A trove of new emails revealed by the British press this weekend are helping shine new light on the role Russia may have played in backing the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The documents, reported by both The Times and Observer, reveal that Brexit’s biggest bankroller, Arron Banks, and Leave.EU Director of Communications Andy Wigmore had far more extensive contact with Russian officials than either had previously admitted.
Banks, whose multi-million pound donations led him to become the biggest political donor in British history, had previously admitted that he’d had only “one boozy lunch” at the Russian embassy in the lead-up to the vote. The emails, however, show that both Banks and Wigmore had many more meetings — as well as more business offers on hand.
For instance, instead of just a meal with drinks, documents show at least two meetings the same week that Leave.EU launched its official campaign — as well as “an introduction to a Russian businessman, by the Russian ambassador, the day after Leave.EU launched its campaign, who reportedly offered Banks a multibillion dollar opportunity to buy Russian goldmines,” the Guardian reported. The offer even included a trip to Moscow in early 2016 to discuss the gold project with Russian financiers.
The contacts between Banks, Wigmore, and Russian officials also continued while the Brits were in the U.S. campaigning for Donald Trump.
The emails originated from Sunday Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who acted as a ghost-writer for “Bad Boys of Brexit,” a book from Banks that detailed the pro-Leave campaign. Oakeshott claimed that her email was hacked — and that, due to the hack, she would be passing the documents to other journalists. She added that the documents show that Banks and Wigmore were “shamelessly used by the Russians.”
Banks, as it turns out, hasn’t reacted well to the revelations, saying that he’d only had “two boozy lunches and another cup of tea” with the Russian ambassador, adding, “Bite me.” Wigmore also called into question the legality of the revelations.
— Andy Wigmore (@andywigmore) June 9, 2018
Banks is due to appear before a select committee in Parliament on Tuesday, but has hinted that he may not appear. According to the Guardian, he accused Damian Collins, the MP leading the committee, “of colluding with journalists.”