Posted on May 23, 2019
The furore over the funding of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party highlights the need for more transparency over the way political parties are funded.
That is the view of Stephen M. Bland, an award winning author, who was speaking at Brussels press club on Wednesday on the problem of “fake news and fake NGOs.”
He said the row over how the party gets its funding sheds a light on how such parties are financed, saying, “There clearly needs to be closer scrutiny on this.”
The UK Electoral Commission has said it will attend the offices of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party to “review its systems” after Gordon Brown, the former UK PM, urged them to investigate concerns over the legality of the party’s funding.
The former prime minister told a Labour rally in Glasgow the commission had the powers to carry out live investigations during elections and issue interim statements on whether it believed there were unanswered legal questions about party funding.
Brown said there were clear risks that democracy was being damaged if the Brexit Party was allowed to accept foreign and untraceable donations via the online payments service PayPal. Political gifts of under £500, whether made via PayPal or another route, do not have to be declared.
Farage “is not going to be remembered, as he wants,” said Brown.
Brown said the European Parliament should be investigating the disclosures last week that Farage had received about £450,000 in financial support from Arron Banks, the Eurosceptic businessman who funded Farage’s Leave.EU Brexit campaign during the 2016 referendum. That could be a clear conflict of interest with Farage’s duties as an MEP, he added.
The Parliament has confirmed that it will open an investigation into Farage over allegations he failed to declare nearly half a million pounds in gifts. A spokesperson said Antonio Tajani, the president of the Parliament, has requested an assessment of whether the British MEP breached the rules.
Speaking at Brussels press club, Bland, a widely respected commentator who has investigated alleged wrong doing in Central Asian countries, told this website that the issue highlighted the need for more transparency.
He said, “The electoral commission is looking into this but this is too late for this election. The Brexit party is predicted to do very well this week and by the time the investigation into its funding is complete, it will almost certainly already have been the biggest UK winner in the elections and nothing can be done about that. You cannot ban them from contesting these elections: it is too late to do that.
“Looking to the future, there just needs to be closer scrutiny about how parties like the Brexit party are financed. There is no point in just slapping a token fine on these parties if any wrong doing is discovered because that achieves nothing.”
He pointed to a report by global witness, an online portal, that showed that in the UK alone there are about 300,000 companies that do not list any directors.
“That means,” he said, “that no one knows who the beneficiaries of these companies are, including oligarchs. There is absolutely no transparency.”
He added, “The big problem here is that if we cannot see where the funding for such groups is coming from we have no idea as to who is pushing their agenda. Another problem is that a lot of the funding is possibly questionable.”
The issue is back in the spotlight after it emerged at the weekend that Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party leader in Austria, was caught on film apparently trading political favours for campaign funds.
He was shown on a video that seems to show him offering public contracts in exchange for party donations from a woman believed to the wealthy niece of a Russian oligarch.
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