Leave.EU group investigated over referendum donations and spending

A woman walks past a Leave.EU campaign mobile advertising board in central London, Britain November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Election watchdogs have opened a investigation into pro-Brexit campaign group over claims they may have broken the law by accepting impermissible donations and failing to declare their spending fully.

The Leave.EU group, which was co-founded by Ukip supporter Arron Banks, faces the probe after officials at the Electoral Commission concluded there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect they may have broken the law.

In a statement, it said the inquiry would focus on whether the campaign group had received “impermissible” donations that it could not legally accept and whether its spending return was incomplete.

“This followed an assessment which concluded that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences under the law may have occurred,” it said in a statement.

The investigation is focused on whether one or more donations – including of services – accepted by Leave.EU was impermissible; and whether Leave.EU’s spending return was complete.

Once the investigation is complete, the commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate, in line with its enforcement policy.

The Leave.EU group was one of the smaller groups campaigning for Britain to leave the EU in the referendum last summer.

The main group, Vote Leave, was founded by a cross-section of MPs from the main political parties.

Leave. EU was launched by Mr Banks and was largely a vehicle for then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage, though it was intended to act as an umbrella group for a number of pro-Brexit organisations.

A probe looks into whether one or more donations accepted by Leave.EU was “impermissible” and if its spending return was complete. One of the two high-profile pro-Brexit campaign groups in the EU referendum is being investigated amid suspicions of “potential offences”.

The Electoral Commission has said it is looking into whether one or more donations accepted by Leave.EU was “impermissible” and if its spending return was complete.

The probe by the official elections watchdog comes after it found “reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences under the law may have occurred”.

Leave.EU was co-founded by millionaire businessman and former UKIP donor Arron Banks, and was backed by the party’s then leader Nigel Farage.

But it was not designated as the official Leave campaign in last June’s referendum.

That role was given to Vote Leave which had the support of senior Conservatives Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The commission has previously announced that it is investigating the spending returns of both Vote Leave and the official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, as well as a number of other groups.

Leave.EU declared spending of £693,022 – close to the legal limit of £700,000 for the non-official campaign groups.

On Twitter, Mr Banks said: “The Electoral Commission allowed the Government to spend £11m on a pack of remain lies.

“We will be vigorously defending their allegations.”

He added: “It’s clearly politically motivated just as the Clacton campaign is announced.”

Mr Banks said this week he will be standing as a candidate for the Essex seat in this June’s General Election.

A commission statement said: “The Electoral Commission has begun an investigation into Leave.EU’s EU Referendum spending return.

“This followed an assessment which concluded that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences under the law may have occurred.

“The investigation is focused on whether one or more donations – including of services – accepted by Leave.EU was impermissible; and whether Leave.EU’s spending return was complete.”

It added: “Once the investigation is complete, the commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate, in line with its enforcement policy.”

 

 

 

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