Brexit ‘dark money’ probe

The Herald on Sunday - - NEWS FOCUS -

pro-Brexit DUP with £435,000 dur­ing the cam­paign.

Around £425,000 of the sum was spent on an ad­vert in the Metro news­pa­per, which is not sold in North­ern Ire­land.

The DUP did not have to re­veal that the CRC was the source due to donor se­crecy laws, but the body’s iden­tity was de­clared vol­un­tar­ily.

Since then the CRC has faced ques­tions about where it got the so-called “dark money” do­na­tion from, but few de­tails have come to light.

Cook, a former se­nior of­fice bearer in the Scot­tish Tories who lives in East Ren­frew­shire, chairs the CRC, which was founded around four years ago.

In an in­ter­view last year with the Sun­day Her­ald, he said: “The CRC is reg­u­lated by the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion. We op­er­ate solely in the UK. We ac­cept dona­tions only from el­i­gi­ble UK donors. We donate solely to per­mis­si­ble UK en­ti­ties.”

How­ever, he de­clined to of­fer any in­for­ma­tion on the iden­ti­ties of CRC donors and mem­bers: “I’m not go­ing to get into the donors, like I am not go­ing to get into the mem­bers.”

Asked how much money had been do­nated to the CRC since 2014, he said at the time: “I’m not go­ing to get into that.”

On whether it was more than £1m, he replied: “Not go­ing to get into that.”

Cook at­tended the UK Con­ser­va­tive con­fer­ence after the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son re­cently con­firmed he is still a party mem­ber.

It can now be re­vealed that West­min­ster’s DCMS com­mit­tee has writ­ten to Cook about the CRC. The Com­mit­tee has a high­pro­file in­quiry into “dis­in­for­ma­tion and ‘fake news’” and part of the probe has in­cluded a fo­cus on is­sues re­lat­ing to the pro-Leave side.

How­ever, there was con­fu­sion last night over the con­tact be­tween the com­mit­tee and Cook. After this news­pa­per in­formed the com­mit­tee that Cook’s spokesman had said that “Richard replied five days in ad­vance of the dead­line”, a com­mit­tee spokes­woman said yes­ter­day: “I have just con­firmed with the Clerk of the Com­mit­tee that we have re­ceived noth­ing in re­sponse from Richard Cook. The let­ter to him refers to the fact that if the Com­mit­tee’s ques­tions are not re­sponded to, one of the op­tions avail­able to the Com­mit­tee is to call him to give ev­i­dence in per­son.”

A spokesman for Cook said of the DCMS re­sponse: “You got my an­swer. Richard re­sponded. If they haven’t found it that’s their prob­lem.”

The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion told the DCMS in­quiry this month that it was sat­is­fied the £435,000 do­na­tion to the DUP was per­mis­si­ble un­der UK law.

Louise Ed­wards, the head of reg­u­la­tion at the Com­mis­sion, said: “We can­not talk about dona­tions to the DUP from that pe­riod ... be­cause hav­ing ver­i­fied those re­ports the donors on them were per­mis­si­ble.”

In Septem­ber, in­terim Scot­tish Tory leader Jack­son Car­law backed greater open­ness from the CRC. Asked if Cook should be trans­par­ent about the iden­tity of CRC donors, he said: “Yes.”

An SNP spokesper­son said there were “se­ri­ous ques­tions to an­swer” over the CRC’s do­na­tion to the DUP and that Cook should “pro­vide some much needed clar­ity” on the is­sue.

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