Money Followed!

The UK’s National Crime Agency has today announced a criminal investigation into Arron Banks and other individuals and entities.

The remit of the investigation will not only include suspected electoral law offenses but any associated offenses as well.

The Electoral Commission who today referred this matter to Britain’s elite law enforcement agency which investigates serious and organized crime have stated how they have reasonable grounds to suspect Banks was not the “true source” of transfers totaling £8,000,000 to the Brexit campaign and that Banks and others “concealed the true details of these financial transactions” with the assistance of offshore companies based in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.

George Cottrell, who himself was interviewed under caution by the National Crime Agency in connection with this investigation and wider money laundering inquiries, is believed to be cooperating although his current whereabouts are unknown. Numerous sources have reported that he is currently in hiding overseas.

The National Crime Agency refused to comment stating that this is “live operation” and that they are unable to discuss any “operational detail”.

Exiled

An eight-month legal battle was concluded this week allowing the reporting of a leaked federal law enforcement dossier originating from Switzerland alleging Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’’s ties to organized crime.

The dossier which was prepared by Fedpol in connection with a residency permit application made by Abramovich to The Swiss State Secretariat for Migration labels Abramovich a ““danger to public security.” Furthermore they detail suspected money laundering involvement dating back decades.

In 2016 Abramovich applied to the canton of Valais to establish legal residency. Interestingly it is the same canton in which his former employee George Cottrell obtained Swiss residency prior to him being granted citizenship in 2014.

It is understood Abramovich made simultaneous residency and Citizenship by Investment applications to multiple jurisdictions during this period all of which were declined bar two Caribbean island nations however these were dismissed after doubts emerged regarding their “”robustness”” specifically in relation in their ability to defend against possible Western sanctions.

Abramovich, widely seen as the archetypal Russian Oligarch, is arguably the most notable businessman in Russia with direct links to President Putin. Sanctions resulting from Magnitsky, Crimea and Salisbury have so far been limited mostly to Russia domiciled individuals and entities with significant exposure to the Russian state. Direct sanctions against a Putin ally with significant personal assets located within the scope of seizure and extensive familial ties to both the UK and US would be an escalation viewed as extremely punitive by Moscow.

Abramovich’’s self-imposed exile from the UK and US are indicative of growing concern and most likely coincide with the restructuring of assets in expectation of sanctions being levied in the near future.

Still, unknown to date is the extent by which information proffered by Cottrell to UK and US authorities has contributed to this particular state of affairs. Cottrell’’s prolonged disappearance from London life has not gone unnoticed by followers of this blog and may be a significant indication of a correlation between these occurrences.

Roll On

An Andorran judge this week announced the indictment of 28 individuals on money laundering charges relating to a $2.3bn corruption scandal linked to the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA.

The ongoing investigation, which was launched in 2012, has identified former Venezuelan government ministers who with the assistance of Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) management then hid the profits in shell companies in various countries, but the money was eventually made available in BPA accounts.

George Cottrell is one of an increasing number of former BPA employees who have been implicated in this multinational money laundering operation.

Leading Brexit Campaigner Apparently Passed Documents on U.S. Probe into George Cottrell to the Russians

A top Brexit campaigner, who met repeatedly with Russian officials, appeared to share details of the indictment of George Cottrell, a dark web operator working for the campaign.

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LONDON—One of the Brexit campaign chiefs appeared to pass documents detailing an American law enforcement investigation to a Russian official, according to a cache of leaked emails.

The papers, which detailed a probe into dark web money laundering, were apparently shared with the Russian embassy in London by Leave.EU executive Andy Wigmore. They concerned the arrest of Brexit financier George Cottrell, who was seized at an airport on the way home from the Republican convention in 2016 where Donald Trump had just been nominated as the presidential candidate.

Cottrell had been at the convention in Cleveland with his boss Nigel Farage, who dined with Roger Stone and met a string of other Republican operatives and elected officials.

The young financier, who led Brexit fundraising for the U.K. Independence Party, was ultimately convicted of offering to launder money across international borders on the dark web before he joined UKIP.

