The Hawks have confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation involving British businessman and Brexit financier Arron Banks and his former business associate, Chris Kimber; and has escalated the investigation to its head office.
Banks shot to prominence in the UK when he donated in October 2014, £1-million to the UK Independent Party (Ukip), for its Brexit campaign. However the source of his money has been questioned and there has been ongoing speculation about a Russian connection to Brexit — via Banks.
In an extraordinary statement to the Hawks — obtained by the UK’s Channel 4 News — Chris Kimber, a former business partner of Banks, made several claims of criminal conduct. The statement also said that Banks — who has always claimed that one of the sources of his wealth was diamond mines in Lesotho and Kimberley — had a business relationship with Russia’s state diamond company — lending credence to the speculation of a Russian connection to Brexit.
The statement claims that, following the August 2014 coup in Lesotho, Banks had devised a plan to provide support to a minister in Lesotho’s government so that he could become prime minister — using “mercenary support” if necessary. Channel 4 has not seen any evidence of any mercenary activity.
In earlier reports, Channel 4 News revealed that Banks had made a series of payments, of up to R500 000 made to John Maseribane — now communications minister in Lesotho – who confirmed, in a Channel 4 News interview that he had received large sums of cash from Banks.
Maseribane denied that the payments were bribes. At the time Banks was seeking to begin mining operations in Lesotho.
Banks has dismissed the allegations as “ludicrous”.
The revelations come after a fall out between Banks and Kimber leading to ongoing civil litigation in the Kimberley High Court and then allegations and counter allegations to the Hawks.
Banks’ South African lawyers referred to a criminal complaint of fraud against Kimber made by Banks and said the matter was sub judice. It is unclear whether the statement obtained by Channel 4 News was responding to Banks’ complaint against Kimber or whether it was a separate complaint.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi 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.”
In the statement made to the Hawks, it is claimed that Banks was “in discussion” with Alrosa, Russia’s state diamond company, in 2015 — a relationship that Banks has previously denied.
And that, when under pressure to show the Russians that his mines were producing enough good quality diamonds, sought to acquire them from “third parties”.
“It was decided by Arron Banks that the diamonds would be acquired from third parties for export. I was later to find out Arron Banks, was involved in illicit diamond buying in various African countries,” reads the statement.
This is supported by an affidavit in the court papers in the Kimberley High Court which states that Banks had allegedly secured potential opportunities in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Botswana and Namibia. Banks is essentially accused of trying to export “illegally gotten diamonds” so prop up his South African mines which are allegedly financially strained.
Then there was the “grand plan” for Lesotho.
Banks cosied up to the Basotho National Party back in 2013 and he started making large donations to Maseribane from the BNP, said the statement.
According to the Hawks statement, he wanted a foothold in Lesotho’s entities including a “political party, the Postbank, the diamond tender and mining rights…”
“Arron supported Maseribane and his party through a number of donations, mainly in cash but also through ‘charity work’. Banks went as far as registering a charity in the United Kingdom…to channel funds to Lesotho.”
The Hawks statement alleges that Banks’ support for Maseribane was around the time of the coup in 2014. “Under the guise of charity, mining and other interests it was Arron Banks’ plan to support Maseribane into power, even if this meant providing ‘mercenary’ support. Given the volatile situation in Lesotho at the time, this was a real possibility”.
“As a consequence of the instability in Lesotho and the ousting of [Prime Minister Tom] Thabane I was later to discover that Arron Banks was setting up a fall-back position, that if need be he would provide mercenaries…in support of Maseribane.”
At the same time — said the statement — Banks had queried setting up a “military training school, which could include a shooting range” at one of his Kimberley mines and had asked further about the availability of a gun safe.
Emails to and from Banks that Channel 4 News has obtained — dealing with obtaining gun licenses – partially back up these allegations, also referring to the establishment of a shooting range / training camp.
In one email exchange with his associate in Africa James Pryor, Pryor says:
“How many do we need/ want. There are two H&K’s, one H&K compact, two Walther PPK’s and one 9mm parabellum …. got plenty ammo”.
“We should look at applying for license for 4 x Remington pump action shotguns, 2 x R4 assault rifles, 4 x 9 mm shorts and a box of thunder flash stun grenades. I would like also to get a couple MP5’s but these licenses are hard to get.”
In another email dated December 1 2014, one of Bank’s associates Kobus Coetzee emailed Kimber about setting up a “shooting range” and on the same day a reply from Banks says: “Think it would be nice to set up at Newlands [mine] where there is plenty of space also deters criminals if heavily armed area on the farm — providing real life targets if they try to rob the mine”.
Despite a seven page letter from Channel 4 News, Banks’ response was terse: “I have genuine concerns about the sanity and mental health of the editorial team responsible for the reports which the programme has broadcast. I shall be alerting both the board of Channel 4 and ITN to my concerns”.
Maseribane denied that there were ever any mercenaries involved in his return to Lesotho, saying he was supported by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“I am saying there were no mercenaries,” he said. When asked whether there was an offer of mercenary support, he said “we never discussed these issues”.