It’s becoming rather amusing to read the allegations about Arron Banks and involvement in Russian gold, diamonds and so on. All of which are alleged to be the Kremlin offering him discounted opportunities to make lots of money. Which would then be – so the logic seems to be – funnelled into the Leave campaign. And thus we prove that Russia funded the referendum, we can cancel the result and stay within the European Union.
There are certain problems with this idea. One obvious one being that it doesn’t seem that Banks invested in any of these supposed sweetheart deals and therefore didn’t make any money out of them. So the idea of Russian gold flowing into the Leave campaign – rather than, say, the Morning Star or parts of the Labour Party, where we know, historically, that it did – seems more than a little, hmm, unproven.
But to the amusement. The people doing the reporting seem to have no idea at all of what it’s like to be in business. No, not as a manager of someone’s business, but as an entrepreneur – which is how Banks would describe himself and so would anyone with any knowledge of the field.
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.
To describe this as “Russia’s offer” on anything is to commit an abuse of the language. It’s also to entirely misunderstand what someone like Banks – or Trump as another example – does for a living.
A very small part of being an entrepreneur is in trying to find the people to run the business, businesses, which one already owns. It’s the essential step in stopping being a one man band and making that leap into corporate oligarch. A slightly larger amount of time will be spent in considering which of the things that one already does are things that one should stop doing. When to sell a profitable set up, when to close down and abandon one not working and so on. But the vast majority of time will be spent considering what should be done next. Sifting through the sea of deals on offer to uncover that rare valuable nugget amongst the fool’s gold.
Being successful at this level is about having that nose for that nugget. It also means reading and being pitched upon an awfully large amount of the most utter dross.
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.
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.
So far as we know he didn’t invest in Russia and so cannot have used any Russian sweetheart deal to have paid for anything at all. But the actual evidence that is on offer is quite ridiculous, ludicrous even:
The proposal is for what is called a roll up (roll-up, rollup, to taste). There are certain overheads associated with running a mine. The costs of maintaining a stock market listing, the necessary relationships with those who grant and reconsider (most important in Russia as supposedly permanent permissions often turn out not to be) licences, the maintenance of a solid geological knowledge and staff and so on. Have more than one mine in the same sector and those overheads remain at much the same level but are now spread across much more activity and income – profits rise nicely.
Great fortunes have been made through rollups, it’s one description of what John D Rockefeller did. There was one with funeral directors in Britain. Shrug.
But there’s nothing at all here to suggest any Russian state involvement. This is a pitch deck. The people trying to put the deal together, to sell it, have added in all the bullet points they can think of to get ahold of someone elses’ money to be able to carry it out. Good for them of course. But at any one time there will be thousands of these rolling around the junior mining space – to say nothing of the wider world of finance and investment – because that’s how it all works. Banks’ role as a mid level entrepreneur is to consider these and work out which of the more junior level of ideas he’s willing to back.
That’s actually what the job is. Reading thousands of these pieces of dross to find those nuggets. I can think of at least one law firm in London that lives off doing this on the behalf of people like Banks too.
The argument being made here is “Bloke got offered sketch of deal, let’s not leave the EU.” The biggest failure being to miss that reading deals to reject them is the job being done by the bloke.