A Daily Beast investigation of Cottrell revealed that he had a series of online links to small banks that were part of the notorious Russian Laundromat scam, which allowed dirty money to be shipped all over the world. A UKIP insider wrote that it was his knowledge of the “murky and complicated world of shadow banking” that “landed Cottrell an unpaid role” in the party.

UKIP officials said they had no idea that Cottrell had touted himself as a money launderer on a TOR black market site until they saw the indictment against him.

Emails obtained by The Observer show that Wigmore passed that indictment to a contact at the Russian embassy.

One of the emails, seen by The Daily Beast, had the subject line “Fwd Cottrell docs — Eyes Only,” it had six attachments. The message was sent to Sergey Fedichkin, a political officer at the embassy, on August 20, 2016, a day after Cottrell appeared in court in Phoenix, Arizona, with the message, “Have fun with this.”

The Russians would have been able to obtain the documents themselves but Wigmore’s willingness to share the papers with the Russian diplomat indicates the depth of the relationship between Leave.EU and the Kremlin’s men.

During his appearance before a parliamentary committee, Wigmore told Members of Parliament that he had never discussed Cottrell’s arrest with the Russian embassy. “It never came up. While at the time it probably seemed a big thing, there was so much else going on at the time it just was not an issue,” he said.

Wigmore and his Leave.EU colleague Arron Banks originally claimed that they had no relationship with Russia during their successful battle to take Britain out of the European Union.

In Bank’s diaries, The Bad Boys of Brexit, he admitted that he, Wigmore and Banks’ Russian wife had enjoyed a boozy lunch at the Russian embassy during the campaign but they claimed it had been a one-off.

Banks, who was by far the biggest financial backer of Brexit, has faced a swirl of questions about the origin of the millions of dollars he spent on the campaign. Last week it emerged that he and Wigmore had a lengthy relationship with Russian officials, that included a trip to Moscow. Emails published in The Observer suggested that Banks and Wigmore had also been given the potential opportunity to invest in a Russian gold mine.

It is unclear why Wigmore felt the Russian embassy should be kept in the loop on the IRS undercover agents’ sting which had snared Cottrell. Although he was co-director of Brexit funding for UKIP, Cottrell was not a well-known figure at the time.

Leave. EU faces new questions over contacts with Russia

MPs say latest revelations show Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore may have misled parliament.

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A leader of the Leave.EU campaign suggested sending a “message of support” to the Russian ambassador after the then foreign secretary made a speech that was critical of Russia, documents seen by the Observer suggest.

The material also appears to show that Andy Wigmore, spokesman for the Leave.EU campaign and the business partner of Arron Banks, the biggest funder of Brexit, passed confidential legal documents to high-ranking officials at the Russian embassy and then denied it to parliament.

The documents related to George Cottrell, an aide to Nigel Farage who was with him on the campaign trail for Donald Trump in July 2016. Cottrell was arrested by the FBI and charged with 21 counts of money laundering, bribery and wire fraud.

Damian Collins, chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, said that Banks and Wigmore appeared to have misled parliament and “what we really need to know is why”. He added: “It makes you question whose side they are on.”

According to material seen by the Observer, Wigmore, who was Belize’s trade envoy to Britain at the time, forwarded an email to a Russian diplomat marked “Fw Cottrell docs – Eyes Only”. It is understood the email, dated 20 August 2016, showed six attachments of legal documents relating to Cottrell’s arrest by federal agents. It appears that Wigmore sent it to Sergey Fedichkin , a third secretary at the Russian embassy, saying: “Have fun with this.”

Collins asked Wigmore and Banks a series of questions about Cottrell’s arrest. He noted Wigmore was with Cottrell when federal agents seized him at Chicago airport on 26 July 2016, and that Farage was sent his charge sheet by the FBI. “Did you discuss George Cottrell’s arrest with the Russian embassy?” Collins asked. Wigmore replied: “It never came up. While at the time it probably seemed a big thing, there was so much else going on at the time it just was not an issue. It never came up.”

Collins told the Observer: “Wigmore kept trying to make the point that their contact with the Russian embassy was around social occasions, but we believe it went much further. On the surface, these documents didn’t hold any interest to the Russians, so why did they appear to pass them on? And why then deny it? Why did they mislead the committee about the true nature of their relationship? What are they trying to hide?”

