Last month Arron Banks, and his spin doctor Andy Wigmore, were questioned by the select committee investigating their pro-Brexit Leave.EU campaign. The Q&A was broad and spanned many suspected controversies, including Cambridge Analytica and suspicious financing of their pro-Brexit campaign. However, amongst all the talking-points that have emerged, little attention has been paid to Wigmore and his advocacy for the Belizean banana trade.
This story, like so many of late, begins with high ranking Russian officials. During the select committee’s Q&A, a particular point of contention was in regards to the multiple meetings that took place between Wigmore, Banks, and Russian officials between 2015 and 2017.
These meetings came into the public eye after emails ‘leaked’ to The Observer suggested Banks had been approached to invest in Russian goldmines. Banks vehemently denies having done any business in Russia, but this seems to be in direct conflict with a tweet he made on July 17th 2016:
Wigmore, when questioned by the select committee, stated their initial meetings with the Russian embassy were about funding for the banana industry in Belize, rather than gold or Brexit. Wigmore said ‘I was trying to find investors to look at perhaps buying a banana farm which had got into trouble. Belize couldn’t sell its bananas to places like the US and the UK. It needed someone to buy them.’
Why couldn’t the UK and US buy Belize’s bananas? In 2012, the US government placed sanctions on the island nations’ largest banana exporter, John Angel Zabaneh. This is the ‘bit of trouble’ that Wigmore was referring to during the select committee’s questioning. However, the ‘bit of trouble’, was allegedly laundering money and transporting drugs for the world’s most successful drug dealer ever – El Chapo of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Seized drug money
The sanctions, which are pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these individuals and companies, and freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction. The US treasury department website states:
‘DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] and its partners continue our sustained attack on brutal criminal regimes such as the Sinaloa Cartel and its leadership and those who help facilitate their drug and money networks," … "The OFAC Designation of the Zabeneh organization is necessary to dismantle and further disrupt the operations of the Sinaloa Cartel in other parts of the world.’
The sanctions were implemented during the Obama administration and would therefore be expected to carry on, providing they were just and evidence based. However, as of August 2017, the sanctions have been lifted. After scouring the US and Belizean government websites, I have been unable to ascertain the merit to which the reversal of these sanctions is based. However, despite there being no official record of the sanctions being lifted, there is a great deal of suspicion surrounding Andy Wigmore and his meeting with Trump.
The reason that this meeting could be the catalyst leading to the relief of the sanctions on Belize is because Wigmore enjoyed a diplomatic role as Trade and Investment Minister Council. Therefore, one can assume, given the opportunity, that he would lobby Trump to lift the sanctions enacted by the Obama administration.
These are mere observations and are by no means conclusive of wrongdoing. However, given Trump’s hard line against drugs and the lack of information given by the US treasury department, there are a couple questions that Mr Wigmore has to answer.
Did he discuss these sanctions with Trump? And if he did, what was the basis for removing them?