Steve Bannon

🔥 💰🇷🇺Steve Bannon is an ideologue, media operator and former White House official who has been described by the Democratic National Committee as a “white supremacist“.

He was also central to Brexit. Shortly after Theresa May triggered Article 50, Nigel Farage commented: “Well done Bannon, well done Breitbart. You helped with this hugely.” He was not exaggerating.

Bannon was, until recently, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he has described as “the platform for the alt-right“. The online publication is widely read by fascists and “white nationalists” and has done much to promote extreme right-wing ideology in both Europe and the United States. In doing so, it has frequently resorted to distortion and outright fake news, using these to provoke hatred of migrants, Muslims, black people and feminists. The site is frequently referenced by Donald Trump.

Bannon was, for a few months before the President sacked him, Trump’s Chief Strategist. Later, Trump dubbed him “Sloppy Steve” on Twitter after Bannon was quoted calling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick” and a meeting that Trump Jr held with Russians “treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit”.

Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker with net worth of as much as $48 million, according to Forbes. Until his split with Trump, he was close to Robert Mercer, the far-right Canadian hedge-fund billionaire and (until recently) part-owner of Breitbart. He is a board member and former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, a company funded by Mercer.

Bannon can be seen as Nigel Farage’s mentor. Their relationship dates back to at least 2012, when Bannon invited Farage to spend several days with him in the US, introducing him to figures such as the allegedly racist Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s  Attorney General and at the centre of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

Farage began writing a column for Breitbart in 2014, and Breitbart stories promoting Brexit and attacking immigrants were widely shared on social media in the run-up to the referendum. It appears that its assistance went further than that. Ukip whistleblowers have claimed that Breitbart staffers were working as senior unpaid Ukip volunteers during the campaign. Such “in kind” support must by law be declared to the Electoral Commission. It was not.

In January 2018 Bannon appeared before a congressional committee probing possible Russian interference in the 2016 US election but refused to answer any questions, saying the White House had told him not to. He has also been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury as part of the ongoing investigation into links between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia.

Bannon has previously praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and the proto-fascist Russian ideology of “Eurasianism”. Speaking at conference in 2014, he said: “We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes, particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism. When you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of [Putin’s] beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism.”

Bannon appears to relish power for its own sake. “Darkness is good,” he told one interviewer. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

He is the owner of a portrait of himself as Napoleon – a gift from Nigel Farage.

Photo credit: Don Irvine

Robert Mercer

🔥💰🇷🇺Mercer is the Bad Boy of Brexit few in the UK have heard of. A hedge-fund billionaire and one of Trump’s biggest donors, he was a leading financial backer of Cambridge Analytica and owns the intellectual property (IP) rights to AggregateIQ – two data firms that were employed by the two different Leave campaigns. The two companies claim to have acted wholly independently of each other during the Brexit campaign. However, The Observer claims to have seen confidential documents amounting to evidence of a close working relationship between them.

Mercer is a “long-term friend” of Nigel Farage and has previously worked closely with Steve Bannon (until things turned sour recently). Leave.EU’s communications director Andy Wigmore has revealed that it was Mercer who introduced Farage and Leave.EU to Cambridge Analytica:

“They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you’. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information.”

Wigmore went on to describe the level of access to people’s personal Facebook data that the campaign was able to use as “creepy”.

Mercer’s political philosophy has been described by a former colleague:

“Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.”

Mercer’s fortune derives from being co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies – a company from which he has now stepped down. Its most profitable operation is the Medallion Fund. Open only to Renaissance employees, the fund has been described as “the blackest box in all finance” and has made annualised returns of over 40% over nearly 30 years. This means that £10,000 invested in the fund at its inception would now be worth well over £1 billion.

An investigation by a bipartisan committee of the US Senate has concluded that Renaissance has been operating an “abusive” tax avoidance scheme that enabled its employees to pocket around $6.8 billion in profits that should have been paid in tax. Central to this scheme was Deutsche Bank, which has been subpoenaed by US investigators seeking information on accounts held by Trump and his family. Deutsche Bank has also been under investigation by the US Justice Department for its alleged role in enabling Russian oligarchs to launder cash out of Russia.

It was reportedly $10 million of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to found the alt-right news outlet Breitbart, which in 2014 opened its London office – the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”, Bannon told the New York Times. Breitbart offered a powerful online platform to Farage and Ukip, employing Ukip’s Raheem Kassam as a senior editor and allegedly also paying Breitbart staff to support the party’s referendum campaign.

According to Andy Wigmore, it was Mercer who directed Cambridge Analytica to “help” the Leave campaign. Two months after the Brexit referendum, Mercer similarly offered a large cash infusion and logistical support to Trump’s campaign in the US, installing Bannon as its campaign manager.

