(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Guardian News and Media/London
The National Crime Agency has launched an investigation into Arron Banks and other people and groups linked to the Leave campaign over suspected criminal offences in the Brexit referendum, it has announced.
It came after the Electoral Commission said it had referred the cases to the NCA over suspicions that a 'number of criminal offences may have been committed, and that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Banks, the insurance millionaire who backed the unofficial Leave campaign, was not the 'true source of £8mn in loans to it.
An Electoral Commission statement said its investigation focused on £2mn reported to have been lent to Better for the Country, a company he used to finance the Leave.EU campaign, and £6mn more reportedly given to the organisation, on behalf of Leave.EU, by Banks.
Of this money, £2.9mn was used to fund referendum spending on behalf of Leave.EU.
The Electoral Commission statement said: 'Due to multiple suspected offences, some of which fall outside the commission's remit, the commission has referred this matter and handed its evidence to the National Crime Agency.
The NCA confirmed it had begun an investigation connected to 'suspected electoral law offences covered by that referral, as well as any associated offences.
It said in a statement: 'While electoral law offences would not routinely fall within the NCA's remit, the nature of the necessary inquiries and the potential for offences to have been committed other than under electoral law lead us to consider an NCA investigation appropriate in this instance.
Banks, formerly a major bankroller of Ukip, has denied any wrongdoing. Andy Wigmore, a spokesperson for Leave.EU, said: 'It's completely to be expected. It will finally bring a head to all these crazy allegations made about us. We're not worried.
Those referred to the NCA are Banks, Better for the Country, Leave.EU, Elizabeth Bilney a long-time Banks associate and what are described as 'other associated companies and individuals.
The investigation centres on the suspicion Banks 'was not the true source of the £8mn of loans made to Better for the Country, and that loans involved funds from a 'non-qualifying or impermissible company based in the Isle of Man.
The Electoral Commission statement said the investigation would look into whether Banks, Bilney and others involved in Better for the Country, Leave.EU and associated companies 'concealed the true details of these financial transactions.
Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission's director of political finance and regulation, said: 'We have reasonable grounds to suspect money given to Better for the Country came from impermissible sources and that Banks and Bilney, the responsible person for Leave.EU, knowingly concealed the true circumstances under which this money was provided.
'This is significant because at least £2.9mn of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum.
'Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offences have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the commission. This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law enforcement action. This is now a criminal investigation.
'The financial transactions we have investigated include companies incorporated in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. These jurisdictions are beyond the reach of the Electoral Commission for the purpose of obtaining information for use in criminal investigations or proceedings.