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Brexit campaign donor grilled by MPs on Russia links

AFP  |  London 

A British millionaire who helped bankroll the campaign played down his connections with Russian officials today, amid lingering concerns targeted the divisive 2016 referendum with so-called

Arron Banks, the outspoken founder of the campaign, faced nearly three hours of questioning by British lawmakers probing the spread of It followed weekend newspaper reports that the was offered business deals in and held previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian

Critics contend Banks, who donated nearly USD 13.4 million to the pro-campaign, could have been influenced or used by the Kremlin, which was eager to break up the EU.

But the 52-year-old called the furore around his ties to "a full-scale witch-hunt". He told MPs he held two lunches with Alexander Yakovenko, while a possible business deal involving six gold mines "fizzled out".

"That's the extent of it," he told the parliamentary hearing.

"I don't regard this... as constant contact with the Russians. It wasn't.

"I've got no business interests in and I've done no business deals in Russia." Banks, who is married to a Russian woman, also denied recent claims he made a February 2016 visit to

Banks denied travelling to Russia at that time.

"If anyone's got evidence I was in please bring it forward," he said. Banks confirmed reports he gave phone numbers for Donald Trump's transition team to Russian officials, after he had met with the US president-elect in November 2016 in

But he denied passing on other material.

"I can categorically say no, we didn't," Banks said. "I don't have access to political information." Andy Wigmore, a former British 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.

Both Banks and Wigmore insisted they had not tried to conceal contact with Russians and "briefed the American on everything that transpired." "If I was intent on hiding my involvement with the Russians, I did a pretty bad job of that," Banks said.

After the hearing, committee said it was "difficult" to know whether to believe the pair.

"(They) themselves put on the record that they frequently lie, exaggerate, misspeak and misunderstand," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, June 13 2018. 01:00 IST