In November 2017, following unfavourable coverage and claims that Breitbart was fostering racism and far-right extremism, Mercer tried to distance himself from the operation and publicly denied he “was or is” a white supremacist. His political activities had also attracted unwelcome attention to Renaissance Technologies, which may be why he announced in November 2017 that he was stepping back from the hedge fund and selling his stake to his daughters.

In the midst of this bad publicity, Mercer made a rare public announcement, saying: “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months, and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.” Five days later, Bannon was fired from Breitbart News, where Mercer’s daughter remains a shareholder.

It seems Mercer may now have more time to devote to his hobbies beyond far-right politics, which include sailing a luxury yacht worth $75-90 million and helping to amass the world’s largest collection of machine guns.

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Nigel Farage

🔥 🇷🇺 Farage is the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip). As well being instrumental in leading the Leave.EU campaign, Farage reportedly played a key role in befriending and connecting key Bad Boys Arron Banks, Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon.

Andy Wigmore has revealed that Robert Mercer introduced Farage and Leave.EU to Cambridge Analytica, the company that used its own database and voter information collected from Facebook in the campaign to help elect Donald Trump. These also proved highly useful to the Brexit campaign. “They were happy to help,” Wigmore explained, “because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers.”

Mercer is a key backer of Donald Trump, who Farage in turn now describes as “absolutely” his friend. Farage has gone out of his way to demonstrate his loyalty to Trump, defending the President’s deeply disturbing response to the violent incidents at Charlottesville in 2017, when Trump blamed “both sides” after a peaceful anti-racist protestor was killed by a neo-Nazi. Farage also appeared in autumn 2017 at rallies in Alabama in support of far-right Republican candidate Roy Moore, despite Moore facing multiple accusations of sexual assault, some of these allegedly committed against minors.

Farage’s history of support for the extreme right reportedly dates back to his years at private school. One school friend has recalled that teenage Farage used to sing an antisemitic song with the refrain “Gas ‘em all, gas ‘em all”. In 2017 Farage attended (and even received a standing ovation) at a rally for the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party in Berlin. He had been invited by his fellow EU Parliament member Beatrix von Storch, a leading member of the AfD and the granddaughter of Hitler’s finance minister.

Farage has often attacked EU “hyper-regulation” and claimed that the European Union wastes large sums of money.  EU regulation governing MEPs’ parliamentary expenses has proved particularly tricky for Farage and his Ukip colleagues, and his own have come under intense scrutiny.

In 2017 Farage and Raymond Finch MEP were asked to repay around £84,000 paid to their joint “assistant”, Christopher Adams, who was also Ukip’s national nominating officer and was described as one of the party’s “key people” on its website. Parliamentary officials have suspended Adams’s contract because they are not convinced he was actually working as an MEP assistant.

The same investigation looked at the role of Farage’s wife, Kirsten Farage, who had been paid as an assistant to Finch. Finch has been asked to repay more than £20,000 in expenses because the European Parliament’s financial controllers were not convinced she was doing real work as his assistant between 2014 and 2016. During the same period, she was also the full-time office manager for her husband.

Although Farage has little time for European leaders, he has expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin – in fact he has named him as the world leader he admires most.  Farage is also known to have met with Russia’s Ambassador to the UK in 2013 and with another Russian official in the same year, though when questioned about this second meeting by a journalist he initially appeared to “forget” about it and then called an abrupt halt to the interview.

In 2017 Farage was named as a “person of interest” by the US counter-intelligence investigation looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This means investigators believe he may have information about the acts that are under investigation.

Farage says he has never visited Russia, but in March 2017 two senior members of his party, Nigel Sussman and Richard Wood, were among a crew of mainly far-right politicians to visit Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. The trip was described by the Moscow Times as a disinformation exercise by the Russian government designed to “help Putin score points at home”. A senior member of Farage’s parliamentary group staff in Brussels, Kevin Ellul Bonic, has been accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against a critic of the Kremlin.

In the run-up to the referendum, Nigel Farage’s office was managed by George Cottrell, who was also Ukip’s co-director of referendum fundraising. Cottrell is a convicted fraudster with a background in the shadiest side of the financial world and links to entities involved in Russian money laundering. Interviewed in November 2017, Farage denied he had accepted money from Russia, though he did not say whether money from Russian sources had flowed into the Brexit campaign.

Farage frequently writes for the extreme right-wing website Breitbart News and has credited its former chief editor Steve Bannon for helping “hugely” with Brexit. Breitbart’s senior editor Raheem Kassam was formerly employed by Farage as his chief-of-staff.

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Arron Banks

Arron Banks

💰🇷🇺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).Banks Russia

He mocked another journalist by sending him a bottle of vodka with a note saying “From Russia with love”.

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”.

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