Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen
Leave campaigner Arron Banks is being investigated by the National Crime Agency for “suspected criminal offences” committed during the Brexit referendum.
The probe has been launched after the elections watchdog said it had reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Banks was not the true source of £8 million worth of loans made during the campaign.
Leave.EU, co-founded by Mr Banks, its chief executive Elizabeth Bilney and the organisation that ran it, Better for the Country, are also being investigated by the NCA after a review carried out by the Electoral Commission.
Mr Banks said he was confident the investigation would “put an end to the ludicrous allegations” against him.
Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s director of political finance, said: “We have reasonable grounds to suspect money given to Better for the Country came from impermissible sources and that Mr Banks and Ms Bilney, the responsible person for Leave.EU, knowingly concealed the true circumstances under which this money was provided.
“This is significant because at least £2.9m of this money was used to fund referendum spending and donations during the regulated period of the EU referendum.
“Our investigation has unveiled evidence that suggests criminal offences have been committed which fall beyond the remit of the Commission.
“This is why we have handed our evidence to the NCA to allow them to investigate and take any appropriate law enforcement action. This is now a criminal investigation.
“The financial transactions we have investigated include companies incorporated in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. These jurisdictions are beyond the reach of the Electoral Commission for the purpose of obtaining information for use in criminal investigations or proceedings.”
Mr Banks said the Commission had referred him to the NCA under “intense political pressure” from anti-Brexit supporters.
He said: “I am pleased that the Electoral Commission has referred me to the National Crime Agency.
“I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues.
“There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations. The Electoral Commission has produced no evidence to the contrary.”
The Electoral Commission’s review of referendum finances focused on £2 million reported to have been loaned to Better for the Country by Mr Banks and his insurance companies and a £6 million donation he made alone.
It said as well as having reasonable grounds to suspect he was not the true source of the cash, loans involved a company, Rock Holdings, based on the Isle of Man, that was impermissible under the rules.
The watchdog said it suspected Mr Banks, Ms Bilney and others involved in Better for the Country and Leave.EU concealed the true details of the financial transactions.
It believes a number of criminal offences may have been committed.
The NCA said its investigation relates to suspected electoral law offences.
A spokesman added: “While electoral law offences would not routinely fall within the NCA’s remit, the nature of the necessary inquiries and the potential for offences to have been committed other than under electoral law lead us to consider an NCA investigation appropriate in this instance.”