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Vote Leave and Veterans for Britain investigated over European Union referendum spending

Vote Leave and Veterans for Britain investigated over European Union referendum spending

The electoral watchdog has re-opened its investigation into the funding of the main pro-Brexit referendum campaign after finding new evidence that it breached election law.

Anti-Brexit protesters wave EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, November 14, 2017.

In a statement on its website, the campaign finance watchdog said it has begun an inquiry into whether Vote Leave broke the £7 million ($9.3 million) spending limit for referendums, adding that new information has come to light which means it has "reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed".

The inquiry is understood to be related to two donations totalling £725,000 that were given to Darren Grimes, a 23-year-old fashion design student and Brexit supporter, and a group called Veterans for Britain in the final days of the campaign.

Matthew Elliott, the secretary of Vote Leave Limited and the man who oversaw the campaign itself, said he was unable to comment.

Until now, the Electoral Commission has accepted the word of Vote Leave and Grimes that the financial arrangement did not break the rules and it was entirely coincidental that the money given to Grimes was then spent with Vote Leave's own favoured advertising company.

In February, the Electoral Commission told BuzzFeed News that they could not prove any break of the rules "beyond reasonable doubt", after Labour MP Stephen Kinnock wrote to demand an urgent investigation into the arrangement.

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Veterans for Britain also received a donation worth £100,000 from Vote Leave in the run-up to the June 23 2016 vote.

The Electoral Commission announced earlier this month it was investigating Arron Banks and Leave.EU over whether they received illegal donations.

Vote Leave denies that it attempted to get around spending limits. The money was not given to Grimes directly, however, with the total instead paid directly to AggregateIQ, a Canadian data analytics firm.

On the second investigation, Mr Banks said: "Unless you set out in the next 21 days the source of these allegations and why you find them credible, we intend to seek a judicial review of the decision to investigate our campaign and the political reasons why".

The Electoral Commission wants to know whether Mr Grimes' or Veterans for Britain official spending returns after the referendum were correct.

But in his response Mr Banks said: "At the outset of the investigation we sent you three lever arch folders full of the relevant information and the last we heard from you was in July".

An Electoral Commission spokesman said the watchdog had seen Mr Banks' open letter "and will be responding in due course".


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