The Observer has also seen what appears to be a discussion between the Leave.EU social media team and Wigmore and Banks in March 2016, three months before the referendum. On 11 March 2016 the Russian embassy put out a press release attacking Philip Hammond, the then foreign secretary, for suggesting that “the only country who would like us to leave the EU is Russia”.

Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, who is also on the committee, said: “There has been a coordinated attempt to attack, bully and intimidate anyone asking questions about this, including MPs. But what the evidence is showing is an intimate business relationship with a hostile foreign government that was being built up in the period before the summer of 2016 that needs to be in the public domain.”

The Observer has seen a series of exchanges that suggest a picture of communications between the embassy and the Leave.EU campaign running up to the referendum which continued in the period after Farage became an active supporter and campaigner for Trump.

In October the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, was identified by US special counsel Robert Mueller as a high-level intermediary between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The documents about Cottrell’s arrest appear to have been handed over during a period in which Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had his business dealings in Ukraine exposed and was replaced by Steve Bannon.

The New York Times published a story about a secret ledger of payments to Manafort – that were paid via the British Virgin Islands, Belize and the Seychelles – on 14 August 2016. On 19 August, the day that Bannon became campaign manager, Wigmore and Banks were invited to lunch at the embassy with Yakovenko. And on 20 August, documents suggest, Wigmore appears to have sent the papers about Cottrell’s arrest.

A few days later Farage, along with Wigmore and Banks, travelled to meet Trump in Mississippi, where he introduced the crowd to “Mr Brexit” and promised to deliver “Brexit plus”.

The indictment included claims about Cottrell’s expertise with the dark web and cryptocurrencies, and was public by the time Wigmore appears to have sent it to the embassy. It is also thought to include five other documents about the case.

The embassy said it “has not in any way intervened in the domestic UK political process, including the Brexit referendum.”

Parliament Act

Overnight the British authorities have announced that both the Cabinet Office and Home Office have launched investigations in to George Cottrell and his associates’ links to Russia.

Speaking in Parliament, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, confirmed that the Cabinet Office is “looking at intelligence and other information they are receiving alongside my department. The two departments are working closely on this issue. I would assure him we are taking it very seriously indeed.”

The announcement follows a leak of hacked emails originating from Arron Banks, Cottrell’s former boss, which reveal extensive and prolonged contact with Russian state actors.

Banks, who was the largest political donor in British history, today appeared in front of lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the United Kingdom’s EU referendum poll. Questions were raised about discussions he may of had about Cottrell with the Russian Ambassador.

Committee Chairman Damian Collins MP George Cottrell Question

Revelations today included alleged contact with CIA operatives and the promise of a multi-billion-dollar Russian gold mining deal.

Cottrell’s continuing role in this saga is unknown given his supposed cooperation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Full Circle

Secret intelligence reports seen by Focus Ecuador and The Guardian reveal that George Cottrell visited Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in March this year at the Embassy of Ecuador in London.

Shortly after Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012 claiming diplomatic asylum the then president, Rafael Correa, sanctioned a multimillion-dollar clandestine spy operation to monitor activities at the London embassy.

More than $5 million originating from a secret intelligence budget has been spent to date undertaking this multi-year effort codenamed “Operation Hotel” that included dispatching undercover agents to surveil British law enforcement.

Nigel Farage, a ‘person of interest’ in the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia, was fingered as a possible conduit between the Trump campaign and Assange. Testimony delivered before the House intelligence committee by John Simpson, CEO of the private intelligence agency Fusion GPS, stated that Farage had smuggled data using a thumb drive to Assange on one or more occasions.

Farage has claimed to only have only visited Assange once when on March 9th 2017 he was photographed leaving the embassy however according to visitor logs this statement is untrue.

 

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Nigel Farage leaving the Embassy of Ecuador on March 9th 2017.

Cottrell was logged entering the embassy located in London’s Knightsbridge district at 6pm on March 21st 2018 and staying for one hour and forty minutes. This relatively lengthy meeting is not surprising given Cottrell‘s historical links to both Assange and Wikileaks.

