An individual who volunteered for a Brexit campaign effort said the organization broke the law, and in turn, is arguing the referendum vote “wasn’t legitimate,” according to the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News.
Shahmir Sanni told Channel 4 that the organization “Vote Leave” coordinated spending over the legal limit, using a Canadian data firm called Aggregate IQ, otherwise known as AIQ. British election law enforces a spending cap on donations, which includes when groups coordinate donations.
“I know that Vote Leave cheated, that people had been lied to and that the referendum wasn’t legitimate,” Sanni said in an interview with the broadcaster.
Separately, in an interview with The Observer, Sanni claims a donation of £625,000 by Vote Leave to another Brexit group, “BeLeave,” was funneled to AIQ.
In a tweet Saturday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the stories by Channel 4 and The Observer, “utterly ludicrous, #VoteLeave won fair and square – and legally.”
Earlier, Stephen Parkinson, Theresa May’s political secretary and previously a senior figure in the Vote Leave campaign, refuted Sanni’s allegations, saying the Electoral Commission investigated the matter, and twice found no evidence of wrongdoing. “I have seen the statements issued by Shahmir and his lawyers, and am saddened by them. They are factually incorrect and misleading,” he said to Channel 4.
An attorney for Vote Leave also told Channel 4 that the campaign had, “twice been cleared on this matter by the Electoral Commission,” but acknowledged the network’s report presented new allegations and said it would investigate.
Channel 4 says it has seen documents that it claims show multiple ties between AIQ and Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL.
However, attorneys for AIQ have distanced themselves from Cambridge Analytica, saying in a statement to Channel 4, “AggregateIQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica. AggregateIQ works in full compliance within all legal and regulatory requirements in all jurisdictions where it operates. It has never knowingly been involved in any illegal activity. … All work AggregateIQ does for each client is kept separate. The services carried out by AggregateIQ for Vote Leave were in accordance with the instructions of Vote Leave. The services carried out for BeLeave were in accordance with the instructions of BeLeave. The accounts were kept separate at all times and there was no overlap or merging in any way.”
Cambridge Analytica is a data firm linked to President Donald Trump’s campaign. Facebook announced last week it was suspending Cambridge Analytica’s account over concerns that it violated the social media site’s policies and allegedly maintained personal data of more than 50 million of Facebook’s users. Now the group is being accused of using that data in political campaign strategies for the US 2016 election. Cambridge Analytica has repeatedly denied that it used any of Facebook’s data in the work it did for Trump’s campaign. Cambridge Analytica said it deleted the data when Facebook alerted them in 2015 it had been improperly shared.
The offices at Cambridge Analytica in London were searched Friday by enforcement officers from the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office following the reports the organization had been harvesting data.
Cambridge Analytica was the brainchild of conservative billionaire Robert Mercer and conservative activist Steve Bannon, who later helped run the Trump campaign and served as chief strategist in the White House. According to the Guardian, Bannon said at a conference Thursday that he “didn’t even know about the Facebook mining.”
CNN’s Hilary Clarke, Katie Polglase, Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report.