Brexit’s top donor outed as Bitfinex, Tether parent shareholder

A mysterious crypto investor was Brexit's largest donator. Now, evidence has come to light showing he's also a shareholder in Bitfinex's parent company.

Brexit bankroller Christopher Harborne was a Digfinex shareholder — Bitfinex and Tether’s parent company — when he donated nearly $14 million to the Reform UK party in 2019, Protos can reveal.

Harborne was first listed as a Digfinex shareholder at some point between 2017 and 2018, say sources familiar with the matter.

British Virgin Islands-based Digfinex is the majority owner of controversial stablecoin Tether — the biggest in the industry — as well as crypto exchange Bitfinex.

Protos understands Harborne used his alternate Thai identity Chakrit Sakunkrit to invest funds with Digfinex.

UK electoral commission records show he donated roughly £10 million ($13.8 million) to Nigel Farage’s Reform UK between April 2019 and February 2020, and £13.7 million ($19 million) overall.

Reform UK (formerly Brexit Party) raised £18 million ($25 million) in total, which means Harborne’s donations made up the bulk of the party’s Brexit funds.

Some of Harborne’s largest donations to Firage’s Reform UK, which spearheaded Brexit.

The Times noted Harborne had given over £266,000 ($370,000) to the UK’s Conservative Party between 2001 and 2018 before contributing to the Brexit Party.

It is unknown whether Harborne remains a Digfinex shareholder, however sources familiar say it’s possible.

Harborne found in Panama Papers long before Brexit

Harborne is a British business magnate who made his fortune in aviation fuel and tech investing, but grew notoriety for multiple appearances in the Panama Papers, which dropped in mid-2018.

The Papers documented personal and business activities of swathes of wealthy business folk. They showed Harborne played intermediary roles for five companies under his British moniker. 

He was also named director of Bangkok-based investment firm Seamico Securities under his Thai identity. Harborne has reportedly lived and worked in Thailand for more than 20 years.

Cadwalladr led Guardian’s Brexit reporting.

More recently, LobbyFacts listed Harborne as an accredited lobbyist for six-month old UK crypto entity Digital Currencies Governance Group (DCGG).

He also seeded non-profit private university INSEAD’s Blockchain Research Fund last year.

DCGG notably has only three members: Bitfinex, Tether, and a new ZK rollup startup called Hermez. The latter’s relationship with Digfinex companies isn’t yet clear.

[Read more: Coinbase reignites Tether debate by listing controversial stablecoin]

Curiously, Harborne was scrubbed from DCGG’s list of lobbyists sometime in the past few days.

LobbyFacts’ Margarida Silva told Protos that only DCGG itself could effect such changes. However, Silva noted they could’ve been made for multiple reasons.

Protos has also reached out to Digfinex companies and Harborne for comment.

Update 16:01 UTC, Apr 23: Protos has since reached Bitfinex CTO Paolo Ardoino, who said: “Bitfinex declines to comment.”

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