Revealed: detail of exclusive Russian deal offered to Arron Banks in Brexit run-up | UK news
The full details of Russia’s gold deal offer to Arron Banks ahead of the EU referendum are revealed in a leaked document which mentions exclusive “opportunities not available to others” and support from a Kremlin bank.
A seven-slide presentation, seen for the first time, shows how Banks – the main donor behind Leave.EU – was offered the chance of making potentially enormous profits in a deal featuring a Russian gold company.
The offer was made through Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador in London.
Some MPs have said it raises new questions about Moscow’s role in Brexit , and whether the Kremlin sought to enrich leading Brexit campaigners in the run-up to the 2016 referendum via a series of covert business deals.
Arron Banks, Brexit and the Russia connection Read more
Banks has consistently denied receiving money from Russia , but the source of his wealth has been under scrutiny since he gave £9m to Leave.EU, the largest political donation in British history.
Leave.EU is currently appealing against a £70,000 fine by the Electoral Commission in connection with campaign spending offences.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Arron Banks (right) at a Leave.EU press conference in November 2015. Banks gave the campaign £9m, the largest political donation in British history. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Though Banks consistently downplayed his contacts with senior Russians before and after the referendum, in recent weeks he has been forced to concede there were a number of meetings – including with Alexander Udod, a diplomat later expelled from the UK for suspected spying .
Earlier this year it emerged that in October 2015, Udod invited Banks and his business partner Andy Wigmore to meet the ambassador; they shared a “six-hour boozy lunch” at the ambassador’s Kensington mansion a few weeks later.
During that meeting on 6 November, the Russians discussed with Banks a potential gold deal. Eleven days later Yakovenko introduced Banks to the Moscow businessman Siman Povarenkin.
The exact details of the offer are revealed for the first time in a document obtained by the Dossier Center , an investigative unit funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky , an exiled critic of Vladimir Putin.
A copy of the presentation, first published by the Russian website Tsur , is understood to have been circulated to a number of people, including Banks. He ultimately did not invest.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Siman Povarenkin (right), the Moscow businessman who offered Arron Banks a goldmine deal. Photograph: Sukhodeev Roman
Titled “Russian gold sector consolidation play”, it features photos of shiny gold bars stamped with “Russia” in Cyrillic, next to the Russian flag.
The slides set out how investors could reap huge profits from a possible scheme to streamline Russia’s gold industry. Povarenkin’s Moscow-based company GeoProMining – which owns mines in Siberia and Armenia – would merge with “six or seven” rival gold firms.
The new $8bn (£6.2bn) super-company would be similar in scale to Russia’s biggest gold producer, Polyus Gold . Russia, it said, had the “second largest gold ore reserves” in the world. Gold companies could get cheap credit since gold was priced internationally in dollars, the document explained.
The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has queried in parliament Russia’s involvement in Brexit . He said these “new revelations beg the question why the Kremlin would offer Mr Banks sweetheart business deals”.
Bradshaw said the government should establish an inquiry, similar to the investigation in the US led by the special prosecutor Robert Mueller into Russia’s role in subverting the 2016 presidential election. Failing that, it should task the National Crime Agency and the police to investigate.
“Mr Banks has not been fully open about the extent of his dealings with the Russian embassy and the people they put him in touch with,” Bradshaw said.
Banks replied: “No Russian Gold deals, sweet heart or otherwise. A small cabal of anti-Brexit journalists from Ch4, the BBC and Guardian newspaper are engaged in a smear campaign against me.”
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Ben Bradshaw says the UK government should establish an inquiry similar to the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the US. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
He added: “I am glad I backed Brexit along with 17.4m Brits who believed in Britain.”
It has already been reported that Banks responded positively to the gold offer , discussed with the ambassador over a cup of tea. The following day, 18 November 2015, he is reported to have emailed Povarenkin saying he had “passed [on] the presentation to Andrew Umbers of Oakwell Capital , a company that I own a substantial stake in”.
He has admitted sharing it with fellow Leave campaigner Jim Mellon, who was copied into an email in which Banks signed off with: “I am very bullish on gold and so keen to take a look!”
The pitch made through the ambassador to Banks spelled out in blunt terms that the deal was backed by powerful Kremlin entities. Sberbank , a Russian state bank, owned a third of Povarenkin’s company and could therefore give better terms to select investors, the presentation indicated.
The final slide says: “Sberbank Capital (subsidiary of Sberbank which is N1 bank in Russia) is a shareholder in GeoProMining and it leads to certain opportunities not available to others.”
