Canadian Firm AggregateIQ Used To Sidestep Brexit Campaign Spending Limits, Whistleblower Alleges

"We mostly do psychological warfare work for NATO," Wylie wrote in the email. And he attached a brochure. Might Silvester want to join the cause?

"You need a Canadian office," Silvester wrote back later that night.

In November, Silvester and co-founder Zack Massingham signed their first contract with SCL. They named their company AggregateIQ — and although Wylie says it was technically separate from SCL, he says it was internally referred to as the British company's Canadian arm.

AIQ disputes this. "AggregateIQ has never been and is not a part of Cambridge Analytica or SCL," the company said, and "has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica."

For the next few years, Wylie says AIQ worked on projects for Cambridge Analytica around the world in relative anonymity — that is, until its work on Brexit became front-page news.

That work is now the subject of investigations by the B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) and Britain's Information Commissioner — though the jurisdiction in which AIQ is based may make things difficult for the latter.

"They're based outside the U.K. and it's going to be very difficult to get that evidence from them," said Allen, Sanni's lawyer.

AIQ said it is cooperating with the OIPC's investigation, and told The Globe and Mail last year that it would cooperate with any probe.

'There was nothing independent about it all'

Central to the investigation is whether Vote Leave coordinated with BeLeave to spend an additional £625,000 ($1.1 million), which would have otherwise pushed the official campaign over its spending limit — and whether AIQ knowingly helped them do it.

Vote Leave gave the money to BeLeave, which was then spent on services provided by AIQ.

In a statement, a lawyer representing AIQ said the company "was not aware of any evidence of co-ordination between Vote Leave and BeLeave to break any rules."

The arrangement was first reported in 2016. The organizers of both campaigns have maintained ever since that BeLeave was a totally separate organization, acting on its own, and that there was no co-ordination on how the money should have been spent.

However, Sanni submitted written evidence and supporting documents to Britain's Electoral Commission that allege the opposite is true.

According to Sanni, BeLeave actually began as a youth outreach initiative associated with Vote Leave. Vote Leave and BeLeave even worked out of the same office in central London.

Emails shared with the CBC suggest that BeLeave received direction and guidance from Vote Leave staff. Photos appear to show BeLeave volunteers even campaigned for Vote Leave at an event held the day before the referendum.

"There was nothing independent about it all," wrote Sanni in his submission to the commission.

To top it all off, Sanni provided evidence that a former Vote Leave staffer, Victoria Woodcock, attempted to remove her and other former colleagues' access to a shared drive also used by the BeLeave campaign, while the Electoral Commission's initial investigation was still ongoing — though Sanni does not know why.

In a statement to The Guardian, Woodcock dismissed the allegations that she "knowingly and deliberately deleted evidence which would be relevant to an investigation in an attempt to frustrate it" as "untrue," while Vote Leave said its staff acted "ethically, responsibly and legally in deleting any data."

'There is a hole in this story'

Vote Leave and BeLeave weren't the only groups working out of their London office, Sanni alleges. AIQ co-founder Massingham and a colleague had also flown to Britain from Victoria, Sanni said, and would have been working in his office until the day of the referendum, too.

Initially, that work was for Vote Leave. But in the days leading up to the vote, BeLeave received a total donation of £625,000 from Vote Leave. And according to a conversation Sanni says he had with Grimes, who ran BeLeave, they couldn't decide how to use the money themselves — say, to pay for travel expenses. The whole amount, Grimes is alleged to have said, had to go to AIQ.

How, exactly, AIQ spent the money isn't clear. But according to Grimes in a letter to the British Information Commissioner, AIQ's advertising resulted in the collection of a mere 2,000 new email addresses and phone numbers from supporters in the final days of the campaign.

Sanni believes those results were modest for the amount that AIQ was paid.

"There is a hole in this story, which is precisely what AIQ did with all the money they were given by campaigners in the EU referendum," said Allen, Sanni's lawyer. "What happened to that money? Who were they working for, and what messages did they put out, to whom, using what data? That question can only be answered by people working for AIQ. And they're the ones who need to come here and answer it."

AIQ told CBC News that the payment it received "was only used for BeLeave's campaign and purposes, and no other purpose."

It wasn't until last summer, around the time more detailed reports began to emerge, that Sanni said he realized something was wrong — concluding that he, an inexperienced volunteer, had been used by the Vote Leave's senior staff in what Sanni claims was a "scam" to spend more money than legally allowed. 

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