When a judge granted Assange bail in 2010 it was Cottrell‘s godfather, Felix Dennis, who posted a chunk of the $400,000 bond. Dennis also resided on the private island of Mustqiue where Cottrell attended school.

More distinguishable however is Cottrell‘s association with an Icelandic credit card processor called DataCell. Until a few years ago DataCell was the primary credit card processor for Wikileaks; processing millions of dollars of donations. Overnight processing facilities were withdrawn and a financial blockade led by Visa and MasterCard had cutoff Wikileaks‘ funding as a result of pressure exerted by Washington.

Cottrell was engaged by ICA, an entity controlled by Boaz Chechik that transaction laundered card payments, to find acquiring banks. Cottrell‘s link to ICA appears to originate from Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) who was the preferred settlement bank for ICA clients. It is unknown whether any Wikileaks donations ended up on deposit at this rogue bank however it would go along way to explain the most recent liaison between Cottrell and Assange.

Given that Cottrell is still subject to numerous active law enforcement investigations (pending a charging decision) in the UK and is believed by some to be cooperating with Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation the necessity for a meeting must of exceeded the glaring risks to Assange.

Blood Bank

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today effectively shuttered one of Latvia’s largest banks ABLV branding it a foreign financial institution of primary money laundering concern whose executives, shareholders, and employees have institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices.

ABLV is the third largest bank in Latvia with assets of around 4.3 billion dollars is accused of being complicit in its clients’ illicit financial activities, promoting money laundering, concealing ultimate beneficial ownership information and creating fraudulent documentation. It is alleged that ABLV banks North Korea, corrupt politicians and transnational organized crime groups and transacts tens of billions of dollars annually.

ABLV has been under scrutiny for many years but has avoided sanctions by obstructing investigations and bribing Latvian officials despite it having been implicated in the Russian Laundromat (a scheme to move $20–$80 billion out of Russia from 2010 to 2014), a VAT scam uncovered by murdered accountant Sergei Magnitsky and a Moldovan bank fraud equivalent to 12% of the country’s entire GDP for which ABLV was fined.

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Funds flowing to ABLV bank

George Cottrell favored Latvia as a financial center, routinely including Latvian banks in to his complex offshore shell company structures. Banks like ABLV which facilitate money laundering by overlooking inadequate customer due diligence rely on money launderers like Cottrell to make criminal clients acceptable, as both parties are doing it for financial gain it is mutually beneficial for the bank to have unfettered access to the global banking system.

Correspondent banks facilitate international fund transfers, without these important intermediaries it becomes expensive and difficult to operate as a bank. Starting in 2011 major correspondent banks started rejecting ABLV’s business culminating in early 2017 when Deutsche bank, under pressure from Washington, suspended ABLV’s dollar-clearing facilities.

In early 2014 Cottrell’s then employer Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) was having similar problems, it is interesting to note that Cottrell had extensive contact with executives from ABLV discussing correspondent banking relationships.

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A leaked email (we have, on the advice of law enforcement sources, redacted certain information)

We are unaware as to whether Cottrell successfully established any bilateral banking arrangements for either ABLV or BPA however Cottrell was associated with Moldindconbank – a Moldovan bank that received more than 20 billion dollars of stolen money – which relied heavily on ABLV.

 

ABLV is a financial institution that knowingly enables the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by North Korea. Cottrell’s practices and style of operation are in harmony with those of ABLV as alleged by this latest FinCEN announcement, how much nonpublic information did the Department of Treasury rely on originating from Cottrell and his email accounts?

The Company You Keep

In January 2018 former UKIP MP Bob Spink and UKIP election agent James Parkin were sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for two years, after being found guilty of electoral fraud.

The offenses occurred in the provincial town of Canvey Island located on the east coast of England, it was this very same town where George Cottrell, having been seconded by his boss Arron Banks, found himself in 2015 during the UK general election.

From this constituency Cottrell alongside James Parkin, the registered agent, knowingly exceeded statutory expenditure limits and falsified spending returns. Invoices countersigned by both Cottrell and Parkin, seen by this blog and shared with law enforcement, include hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of advertising and printing costs for local campaigns located in the English counties of Essex and Kent that were never declared.

