Organised criminal and terrorist networks depend on secrecy to avoid detection, with offshore companies and opaque financial flows comprising an essential part of their toolkit. This is bad enough, but if these same tools are used to obscure the source of a political donation, and if this political donation is the biggest in British history, then the very foundations of our democracy are at risk.
But this is exactly what has happened. On 1st November the Electoral Commission referred the matter of £8 million in loans and donations to pro-Brexit campaign groups to the National Crime Agency (NCA) for investigation. At the eye of the storm is arch-Brexiteer Arron Banks and the two campaign groups in question: Leave.EU and Better for the Country (BFTC). Amongst the Commission’s concerns are that Banks was not the true source of the £8 million, and that one of the sources of these funds was Rock Holdings Ltd, an offshore company incorporated in the Isle of Man, and as such cannot lawfully make a political donation or loan related to UK elections.
Banks forcefully denies any wrong doing, stating that the money came from UK businesses, but he won’t say exactly where the money is from. For a political mover and shaker Banks seems to have a blind spot when it comes to matters of public interest, as evidenced when he Tweeted: “Just remind me, if the money came from the U.K. companies & myself, why should I explain anyway?”
Does he really need to ask? The public have a right to know who is funding the parties or campaign groups that claim to represent them, especially important in the case of the referendum which will have a multi-generational impact. If Banks is a honest man, then he is a forgetful one, as evidenced by forgetting how many times he met with Russia’s ambassador to the UK in the lead up to the referendum. But it is important that he does try to remember the source of the funds that bankrolled Leave.EU and BFTC.
The Electoral Commission don’t seem to believe a faulty memory is the problem here, instead stating that “Leave.EU, Elizabeth Bilney (the responsible person for Leave.EU), BFTC, Mr Banks, and possibly others, concealed the true details of these financial transactions, including from us, and also did so by knowingly making statutory returns/reports which were incomplete and inaccurate, or false”.
The NCA investigation will hopefully work out what was really going on with the source of Leave.EU funds, and whether they originated offshore. If the UK government applied the same rules to the Crown Dependencies as the rest of the UK (and will soon be applied to the Overseas Territories) this information would be publicly available – and journalists, or even members of the public, might have figured it out months ago.