Lawmakers want to question Brexit backer on Russian Federation meetings

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                    Banks, Farage and Wigmore shortly after the EU referendum in 2016

Mr Paisley later joked about the Russian reports, tweeting a picture of himself with the pair and his East Antrim colleague and saying; "Great to catch up on a busy day with Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore to discuss Brexit and beyond over an entertaining lunch".

On Tuesday, Mr. Banks and Mr. Wigmore rejected allegations of Russian interference and improper use of Facebook data, and criticized Mr. Wylie, who worked at Cambridge Analytica along with another whistle-blower, Brittany Kaiser.

The British government said it was examining meetings between the Russian embassy and leading figures in the campaign to leave the European Union, even as one of those under scrutiny laughed off the claims as a full-scale witch hunt.

Testifying before a Parliament committee, Arron Banks said he was being targeted in a witch hunt by politicians and journalists who favoured remaining in the 28-nation bloc.

Mr. Banks was the biggest financial backer of the pro-Brexit side during the 2016 referendum, contributing £9.4-million, or $16-million, to a group called Leave.EU that was led by Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party.

The paper said it saw emails showing he also discussed a potential business deal involving six Russian gold mines with ambassador Alexander Yakovenko after being introduced to him by a suspected Russian spy.

The pair had earlier laughed and joked their way through questioning at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Responding to questions from the MPs investigating fake news, Mr Banks said: "If the French ambassador called up and asked to meet you for lunch, you'd go".

Mr. Banks told the committee that the pair met Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, twice for lunch and held another meeting with a Russian businessman to talk about the gold mining project.

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Mr. Banks said he had no Russian holdings and added that his only connection to the country was through his wife, who is Russian. "There is no evidence".

Mr Wigmore asked: "In light of the fact that, according to Guido, you had some hospitality from Putin's number one man in the United Kingdom, do you not think you are a bit conflicted questioning us about this today?"

"This whole fake news narrative stated to roll from it". It had not been mentioned.

Mr. Banks reminded the committee that his wife is Russian, and said the lunch was fairly normal in the diplomatic and political community.

Collins said in an interview with the BBC.

His appearance comes after Prime Minister Theresa May said calls for an inquiry into alleged links between Russian Federation and the campaign to leave the European Union are a matter for the police.

Both men also defended Leave.EU's political tactics during the referendum, which included focusing largely on immigration control as a reason for Britain to leave the EU.

Mr Paisley posted a picture on Twitter of the quartet smiling for the camera on the House of Commons terrace, Mr Banks with cigarette in hand.

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