By 2015 Sberbank was under western sanctions . The bank’s CEO, Herman Gref, is an influential former economics minister. In 2013 Gref had dinner with Donald Trump during his visit to Moscow , praising him afterwards, and Sberbank was a sponsor of Trump’s Miss Universe contest.
Bob Seely, a Conservative MP, said Banks’s links to the Russian state have yet to be fully explained. “What was he offered, when and why? I don’t believe Russian officials offer sweetheart deals for investment to any random individual,” he said.
He added: “Why did they offer this deal to Banks, and were there quid pro quos?”
An investigation by Dossier suggests Yakovenko and Povarenko coordinated their pitch to Banks.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Donald Trump with the Miss Universe 2013 winner Gabriela Isler at the Moscow event. Sberbank was a sponsor of the contest. Photograph: Kommersant Photo/Kommersant via Getty Images
For two years Banks said he only met the ambassador once . He later admitted to three meetings, revising this to four in a recent interview with the New York Times . The “gold play” pitch was made the same week as Leave.EU’s launch.
Giving evidence to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee , Banks admitted meeting Povarenkin and added: “I’m a businessman, why shouldn’t I?” However, he said he had done no deals in Russia.
In fact, Banks seems to have engaged with the offer for several months, according to emails that have already been leaked to the New York Times .
They suggest that in January 2016 he invited Nick van den Brul, an investment banker and family friend of Wigmore’s, to meet with the ambassador. “I intend to pop in and see the ambassador as well,” Banks wrote, copying in Udod, the alleged spy.
According to the New York Times , Povarenkin also offered Banks a second opportunity to invest in the diamond company Alrosa. The Russian government was planning to sell off a 10% stake. An adviser to Banks wrote to Povarenkin that Banks’s team had “not forgotten about your Alrosa project”.
Banks said he eventually decided not to take part. But a fund ( OCCO Eastern European Fund ), managed by Charlemagne Capital of which Mellon was a shareholder, did invest in Alrosa.
Three weeks after Brexit, the Kremlin sold its stake to a closed group of investors at a discount to the market price, including OCCO, the New York Times reported. Mellon says the fund was able to participate because it had previously invested in Alrosa back in 2013.
A spokesmen for Mellon said he was not involved at the time in investment decisions and had no management role. Nor was he a beneficiary of OCCO.
Van den Brul confirmed that he briefed Banks and Wigmore in January 2016 on the gold and diamond mining industries in Russia “where I lived for several years”. He said there was “limited follow-up” beyond a notification about the Alrosa IPO. No transaction happened, he said.
Last month Banks admitted making payments to a government minister in Lesotho weeks before the country reportedly granted him a diamond mining licence. He denies the money was a bribe.
The Dossier investigation uncovered fresh details of a third potentially lucrative offer to Banks, made in April 2016. An intermediary emailed Banks about the possible sale of a goldmine in Conakry, Guinea, in west Africa. Its owner was an “adventurous Russian” who “shares your passion for the yellow metal”, the intermediary wrote.
The Russian was Ilya Karas , the CEO of the Moscow-based Farafina Gold Group . Karas was described to Banks as an “inveterate entrepreneur” and “mini-oligarch”.
Karas confirmed he met Banks “in mid-2016”. Karas said he was “seeking capital for exploration” and a possible $3.5m investment to finance the production of two potential gold sites. Banks did not invest, Karas said, adding: “We didn’t have any subsequent communications.”
In April this year, the company floated a plan to hold an initial coin offering on the Gibraltar stock exchange , featuring “crypto coins nominated in grams of gold”.
The goldmines identified by Povarenkin as possible consolidation targets include Highland Gold, in which the oligarch Roman Abramovich has a 9% minority stake. Highland and another firm Nordgold said they knew nothing of the deal and were never approached.
Down the sofa?: 169 million old £1 coins not returned – BBC News
These are external links and will open in a new window Close share panel Image copyright PA Image caption The new £1 coin has been described by the Royal Mint as the most secure coin in the world There may be one in an old coat pocket or hidden down the back of the sofa.
About 169 million round £1 coins have not been returned to the Royal Mint, nine months after they stopped being legal tender.
The round £1 coin was replaced by the 12-sided version in October last year, with millions of the old coins being melted down to create the new ones.
But, while you can not spend the old coin, you can still take it to your bank and deposit it into your account. Harry Kane ‘£50,000’ fiver spent in Merthyr Tydfil
The new £1 coin was introduced on 28 March 2017 to help crack down on counterfeiting, with one in 30 of the old version estimated to be fake according to the Royal Mint .
About 138 million round £1 coins have been melted down to help create some of the 1.5 billion new ones at the Royal Mint, based in Llantrisant near Cardiff, according to figures obtained by BBC Wales.
