Lawmakers want to question Brexit backer on Russian Federation meetings

Brittany Kaiser

Banks told LBC that he first met the ambassador over a "boozy lunch" that included Stalin vodka, but insisted there was "no evidence" he had taken Russian money.

He said: "We had a couple of issues in relation to bananas and sugar and the initial conversation I had with this gentleman at the Ukip conference - I was trying to find investors to look at perhaps buying a banana farm which had got into trouble because of its owner. and as a effect Belize couldn't sell its bananas in places like the United States or the United Kingdom".

Giles Watling, a Conservative MP on the committee, asked Banks: "I'd like to move on to big scary Russian Federation. Did those business deals go through?"

"Did that happen? Did he make money out of it and did he use that money to fund his campaigns?" I get the point that if the Russian ambassador asks you round for a drink you go, but this relationship went on for quite some time.

Mr Banks emphatically replied: "Absolutely not".

"I'm not going to be lectured about my business interests".

The last of these was in November 2016, three days after Mr Banks, Leave.EU's communications director Andy Wigmore and the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage met Mr Trump in NY following his election victory.

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"If you don't like the tax law pertaining to this country, get out there and change that". Echoing his phrase, Banks agreed: "Many good lunches".

Mr Wigmore said it was Mr Yakovenko's job to stay in touch with British politicians and claimed that only two days before their last meeting with him, the Russian ambassador had met Chancellor Philip Hammond. You said when you left 20 minutes, and now we've run way past 20 minutes.

Britain has said it has seen no evidence of Russian interference in the vote, but as part of a broader inquiry into "fake news", lawmakers on the media committee are investigating whether the country tried to influence public opinion before the referendum.

Earlier, it emerged that Banks had lodged an appeal against the Electoral Commission over its decision to levy a £70,000 fine against Leave.EU for breaching its spending limits.

His appearance comes after Prime Minister Theresa May said calls for an inquiry into alleged links between Russian Federation and the campaign to leave the European Union are a matter for the police. Wigmore said that "in the light of hospitality from Putin's No 1 man in London, you might recuse yourself".

A laughing Collins responded: "It's a nice try, Mr Wigmore". The committee chair added that he "wasn't offered Stalin's vodka" and he had "no shares in goldmines" and, in response to a suggestion from Banks, added there were "no honey traps".

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