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Pro-Russia UKIP official Nigel Sussman was bankrupted in the British High Court on January 29th 2018, the same Nigel Sussman who solicited Russian donations to UKIP which were subsequently funneled by Cottrell in to the Brexit campaign.

Sources have suggested that these most recent developments are linked to Cottrell’s interview under caution and that a charging decision is under way.

SOMETHING TO MUELLER OVER

Meet ‘Posh George’: The Shady Money Man Tangled Up With Brexit, Russia, and Trump

 

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Why did Nigel Farage take a dark web fraudster to the Republican convention? And what did this young money-laundering maven tell the feds when they busted him?

 

LONDON—When Nigel Farage, Mr. Brexit, watched Donald Trump accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination at the convention last year he had an extremely unlikely companion. His closest aide on the trip was an offshore investment expert who had boasted on the dark web about his ability to launder money illegally in and out of the United States.

The aide, George Cottrell, was busted at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on his way home to London on July 22, 2016. He would later plead guilty to participating in a scheme “to advertise money laundering services on a TOR network black-market website.”

With questions being raised about a dark money influence on Brexit—and the election of Donald Trump—all of this begs the question: who was this criminal operative chosen to accompany Farage at the RNC where he met with some of Trump’s best known boosters, including Newt Gingrich and Roger Stone?

It was reported earlier this year that Farage is a person of interest in the FBI’s Russia-Trump probe. He appeared alongside Trump at a rally in Mississippi in August 2016, and was one of the first foreign politicians to visit Trump Tower after the shock election victory.

As well as Cottrell’s advertised ability to transmit money across borders without detection, he was well versed in the world of offshore and cross-border banking. Despite having no political experience, this was the man—aged just 22 at the time—Farage chose to run his office at the height of the battle for Brexit. He was also the co-director of Brexit fundraising for UKIP.

Cottrell is young to have developed such knowledge of international finance, but then again he was first registered as the director of a business, Upsilon Investments six years ago while he was still a high school-aged kid —alongside an offshore director based in the British Virgin Islands—according to records lodged with Companies House in London.

Before entering his guilty plea, Cottrell changed his name to George Cotrel. He told the U.S. authorities this was intended to “distance his previous involvement in certain political activities.”  It didn’t work.

Some of those who saw him running around for Farage while working at the pro-Brexit party thought of Cottrell as a “swashbuckler”—a player who remained popular in Farage’s clique not least because he was known to be extremely generous at the bar.

Others say he was a serious operator. “He was a very smart cookie, very clever chap. When I was campaigning with him, he was erudite and had all the attributes going for him,” said Nigel Sussman, the commercial director of the pro-Moscow group Westminster Russia Forum and a former UKIP candidate.

“He was very well connected,” Sussman told The Daily Beast.

Cottrell had worked for a number of banks, including a most recent role helping high net worth individuals shift their money across borders. He also claims he had been working as a consultant in the financial intelligence unit of an intelligence agency for over a year when he joined UKIP—in a senior role that he undertook for free. “I don’t think he was ever paid a bean by the party, not a single bean,” said a party official.

A UKIP insider said he was remarkably effective and knowledgeable for his age. “He’s entirely personable, entirely likeable, a great fun figure and very impressive getting things done,” he said. “He brought us skills of immense chutzpah and phenomenal self-confidence.”

Known as “Posh George” by Farage and his entourage, Cottrell is the nephew of Lord Hesketh, a former Conservative party treasurer who later defected to the more radical right-wing UKIP. His mother, Fiona Cottrell, was reportedly a former girlfriend of Prince Charles.

After Cottrell was released from federal prison in the U.S., former UKIP candidate and party supporter William Cash wrote a sympathetic profile for The Daily Telegraph. As part of a detailed interview, it offered an account of how Cottrell got mixed up in dark web fraud that was radically different from the sworn testimony he gave in court. The article claimed he was approached at his bank by two American businessmen who wanted to sell their property portfolio. His guilty plea, by contrast, admitted that he had offered illicit money laundering services on a TOR site.

