Arron Banks tried to conceal details of an offshore property company that owns two flats overlooking Portsmouth Harbour.
The insurance entrepreneur, whose funding for the Brexit campaign has been called the biggest donation in British electoral history, passed a trove of documents to the BBC last month but included a note, seemingly by mistake, stating: “Redact the reference for Ural Properties and any references which include sensitive info eg. the account numbers that the money was sent from.”
SourceMaterial, which contributed to a BBC Newsnight feature on Ural properties, has established that the Gibraltar-based company bought two flats on the top floor of an apartment block in Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays in 2007 for a total of £890,000.
Banks’s wife, Katya, comes from the Urals region of Russia and lived in Portsmouth when she first moved to the UK. In the late 1990s she had short-lived marriage to a retired merchant seaman nearly 30 years her senior.
She was reportedly helped to stay in the country by Mike Hancock, a Liberal Democrat MP. Hancock also had a relationship Katia Zatuliveter, his assistant, who was detained as a suspected Russian spy but won an appeal against her deportation.
Banks is under investigation by the National Crime Agency after the Electoral Commission found it had reasonable grounds to suspect he was “not the true source” of £8 million provided to Leave.EU and Better for the Country Ltd.
He has insisted there was “no Russian money, no interference” in his Brexit campaign and that money he donated “was generated out of insurance business written in the UK”.
“No money came from the men with snow on their boots,” he told Newsnight.
The corporate filings of Ural Properties obtained by SourceMaterial contain no evidence to contradict that.
But what is interesting about Ural Properties—apart from the fact that Banks apparently wanted to keep its existence secret—is the amount of money flowing through it, more than might be expected for an everyday buy-to-let company.
Combined rental income for the two properties, valued at a total of £919,326, should come to around £60,000 a year at most, according to data for similar flats in the same building from online property databases.
But between 2015 and 2018 the amount of cash it held at the bank rose sharply from £228 to £475,000. The amount Ural Properties owes to creditors within the next 12 months, more than half a million pounds, is also far in excess of standard mortgage payments for flats in that price range.
While significant, these sums are not on the scale of Banks’s funding for Brexit and might be unremarkable were it not for his apparent efforts to keep Ural Properties, and the sources of its income, out of the public domain.
According to the Gibraltar corporate records, Ural Properties is owned by a proxy, Gold Nominees Limited, managed by Louise Kentish. She and her husband Alan Kentish, the chief executive of STM Group, have a long history of dealings with Banks.
A spokesman for Arron Banks did not address specific questions raised by SourceMaterial over the Ural Properties filings, saying only that the company is owned by Faberge Trust.
SourceMaterial could find no records for a Faberge Trust in any jurisdiction. However, an STM Group company is listed as a shareholder of a Faberge Properties Ltd, registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to the ICIJ Panama Papers.
Faberge Properties was set up on 28 March 2007, just six weeks before Ural Properties was incorporated in Gibraltar. However, Faberge Properties appears to have been shut down in 2011.