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”.

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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.