Published: Thu, June 14, 2018

Brexit campaigner Banks: Russia meetings were not an issue in the past

Brexit campaigner Banks: Russia meetings were not an issue in the past

Leave.EU communications chief Mr Wigmore said the group took advice that "referendums are not about facts, it's about emotion".

He called for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee chairman Damian Collins to step down from leading the inquiry because he accepted hospitality from Chelsea football club, which is owned by Roman Abramovich.

"You can join us if you want".

Banks has also reportedly admitted that he handed over phone numbers for members of Donald Trump's transition team to Russian officials, after meeting with the USA president-elect in November 2016 in NY.

"This whole fake news narrative stated to roll from it".

The report said Banks and Wigmore met with Yakovenko again for a cup of tea on November 17 at a meeting that also included mining magnate Siman Povarenkin to discuss a deal involving six gold mines in Russian Federation.

He said he had no business interests in Russia, did not accept Russian money for the referendum campaign and his team had briefed American security services about their contacts, to head off suspicion of wrongdoing.

But Banks said he was simply "hoping for a good a lunch" when he met with the Russian ambassador. "Now, before that all occurred, it was no issue", he added.

"I've got no business interests in Russian Federation and I've done no business deals in Russian Federation", said Banks, who was pictured with Trump and fellow Brexit backer Nigel Farage at Trump Tower days after the presidential election in November 2016.

The Sunday Times said at the weekend those ties went further than the pair had previously disclosed.

Banks, who is married to a Russian woman, also denied recent claims he made a February 2016 visit to Moscow.

The millionaire entrepreneur also dismissed allegations by whistle-blower Brittany Kaiser, who said he had illegally used personal data belonging to clients of his insurance companies Eldon and GoSkippy for the Brexit campaign.

Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Trump in 2016, has denied its work on the US president's successful election campaign made use of allegedly improperly harvested data - but questions have since been raised over any role in other votes.

Leave.EU was fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission earlier this year for breaches of election law in the Brexit referendum. Banks lodged an appeal against that decision on Tuesday, and the MPs said they would not ask Banks about the case given the ongoing legal process.

Andy Wigmore, a former British diplomat and close associate of Banks who also appeared at the hearing, said Yakovenko simply "couldn't believe Trump had won" and was scrambling for contacts.

Mr Banks had cancelled his scheduled appearance at the hearing.

Mr Wigmore told Mr Collins: "In light of the fact that you had some hospitality from Putin's number one man in the United Kingdom, do you not think you are a bit conflicted questioning us about this today?" Pork pies is an old London rhyming slang term for "lies", but Banks and Wigmore smiled and posed with the pies before eating them.

Banks has become a bete noire for pro-EU campaigners, who presented him with pies on his arrival in Westminster.

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