Brexit donor held undisclosed meetings with Russian envoy

Brexit donor held undisclosed meetings with Russian envoy

The Observer claimed the emails suggested Mr Banks visited Moscow in February 2016 to meet key partners and financiers behind a gold project, including a Russian bank.

Citing email correspondence, the Sunday Times said that meeting was set up by Udod and that he was one of 23 suspected Russian spies expelled by Britain following the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

Mr Banks, who gave £9m to the Nigel Farage-supported Leave campaign, denies any involvement with Russian officials, or that Russian money played a part in the Brexit campaign.

Mr Banks dismissed the claims, telling the paper: "I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him".

The emails were passed to the Sunday Times by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, Mr Banks's ghostwriter on The Bad Boys Of Brexit, who is writing a book with Tory peer Lord Ashcroft on Russia's use of "hybrid warfare" to influence British politics.

The paper said the revelations raised "explosive questions about attempts by Russian Federation to influence the referendum result" but Banks dismissed them as part of a "witch-hunt" against Brexit and Trump. According to the newspaper, this correspondence indicates the presence of repeated contact of businessman with officials to "discuss business opportunities and issues of mutual interest during the referendum campaign and after it".

When asked about the allegations at the G7 summit in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "I am sure if there are any allegations that need investigation the proper authorities will do that".

The chairman of the British Parliament's media committee said Sunday that a millionaire backer of the successful campaign to leave the European Union has questions to answer about his contacts with Russian officials.

The Times said Banks held three meetings with Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.

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Ms Oakeshott wrote in the newspaper that Mr Banks and Mr Wigmore were "shamelessly used by the Russians". "Bite me. It's a convenient political witch-hunt, both over Brexit and Trump".

He told the paper nothing came of their discussions over the gold mine deal.

The Leave.EU founder said he has Russian visas in his passport showing he went to the country in 2014 and 2015 to visit his Russian in-laws, but not February 2016, four months before the Brexit vote.

"We didn't profit from any business deals because I never pursued anything", he said.

"It wasn't just the Russians: we met all sorts of nationalities, we also briefed the State Department in Washington, we also met with the top embassy officials in London", he told Reuters.

He added: "I didn't realise they met him subsequently".

"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", Kinnock said.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has called for an investigation.

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