Who is Arron Banks?
By Diane Cooke
Arron Banks made history by giving the biggest donation in British political history to the Leave.EU campaign, which he co-founded.
He was one of the largest donors to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and bankrolled Nigel Farage’s campaign to quit the EU.
The Bristol-based businessman, who owns the insurance company Go Skippy, is worth between £100m and £250m, and gave a reported £12m in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes.
His wife, Katya, was born in Russia. They have three children and have been married since 2001.
In 2017, opendemocracy asked the question: "How did Arron Banks afford Brexit?" It reports that he was in trouble in 2013.
Financial regulators in Gibraltar had been scrutinising his insurance under-writer, Southern Rock. They had discovered it was keeping reserves far below what was needed.
This was a serious problem. Banks claimed he had already provided £40 million to plug the hole. He also told the regulator he would step down as a director, but had since been required to find an eye-watering £60 million in extra funding.
A year later, those financial worries seemed to have completely evaporated. Banks had begun buying diamond mines, investing millions into chemical companies and wealth management firms, setting up loss-making political consultancies, and most famous of all – funding the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Recent investigations by openDemocracy and their partner journalists at SourceMaterial have raised fresh questions about the value of Banks’ business empire, his business associates, and the real source of the Brexit campaign’s largest donations.
They say the true value of Banks’ claimed “significant” diamond discoveries in Lesotho is questionable, while his insurance business has been propped up by a £77m cash injection from an unknown source, and people who specialise in using tax havens to protect the secrecy of wealthy clients were taking up seats on the board of one of his companies.
Banks said opendemocracy's reports about his Lesotho investments and political ties were a “political attack,” without commenting further.
Meanwhile, there has been persistent speculation about his relationship with Russian officials in the UK since he disclosed that he and his colleague Andy Wigmore had a “six-hour boozy lunch” with the Russian ambassador in 2015. But Banks has now been forced to admit the contacts were deeper than previously stated.
Emails leaked to the Observer and the Sunday Times reveal Banks had far more extensive contacts with Russian officials than he previously claimed.
The emails show he met the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, three times, rather than once, that he shared at least one phone number for the Trump transition team with the Russians, and that he was offered the chance to participate in a goldmining deal in Russia, although it is not clear whether he took this up.
The emails from Banks and key associates were collected by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who knows Banks well. She was the ghostwriter of his book The Bad Boys of Brexit, a diary of the period leading up to the EU referendum, and collected the emails as part of background research at the time.
Banks and Wigmore, who was present or involved in many of the meetings with the Russians, are due to give evidence to a select committee this morning, according to The Guardian.