While the interview seemed keen to paint a more understanding picture of Cottrell—a young man who got into trouble after struggling with gambling—it does also fill in some of the questions around why Cottrell would prove useful to Farage. It was apparently not just his family connections that secured his job; he was said to have “learned about the murky and complicated world of `shadow banking,’, secret offshore accounts and sophisticated financial structures” while he worked at a private bank.

“It was these skills that landed Cottrell an unpaid role” at UKIP according to Cash, who explained that Cottrell went on to work “for an offshore private bank (which was under investigation by the U.S. authorities as a `foreign financial institution of primary money-laundering concern’).”

A LinkedIn page in Cottrell’s name is careful not to name all of the banks he has worked for. Instead it talks about working for a private bank as a “Client Manager within cross-border private banking division, responsible for onboarding HNWI individuals,” or as an “advisor to the Investment Manager of a Cayman administered fund of funds.”

The LinkedIn account is less secretive about his “interests.” The 41 organizations listed on the profile include Cottrell’s old school and some of the global financial powerhouses you would expect to see on the account of any financier, but there are also some more unusual connections.

Cottrell is listed as one of just 71 followers of Moldinconbank, a controversial Moldovan bank that was alleged to be at the very center of the “Russian Laundromat” scam that laundered billions in illicit funds from Moscow through fraud, rigged state contracts and tax evasion. Some of those laundered state funds reportedly went to pay foreigners who were acting on behalf of the Kremlin, such as the leader of a small Polish political party who was later arrested on charges of spying for Russia.

The Daily Beast asked the bank whether Cottrell had ever worked with them, but the HR department would only say: “According to the legislation in force, personal data is granted only with the agreement of the employee.”

Another of the Cottrell account’s “interests” is the bank FBME, an entity which was officially based in Tanzania but had foreign offices in two countries: Cyprus and Russia. According to a U.S. investigation the bank was linked to Bashar al Assad and al Qaeda as well as a $230m fraud against the Russian people uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, which led to a series of anti-corruption laws being introduced around the world in his name. In 2014, the bank was banned from accessing the American market by the U.S. Treasury after money laundering allegations.

The bank was favored by cronies of Vladimir Putin, some of who used accounts to launder Russian money, as well as the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team.

The Cottrell account also listed the Russian banks VTB and Alfa Bank, which the FBI is investigating for links to the Trump organization, as well as Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA)—which was described as a “primary money laundering concern” linked to Russian crime networks by the U.S. Treasury. BPA did not respond to queries about working with Cottrell.

The Daily Beast cannot independently verify that this LinkedIn page was written by Cottrell but a UKIP spokesman confirmed that the entry about his role in the party was accurate. The LinkedIn account is also linked—from and to—a Twitter account in Cottrell’s name, which has 140 followers. Those followers include a host of UKIP or Brexit campaign insiders including Joe Jenkins, Jack Montgomery, Michael Heaver, Jack Duffin, Andy Wigmore and Nigel Farage as well as Farage’s head of press Dan Jukes and UKIP comms chief Gawain Towler. Towler tagged the account after a night out with Cottrell and his old UKIP buddies “making up” in East London after his deportation from the U.S. earlier this year. A UKIP spokesman said he believed that the account was genuine.

Another follower of the @GeorgeSCottrell account is Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group—Britain’s oldest conservative think tank.

He told The Daily Beast he had only met Cottrell a handful of times but he described a man who made a big impression in a world where most senior party apparatchiks are a fairly uninspiring. “He’s quite a larger than life, engaging character. I got the impression that he was a bit of a swashbuckler—keen on adventure,” he said.

Harris-Quinney caught up with him in the pub after his release. “People were very surprised when he was arrested because it was so bizarre,” he said. “But he seemed in good spirits and appeared to have taken the whole thing in his stride.”

Indeed, as Cottrell told The Telegraph: “Despite my unfortunate adventure, and everything I went through, I still maintain 2016 was the best year of my life… Brexit and Trump. Nothing better.”

Also on his small list of followers is the journalist Isabel Oakeshott who was with Cottrell and Farage when the young aide was arrested by U.S. agents in Chicago.

At the time, she was writing the book Bad Boys of Brexit, nominally authored by Arron Banks, which names Cottrell as one of just four UKIP staffers in the book’s “cast of characters.”

