people to be pro-Russia before 2014, Foxall says, but post Crimea, the MH17 missile that brought down the plane in Ukraine, the war crimes in Aleppo, “the Kremlin’s tactics are clear. And to be a willing participant in that is… profoundly disturbing.”

Out in the open is Russia’s strategy of stoking and encouraging far-right movements in Europe. Ben Nimmo, a defence analyst with the Atlantic Council, points out that the Russian military doctrine published in 2014 lays out the characteristics of modern warfare as the combined use of military and non-military means: “Economic, diplomatic and informational. And the use of protest potential of the local population.” Nimmo studies disinformation and says that the far right and Russia are linked together in a single network.

“So after the Berlin attack, Paul Joseph Watson [a British far-right activist with a huge following on social media] was one of the first who jumped in with a slew of tweets blaming Islam. And that was picking up an RT news report. There’s this huge confluence between Russia and the far right. It’s the opposition to western liberalism that unites them. From the Kremlin’s point of view it’s because they hate democracy and transparency, but it also entails hating gay marriage and wanting to ban the Qur’an and being pro-Christianity and whites.”

Also out in the open, framed by a golden door, is the closeness of the transatlantic alliance. Farage, Wigmore and Banks may sound and behave like Clarkson, May and the Hamster but, ideologically, they’re the shadow players of Trump, Bannon and Mercer.

It was data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica that led me to understanding Robert Mercer’s role in all this; in the great disruption of the political landscape on two continents; his strategic and coordinated attack on the mainstream media and its replacement with an alternative online network. But it’s Steve Bannon who forged these links across the Atlantic.

Bannon was the one who set out in 2012 to find European versions of the tea party movement and he has cultivated a close relationship with Farage and Ukip ever since. With Robert Mercer’s billions, he’s supported them first via Breitbart and latterly during the referendum campaign. He directed Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica to lend its assistance too. On the day article 50 was triggered this week, Nigel Farage raised his pint glass to toast “Well done Bannon,” he said. “Well done, Breitbart. You helped with this hugely.”

Out in the open is this, Banks’s statement to me: “What you’re talking about is the degree to which the Russians actually – let’s say they influenced the Brexit vote. Say I’m pro-Putin. Nigel said he’s not anti-Putin, if that’s the right word. But all we’ve said is that there are elements of what Russians do that we don’t disagree with. We don’t agree with everything they’re doing, like murdering journalists in the street.”

I interrupt him. You’re saying, on the record, that you don’t agree with murdering journalists on the street?

“I’ll only say it once,” he says.

We both laugh. Though possibly only one of us has a slightly high-pitched edge to our voice.

Dismiss, distract, dismay. This, Nimmo tells me, is the classic Russian disinformation strategy. You launder information like you launder money. You pass it through a set of different bodies. You send it from one shell company/mouthpiece to another. You confuse its origins. You chuck in a distraction. You create outrage.

Nigel Farage and then Ukip party chairman Steve Crowther with their new donor, Arron Banks, in Bristol, 2014.
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Nigel Farage and then Ukip party chairman Steve Crowther with their new donor, Arron Banks, in Bristol, 2014. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

And in this context, I wonder if that’s me. Have I been groomed as the vector? The agent of disinformation. The vessel through which their scrambled, encrypted, confusing message is passing. Maybe this is simply a description of all journalists in all interview situations. It’s just usually some celeb trying to flog their memoir.

What is Banks flogging? Andrew Breitbart, the founder and informing spirit of Breitbart, believed politics is downstream from culture. First change the culture, then the politics will follow. Take the existing culture and subtly distort it. Banks has launched a new politics site, Westmonster, and in his sights is the Westminster elite and the metropolitan elite. He levels this at me. I point out: “You’re the privately educated multimillionaire who’s sitting here drinking white wine in Islington.”

