Arron Banks Lesotho payments prompt SFO meeting with accuser
1 August 2018. By Martin Coyle and Ben Lucas.
The UK Serious Fraud Office will meet a South African private investigator over potential bribery allegations concerning Arron Banks, the British businessman who helped bankroll the pro-Brexit campaign, MLex has learned.
This follows allegations, first aired by UK broadcaster Channel 4, that Banks paid thousands of pounds to a Lesotho government minister, at the same time as he was attempting to secure a license for a diamond mine in the county.
The UK fraud agency will meet investigator Paul O’Sullivan about Banks’ activities in Lesotho, but it is unclear when the meeting will take place. The agency has received information about the Lesotho payments, MLex understands.
Banks has admitted making payments worth some 19,000 pounds ($25,000) in 2013 and 2014 to Lesotho’s former Minister for Gender and Sport, John Maseribane, while he was seeking the license, but has denied paying bribes. Maseribane has also denied the money was linked to bribery.
If the payments are found to be bribes then the Brexit backer could face action under the UK’s bribery legislation, the Bribery Act. Although the money was paid abroad Banks could still face action as the legislation captures wrongdoing by British citizens anywhere in the world.
While the Serious Fraud Office, the UK’s main corruption prosecutor, hasn’t yet opened a formal investigation into Banks, it is now clear that his activities in the country are of interest to the agency.
MLex contacted Leave.EU, the campaign group backed by Banks, but it didn’t respond to a request for comment. Banks has previously denied wrongdoing connected to his mining activities.
O’Sullivan also declined to comment when contacted by MLex. In a previous statement made to media, O’Sullivan said the payments “raised questions” about transparency.
While the Lesotho payments are relatively small, and wouldn’t normally cross the SFO’s financial threshold for taking on cases, the agency is able to start investigations where it feels it is in the “national interest” to do so.
The SFO told MLex it could neither “confirm nor deny” any interest in Banks.