26 Jul 2018

Diamonds, guns and Russian cash: The extraordinary new claims against Arron Banks

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

A Channel 4 News investigation has uncovered allegations that the Brexit donor planned military support for a Lesotho politician – and had business links with Russia’s state diamond company.

An investigation by Channel 4 News has uncovered serious allegations against Arron Banks and his African diamond mine empire.

Mr Banks was the biggest financial backer of the Brexit campaign in 2016.

But extraordinary new documents handed to police in South Africa – broadcast tonight on Channel 4 News – provide further allegations of his attempts to do business in Russia by trying to raise funds from Alrosa, the Russian state-owned diamond company.

They also accuse Banks and his associates of planning to set up a military training camp and “mercenary support” – “if need be” – to help get an African politician into power.

In the last week Channel 4 News has been reporting on Arron Banks’ ownership of diamond mines in southern Africa, looking into allegations that he sought Russian investment here, all the while denying it.

Trying to find out why he reported this diamond find in the kingdom of Lesotho as “significant” when others said it wasn’t. And talking to a government minister there who denied that Arron Banks had offered him bribes to secure a diamond mining contract.

A major source of these allegations has been a legal case at the High Court in Kimberley South Africa between Arron Banks and his former business partner, Chris Kimber.

Mr Banks denies the allegations and says he never had any business dealings in Russia ahead of the Brexit vote.

But Channel 4 News has now obtained an additional statement from Mr Kimber who worked in partnership with Arron Banks in his mining business – repeating the allegation there were such contacts in 2015.

The allegations are contained in a statement submitted to the South African Police’s investigative unit – known as the South African Hawks – by Banks’ former business partner, Chris Kimber, in November 2017.

Channel 4 News has confirmed that the Hawks are currently investigating these allegations.

The Hawks Statement claims that in 2015 the billionaire businessman was in discussions with Alrosa, the Russian diamond company.

“Arron Banks was in discussion with Alrosa, the Russian state diamond producer and he had made certain promises to them. The most important was that Arron Banks was to prove to Alrosa the quality of diamonds produced…”

“…He was further due to meet representatives, in London, in November, where he would be obliged to show them the quality of the production.”

The statement adds further detail to the claims made in the affidavit submitted to the High Court in Kimberley on 28 February 2018, and reported on Channel 4 News on July 20th that Banks travelled to Russia in 2015 and discussed Russian investment in his Southern African and Lesotho mines.

On the BBC last night another Banks business associate James Pryor was recorded saying Banks had sought investment from Russia though he later denied it.

But the police statement goes further. Not only does it allege that the Russians wanted proof of diamond production from Newlands mine in South Africa; but that Banks’ solution to the problem was to acquire diamonds from elsewhere.

His former business partner claims to the police: “It was decided by Arron Banks that diamonds would be acquired from third parties for export…

“…I was later to find out that Arron Banks…was involved in illicit diamond buying in various African countries.”

Mr Banks told Channel 4 News in a statement this afternoon that all the allegations against him are “ludicrous” and that he “had genuine concerns about the sanity and mental health of the editorial team responsible for the reports which the programme [that’s us] has broadcast.”

He’s also submitted his own statement against his former business partner to the South African police. The police told us an investigation has been escalated to police head office in Pretoria.

On Monday, Channel 4 News broadcast pictures of five diamonds allegedly from Mr Bank’s mine in Lesotho. The country’s Mining Commissioner told us they hadn’t been tested yet and were not a “significant find” as Mr Banks had claimed. Mineworkers told us they had not seen or heard of any diamonds.

In the Lesothan capital Maseru Channel 4 News tracked down a director of Mr Banks’s mining company, a lawyer and he said he hadn’t heard the news either.

The diamond mine is now closing though Mr Banks insists there has been a small number of quality finds. Channel 4 News also obtained emails showing that Mr Banks had paid at least £19,000 to a government minister in Lesotho. Mr Banks told this programme the true figure was nearer £107,000 for charity work and to help Masirebane and his work in Lesotho – and he denied it was a bribe for a mining licence.

Channel 4 News has now established Banks’s former business partner Chris Kimber has told South African police he was the middle man on cash payments involving the Minister’s daughter.

“I thought nothing of these payments until I was asked to pay an amount in excess of R500,000.”

Mr Kimber has also told police that diamonds were not Banks’s only ambition in Lesotho. He alleges it was: “…his grand plan to somehow gain a foothold whereby he would be able to not only control diamond flow, but also other aspects of the economy.”

In August 2014 Banks’s friend the Minister John Maseribane was forced to leave the country because of an attempted military coup.

Mr Kimber has told the South African police Banks wanted him back in power – and that he was prepared to offer Mr Maseribane mercenary support.

Channel 4 News put to the allegation to the Minister himself in an interview last week:

Reporter: “How far do you think his support for you went? Is there any evidence that after the military coup and he obviously wanted to help you get back into office? Did he offer you mercenary–?”

Maseribane: “Why are you pursuing this when I humbly ask requested you to close this chapter? Now you are touching on another military what I don’t know– ”

Reporter: “Did he ever offer you mercenary support?”

Maseribane: “I came back to Lesotho supported by SADC not any mercenaries.”

Reporter: “So he didn’t offer you any military support, that is fantasy, is it?”

Maseribane: “Go back to your research. There were no mercenaries.

Reporter: “There was no offer of military support?”

Maseribane: “I am saying there were no mercenaries.”

Reporter: “So no offer either?”

Maseribane: “We never discussed these issues.”

Channel 4 News has seen no evidence of any mercenary activity. However, the programme has seen email exchanges between Banks and his associates which discuss setting up a military training camp and buying semi-automatic weapons, stun grenades and pistols.

The emails refer to setting up a shooting range or training camp. Including this email from Arron Banks himself:

Channel 4 News has given Mr Banks every opportunity to reply to these allegations. And we have seen no evidence of any mercenary force used or assembled.

Today, Arron Banks told Channel 4 News: “Having reflected on the false allegations made about me by @Channel4News over the past 7 days, I have genuine concerns about the sanity and mental health of the editorial team responsible, I shall be alerting both the board of Channel 4 and ITN to my concerns.”

In a statement, a Hawks spokesperson said: “There is an inquiry we are looking into. But we are also mindful of a civil matter which is ongoing concurrently. We are not at liberty to divulge the stage of the investigation. We can confirm it has been escalated to the head office from the province. We will make an announcement once the investigation is complete.”

Mr Banks has stated he has given a sworn statement on oath to the police.