The shame, I think, is that he could have been a leftie. There is a strong streak of social justice that runs through him. Or social something. Chippiness is part of it. But that’s no bad thing. But he’s not a leftie. And in the US, the permanent revolution is well under way. Steve Bannon is masterminding a silent coup: the institutions of government are being systematically dismantled. The relation of citizens to the state is being re-engineered. Trump, the businessman, is redefining them as consumers. Last week the US senate approved the right of telecoms companies to sell their customers’ browsing history – a huge step forward in renegotiating the relationship between individuals and their rights from that of democratic participants to end users. This is government as platform monopoly. Government as modelled on Google and Facebook. And what’s coming is platform democracy, where the company/government retains the right to change the user agreement at any time. And it’s data – the intimate information of you, your personal life, your history, your relationships, your dreams and desires, your thoughts – that’s the source of their power, legitimacy, capital. Harvested, captured, sold, fed into the panopticon: total surveillance, total control, total power.

I’ve started to think that Brexit isn’t our Trump moment. That’s what’s coming next – 2016 will be nothing next to the general election of 2020, our year of reckoning.

Before I meet Banks, I watch him talking on stage at a trade show called “Master Investor”. I learned of it because I had liked Leave.EU’s Facebook page and I’m now in their million-strong database. This isn’t just a million people, to be clear. It’s the entire social networks of a million people. I had received an email inviting me to the event, hosted by Banks’s great friend, Jim Mellon.

Mellon is another businessman who donated to Leave.EU. He made millions in the early 90s in Russia in uranium mining, investing $100,000 in a company that was worth $2.5bn two years later. He doesn’t live in Britain though. The man who introduced Banks to Farage, who brought the Brexit team together, wasn’t actually eligible to vote in the referendum. He lives in Ibiza and the Isle of Man. Article 50 as brought to you by true patriots, foreign donors, multimillionaires, Belizean passport holders and tax exiles.

I ask Banks about the email I got, advertising the event. The insurance offers he’s sending to Leave.EU subscribers. The use of his political database for commercial purposes

“Jim Mellon is my friend,” he says. “Why shouldn’t I? It’s my data.”

Well, no, it’s not. It’s my data. Your data. It’s what’s at the heart of all this. Steve Bannon knows this, and Robert Mercer knows this, and Arron Banks knows this. His day job, one of them – insurance – is all about data. “We know everything about everyone,” he says. “We buy everything.”

The battle for data is where the next general election will be fought. Politics is war, says Steve Bannon. And Banks is already out of the trenches.

Politics is war. Politics is business. Business is politics. There are no walls between them any more. Silos, as they call it in the tech world. There are no silos. It’s all one, now – enmeshed, intertwined, inseparable.

To view the original article CLICK HERE

You may wish to consider some more articles about Arron Banks:

Ukip Loses Its Only Major Backer As Arron Banks Leaves …

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Donald Trump & Arron Banks The Tory Backer who switched to supporting Nigel Farage

Posted on 14/11/2016

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Some Background On Ekaterina Paderina & Arron Banks The Tory Backer!

Posted on 12/12/2010

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Was It #Dark_Money, #Russian_Money Or What Fronted By Arron_Banks That Bought Us #BreXit? …

Posted on 02/04/2017

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#Arron_Banks’ Plans to Destroy #Ukip & Demean British Politics …

Posted on 25/03/2017

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#Ukip’s biggest donor #Arron_Banks & #Cameron’s strategist #Steve_Hilton in plot to oust 100 Remain MPs’

Posted on 24/03/2017

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#Arron_Banks Seeks To Get His Money Back From #Ukip By Retrospective Billing …

Posted on 23/03/2017

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#Paul_Nuttall Responds To #Arron_Banks With An Appologist Suicide Note …

Posted on 14/03/2017

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#Arron_Banks declares war on #Ukip chiefs as plans to unseat #Douglas_Carswell

Posted on 03/03/2017

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#Ukip donor #Arron_Banks shows tax cheque …

Posted on 28/02/2017

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Then of course there is:
Arron (sometimes Aron) Fraser Andrew BANKS – something of a roundup to 28-Feb-2017 CLICK HERE

I trust this catalogue of information and comment about the questionable behaviour of Arron Banks helps you to draw your own conclusions!

Regards,
Greg_L-W.

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