💰🇷🇺Banks is the original self-styled “Bad Boy of Brexit”. A Bristol-based businessman with extensive, documented, offshore interests, he is the co-founder of the controversial Leave.EU campaign. Banks says he contributed almost £9m in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes – one of the biggest single donors to the Leave campaign and possibly the biggest donation to a political cause in British history.
OpenDemocracy has undertaken detailed research into Banks’s financial affairs, concluding that, “the value of his businesses are materially lower than Banks’ own inflated boasts” and questioning how he could afford such huge contributions to the Leave campaign.
Banks’ complicated financial arrangements are partly carried out through companies located in various tax havens, including Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man (where he owns a bank with Jim Mellon). In the UK, Companies House records appear to show that Banks has set up 37 different companies using slight variations of his name. All this makes it hard to ascertain the origins of the money that he was able to pass on to the Brexit campaign.
In 2013, scrutiny by financial regulators in Gibraltar found Banks’ underwriting business Southern Rock to have reserves below the legally required minimum.
In 2015 Banks founded Better for the Country Ltd, a company aimed at promoting Brexit. This is Leave.EU’s official company name in Companies House records. OpenDemocracy has reported that its board includes, alongside Banks himself, Andy Wigmore, Elizabeth Bilney and Alison Marshall – all active in the Leave campaign. All of them were also trustees of Banks’ charity, the Love Saves the Day Foundation, which was recently wound up in the midst of an investigation by the Charity Commission. The charity’s accounts showed that it had not disbursed any funds whatsoever in the entire period of its existence.
Strangely, Better for the Country Ltd / Leave.EU was a subsidiary of STM Fidecs, a company in which Banks has been a “substantial” shareholder. STM Fidecs claims to specialise in “international wealth protection” and in “structuring international groups, particularly separating and relocating intellectual property and treasury functions to low- or no-tax jurisdictions”.
Banks denies he has ever tried to avoid paying tax in the UK. However, one of the businesses of which Banks was a director, Rock Services Ltd, had a reported turnover of £19.7m in 2013 but paid just £12,000 in corporation tax. It had knocked off £19.6m in “administrative expenses”. In 2017, the Panama Papers leak revealed some details of Banks’ substantial offshore interests, including a shareholding in “PRI Holdings Limited, which Panamanian-based Mossack Fonseca set up as an offshore company in 2013”.
In November 2017, the Electoral Commission announced it was opening “an investigation to establish whether or not Better for the Country Limited (BFTCL) and/or Mr Arron Banks breached campaign finance rules in relation to donations at the 2016 EU referendum”. This is in addition to the separate Commission investigation into whether one or more donations – including of services – accepted by Leave.EU was impermissible, and whether Leave.EU’s spending return was complete.
Questions have also been raised about Banks’ contact with Russian state actors ahead of the 2016 referendum campaign. In 2015 he and Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore had a six-hour meeting with the UK’s Russian Ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, at the Russian Embassy in London. The meeting was at the invitation of a Russian contact who had attended Ukip’s annual conference (“a shady character called Oleg” according to Banks).
Banks has attempted to pass these contacts off as a joke and has not disclosed details of what was discussed or agreed, other than that: “Our host wanted the inside track on the Brexit campaign and grilled us on the potential implications of an Out vote for Europe.”
According to the Sunday Times, Banks’ Russian wife Katya (formerly Ekaterina Paderinaas) was suspected by Special Branch of working for the Russian government. The plot thickened after it was revealed that she narrowly avoided deportation following the intervention of a Liberal Democrat MP who employed a Russian believed by MI5 at the time to be undertaking espionage.
Banks has dismissed claims of Leave campaign links to Russia as “complete bollocks from beginning to end”. Leave.EU created a video of investigative journalist Carol Cadwalladr – who has shed much light on Banks and Leave.EU – being beaten up to the strains of the Russian national anthem. Banks also tweeted that she “wouldn’t be so lippy in Russia” (where journalists critical of the Putin regime, including Anna Politkovskaya, have been murdered).
He mocked another journalist by sending him a bottle of vodka with a note saying “From Russia with love”.
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) December 21, 2017
Following allegations by a female employee of Banks’ insurance company GoSkippy, Banks was arrested in 2012 on suspicion of harassment and issued with a prevention of harassment notice. After complaining to the police, the employee was dismissed from the company and took legal action against it alleging unfair dismissal. GoSkippy agreed on an out-of-court settlement.
In January 2017 Banks launched Westmonster, a website modelled on the alt-right platform Breitbart. Posts on the site have been widely shared by right-wing extremists and Russian trolls seeking to stir inter-communal hatred in the UK.
Banks has relished the experience of running Leave.EU, and it is not hard to see why. In many ways, he was ideally suited to bankrolling and fronting up a thoroughly dishonest campaign. He also coined the phrase “Bad Boys of Brexit”.