The new coin is described by the Mint as the most “secure in the world” and has a string of anti-counterfeiting details, including a hologram, and micro-sized lettering inside both rims.
It also has material inside which can be detected when electronically scanned by coin-counting or payment machines. New £1 coin’s ‘hidden’ security feature
A spokesman for the Mint said it had expected about 85% of the 1.7bn round £1 coins – or 1.4bn of them – to be returned during the transition period, based on the number of coins returned when the 50p coin changed in 1997-98.
“We do not expect that all round £1 coins in circulation at the time of the transition will be returned to the Mint,” he said, adding the numbers returned were in line with expectations.
“Also, based on the returns of other demonetised coins we expect there to be some returns for a number of years to come as people find these.” Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption The Royal Mint appealed for old £1 coins to be returned in October
The Royal Mint declined to say how much money smelting the round £1 coins saved in production costs of the new £1 coin, saying that disclosure of the information “could put us at a material disadvantage in any future negotiations with our overseas customers for the manufacture of their coinage”.
According to the Royal Mint, the old round £1 coin can continue to be deposited into a customer’s account, either business or personal, at most high-street banks.
These include RBS, NatWest, Ulster, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Santander, Nationwide, Clydesdale, Yorkshire Bank, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and The Post Office. Related Topics
Argentina senate rejects bill to legalise abortion | World news | The Guardian
Argentina’s senate has rejected a bill to legalise abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Lawmakers debated for more than 15 hours and voted 38 against to 31 in favour, despite the fact opinion polls showed the bill had strong public support. Pressure from the Catholic church prevented its approval, according to female activists who supported the bill. Argentina is the homeland of Pope Francis. “The church put pressure on senators to vote against the bill,” said Ana Correa, an original member of the #NiUnaMenos (“Not one woman less”) feminist movement that supported the bill. The lower house had already passed the measure and President Mauricio Macri had said he would sign it. Rejection of the bill means that abortion remains legal only in the case of rape and danger to the life of the woman. Mariela Belski, Argentina’s Amnesty International director, said a survey had shown 60% support for the bill, and described its failure as “an unforgivable step backwards”. “Lawmakers chose today to turn their backs on hundreds of thousands of women and girls who have been fighting for their sexual and reproductive rights,” Belski said. “All that this decision does is perpetuate the circle of violence which women, girls and others who can become pregnant are forced into.” Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, braved a cold and rainy night to stand vigil outside the congress building on Wednesday while the votes were counted inside. Despite the final result of the vote, many women said they believed Argentina would have legal abortion eventually. “I’m still optimistic. It didn’t pass today, but it will pass tomorrow, it will pass the next day,” said Natalia Carol, a 23-year-old abortion rights supporter. “This is not over.” The journalist Silvina Márquez, who joined the crowd outside the congress building early in the afternoon, said: “We might not have a law today, but it is going to happen. Argentina is not going back to this, it is important for the women, especially for the young women. So sooner or later we’ll have an abortion law.” “What this vote showed is that Argentina is still a country that represents family values,” the anti-abortion activist Victoria Osuna, 32, told Reuters. A nearby group of secondary school students, megaphone in hand, chanted: “Beware, beware, machistas [chauvinists] beware, all Latin America will be feminist.” The pope, who remains deeply involved in the politics of his home country, has made no secret of his opposition to the bill. On Monday, the Clarín daily newspaper reported that Francis had asked anti-abortion legislators to pressure fellow lawmakers to reject the bill. Despite a recent survey that showed 71% of Argentinians opposed political interference by the church, leading Catholic authorities have spoken out recently against the bill. “This would be the first time a law is passed in democratic Argentina permitting the elimination of a human being by another human,” Monsignor Óscar Ojea, president of Argentina’s synod of bishops, said in a homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Luján, one of Argentina’s leading pilgrimage sites, last month. In a pointed signal, Bishop Ojea and and Cardinal Mario Poli – who succeeded Jorge Bergoglio as archbishop of Buenos Aires after Bergoglio became pope – held a mass on Wednesday at 8pm at Buenos Aires Cathedral while the senators debated the bill. Although the law as it stands also permits abortion when there is risk to the woman’s health, few of Argentina’s 23 provinces have implemented this third instance. In the city of Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe, where this option has been available since 2012, deaths as a result of complications from clandestine abortions have fallen to zero. Complications related to clandestine abortions are the main cause of death among pregnant women in Argentina. “Senators and anti-rights can go to sleep pleased that they saved the lives
of people who literally speaking do not exist and pleased that they fought
for women to keep dying,” tweeted Malena Pichot, a well-known comedian and legal abortion activist.
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