UK businessman Banks to face 'preliminary' SFO bribery probe, says accuser

17 August 2018 3:48pm
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16 August 2018. By Martin Coyle and Ben Lucas.

British businessman Arron Banks is set to face a “preliminary investigation” by the UK’s anticorruption agency, according to a South African fraud and forensic expert.

Paul O’Sullivan met with the Serious Fraud Office last week in London to discuss evidence that, he says, suggests that Banks was involved in bribery payments in Lesotho and South Africa.

The SFO hasn’t launched a formal criminal probe, and is yet to determine whether the case against Banks — who helped bankroll the pro-Brexit campaign in 2016 — fits its investigative criteria.

The claims, first aired by UK broadcaster Channel 4, allege the businessman paid thousands of pounds to a Lesotho government minister, at the same time as he was attempting to secure a prospecting license for a diamond mine in the country.

Banks has reportedly admitted making donations to Lesotho’s former Minister for Gender and Sport, John Maseribane in 2013 and 2014. But both have denied any wrongdoing. Maseribane is currently the leader of Lesotho’s Basotho National Party.

O’Sullivan handed the SFO a cache of emails during the meeting on Aug. 7 in London.

“On the face of it Arron Banks appears to have been involved in a corrupt relationship with government ministers,” O’Sullivan told MLex after the meeting. “My understanding is that [the SFO] would carry out a preliminary investigation.”

The SFO is looking at the evidence before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation, O’Sullivan added, confirming that he initiated the contact with the agency with his information about Banks.

“We have had access to certain emails, which we have made available to the SFO, which clearly indicates a quid pro quo for the payments — and the quid pro quo is the documentation he got from the government for diamond exploration in Lesotho,” said O’Sullivan.

An SFO spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny whether any investigation had been opened. Leave.EU, the Brexit campaign group that Banks backed, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While the value of the alleged bribes is relatively low and wouldn't usually meet the SFO’s criteria to begin an investigation, it could make exceptions when it is in the national interest to do so.

During the pre-investigation stage, the agency analyzes information it has received from sources. The agency's head then decides whether the alleged activity can come under criminal investigation.

O’Sullivan has also filed a criminal complaint against Banks with the South African organized-crime agency, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks.

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