MPs are calling for the police and parliament to investigate the links between the millionaire #Brexit donor Arron Banks and the Russian government, after it emerged that he met the Kremlin’s ambassador to the UK three times, rather than once as he originally claimed.
With pressure growing on Banks to explain his relations with Moscow during and after the EU referendum campaign, the Bristol-based businessman will face a postponed hearing on Tuesday before the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee, which is investigating “fake news”.
As well as his meetings with the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, leaked emails showed that he shared at least one phone number for the Trump transition team with the Russians and he was offered the chance to participate in a potentially lucrative goldmining deal in Russia.
The emails also show Banks visited Russia in February 2016 and was invited for a further meeting with another Russian embassy official in August 2016.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock urged Scotland Yard to launch a criminal investigation “based on an in-depth forensic look into the Kremlin connection”.
He said: “When foreign powers are aggressively targeting the values, systems and institutions upon which our democracy is built, then it’s absolutely essential that we have regulatory, security and intelligence-based organisations who are ready, willing and able to intervene.
“This is about whether we are able to uphold and defend our political culture, because we can no longer take it for granted that it can simply look after itself.”
On Sunday evening, Banks insisted that the goldmining deal had not gone ahead, he earned no money from it and he did not believe it was an attempt by Russia to pay him off.
“I am not involved in Russian espionage,” he told the Guardian. “I saw the ambassador once, I saw him twice, so what? I don’t care. At the first lunch, we had a discussion about how unlikely he thought Brexit was.”
Banks, a former Ukip donor and an associate of Nigel Farage, gave £9m to the Leave.EU and Grassroots Out Brexit campaigns, mostly in the form of loans and branded merchandise.
Asked if Yakovenko sought his opinions on the referendum, he said: “Yes, of course. That’s what diplomats do.” Banks said the ambassador offered nothing by way of assistance for the Brexit campaign and had seemed ambivalent about the outcome.