The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is investigating Brexit’s biggest funder Arron Banks over alleged offences committed during the EU referendum campaign, following a referral by the electoral watchdog.
The Electoral Commission, which conducted its own probe, said there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Banks, who backed the pro-Brexit Leave.EU campaign, had not financed £8 million worth of funds to it.
The watchdog said it suspected the money had come "from impermissible sources".
“Due to multiple suspected offences, some of which fall outside the commission’s remit, the commission has referred this matter and handed its evidence to the National Crime Agency,” the Electoral Commission said in a statement.
The criminal investigation will focus on the businessman, a company called Better for the Country of which Mr Banks is the director and was used to finance the Leave.EU campaign as well as the Leave.EU group itself. Another senior figure in Leave.EU Liz Bilney was also referred to the NCA.
"Our investigation relates to suspected electoral law offences... as well as any associated offences," the NCA said in a statement on Thursday, adding that it could not discuss any "operational detail".
Politicians had called for the probe to discover whether any "dark money", in particular from Russia, had influenced the 2016 referendum.
UK law essentially bans financial donations being made to electoral campaigns from overseas or foreign donors.
Mr Banks said he “welcomed” investigation on Thursday and denied any foreign money had played a role in his campaign.
"The electoral commission have said offences may have been committed but have provided no evidence," he told Reuters. "As usual the Electoral Commission is batting for the Remainers in parliament."
Leave.EU was the unofficial pro-Brexit campaign supported by then UK Independence Party leader, Nigel Farage. It was separate to the official Vote Leave group, which was backed by senior politicians such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Mr Banks appeared before politicians earlier this summer to answer questions about his links to Russian officials in the lead up to the referendum.
He dismissed questions about his Russian connections as a "full-scale witch hunt", while admitting to having met up with Russia’s ambassador to Britain three times before June, 23 2016.
But after the parliamentary inquiry, reports surfaced that Mr Banks had actually met Alexander Yakovenko 11 times in the months before the vote, in which he was said to have discussed lucrative business deals.