Banks was by far the biggest financial backer of Brexit—first donating to UKIP and then donating and lending millions to Leave.EU, and another Brexit campaign group. Last month, it was announced that Britain’s Electoral Commission was launching an investigation into whether or not Banks was the “true source” of that money.

Two weeks earlier Open Democracy UK published an investigation into Banks’ finances—raising questions over his wealth and claiming he had been in some financial difficulty before finding almost £10 million to put towards securing Britain’s exit from the European Union. “The self-styled ‘bad boy’ who bankrolled the Leave campaign appears to have exaggerated his wealth. So how did he pay for his Brexit spree?” the report asked.

Banks—who was a member of Farage’s small Brexit inner circle, along with Cottrell—is a colorful character who seems to enjoy fanning the rumors that surround him including suggestions that he has been working on behalf of the Russians.

The week before Christmas this year, Banks and Andy Wigmore, a colleague from Leave.EU, sent a journalist a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka with the message “From Russia With Love.”

In his account of the battle to secure Brexit, he delights in bringing up the spy scandal his Russian wife was caught up in in 2010. Ekaterina Paderina, the daughter of a senior Russian official, who speaks six languages, used an email address with 007 in it and drives the Banks’ family Range Rover with the number plate X MI5 SPY. Banks, who runs a private intelligence company, even details in his book a six-hour lunch at the Russian embassy with Farage, his wife and the Russian ambassador.

In his book, he describes Cottrell as “posh to the point of caricature and willfully abrasive,” as well as detailing the fact that it was Cottrell who accompanied Farage as he made his way from meeting to meeting at the RNC.

Banks also describes the moment Cottrell was apprehended at the airport in Chicago in July 2016:

“Five FBI officers cuffed him. They swooped the minute he set foot on the gangway… It was swift and discreet, and he was hauled off without explanation. Nigel was stunned… [Cottrell] was wealthy enough to give his time for nothing, and had proven hard-working and loyal. There was nothing to suggest any criminal connection.”

Two days later, Farage and Banks found out why Cottrell had been led away: “Nasty shock today as Nigel got Posh George’s full rap sheet. It’s not pretty.”

What looked like a maximum of 20 years in jail was ultimately reduced to eight months when Cottrell agreed to plead guilty on December 19, 2016.

After his release there were reports that the former UKIP staffer had been given a short sentence because he passed evidence to the U.S. authorities. It is true that court documents filed by the prosecutors asked the judge to offer a reduced sentence because he cooperated and was willing to “provide federal agents additional information after his arrest.”

Officials in the U.S., however, downplayed suggestions that Cottrell had flipped and given key information that might implicate any of his political colleagues as the FBI hunts for a dark money trail connecting Russia, Brexit and the Trump campaign. They said Cottrell would not have been given the lighter sentence and allowed to leave the U.S. if prosecutors were relying on him to give evidence in court.

In the Telegraph interview by a friendly UKIP activist, Cottrell claims that he was lured into the trap while offering to help a customer of his bank. That is entirely inconsistent with the guilty plea he entered in a federal courtroom in Arizona.

His signed declaration said he was snared by undercover IRS-CI agents after proactively offering to help criminals move large sums of money around the world without detection.

“I worked with another individual known as ‘Banker’ to advertise money laundering services on a TOR network black-market website,” he wrote. “I explained various ways criminal proceeds could be laundered—for example, methods to transfer large amounts of cash out of the United States without triggering reporting requirements.”

After his dark web ad attracted the attention of the authorities in March 2014—before he worked for UKIP—Cottrell corresponded with undercover operatives who were posing as drug dealers via the encrypted messaging service Cryptocat before agreeing to travel to Las Vegas to tie up the phony deal.

The federal court heard that Cottrell was extremely well-versed in the intricacies of moving money around. “Cotrel [sic] was surprisingly young—approximately twenty years old at the time—but the IRS-CI agents were impressed with his knowledge of finance, U.S. government procedures, and anti-money laundering laws.”

The question remains, how much of that knowledge was he employing as UKIP’s chief Brexit fundraiser?