By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Brexit campaigner Arron Banks, who bankrolled the Leave.EU campaign in Britain’s 2016 EU referendum campaign, lost a libel case brought against a journalist over allegations about his ties to Russian money.
Banks, who provided millions to the Brexit campaign, had sued Carole Cadwalladr over tweets and a broadcast talk made in 2019, saying they had caused serious harm to his reputation.
In her "Ted Talk", Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who provided material for the Guardian and Observer newspapers, said: "I am not even going to get into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian government."
She later apologised to Banks saying she accepted it was untrue to say he had told "untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian government" about accepting foreign money to fund an electoral campaign in breach of the law.
The High Court in London ruled that Cadwalladr either had a public interest defence over the publications, or that Banks had failed to prove that they had caused significant harm.
"Accordingly, the claim is dismissed," Judge Karen Steyn said in her ruling.
Cadwalladr said on Twitter she was "so profoundly grateful & relieved" while Banks said he would likely appeal the verdict.
"The judge felt sorry for Carole is how I would sum it up. Defamatory but no serious harm. I suppose falsely accusing someone of taking Russian money for Brexit doesn’t cut the ice," he said.
Bank has previously faced questions in parliament about his Russian links but has always denied having business there. He has previously told Reuters he had never received Russian money or assistance for Brexit, and blamed the accusation on those who opposed Britain leaving the EU.
In 2018, the National Crime Agency investigated allegations he was not the true source of an 8 million pound loans provided to Leave.EU and Better for the Country Limited (BFTC), which Banks controlled and which ran Leave.EU’s campaign.
The Electoral Commission had suspected that criminal offences had been committed, but the NCA concluded that there was no evidence of any offences.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Angus MacSwan)