Sunday, 21 January 2018

Orange is the new puce

Ukip's current leadership difficulties may be hogging the headlines but there are far bigger skeletons in the Kipper cupboard than "Dull middle-aged man seeks hot young racist for mid-life crisis", or "Farage in career re-launch bid." The story of Boring Henry only tells us that the Purple Army provides safe spaces for oddballs and bigots, which shouldn't surprise anybody who can read a newspaper headline.

Bubbling away in the background is the far more interesting story of Posh George, which shines a light onto the obscure alliance of interests behind Ukip (and the wider Leave movement) and where their money came from:
George Cottrell was the most prominent “Leave” campaign money man, firmly ensconced within the Farage/Banks inner circle he was privy to all financial dealings and arrangements. As [co-]head of fundraising for UKIP Cottrell was responsible to [sic] amass the millions needed to win the EU referendum.
Of course Ukip has had a few wealthy, well-connected donors and fundraisers, but George Cottrell stands out from the other money men in one interesting respect. Born in October 1993, he wasn't yet 23 at the time of the EU Referendum. Startlingly young to be one of the two chief fundraisers for a national political party.

Just compare some of the other Ukip money men: Paul Sykes (born 1943), John Stuart Wheeler (born 1935), or Robin Birley (born 1958). Even comparative youngster Arron Banks, who some wag described as looking like an ugly toddler dressed up for a wedding, had reached 50 by Referendum Day.

George is even more youthful than the headline-grabbing Jo Marney. But where Ms Marney is known for being photographed in skimpy costumes, George Cottrell's most significant photoshoot involved him sporting a slightly less revealing outfit in orange:
At 10 a.m. on Monday, December 19th 2016, George Cottrell handcuffed and shackled, dressed in a prison-issue orange jumpsuit walked into the courtroom of United States District Judge Diane Humetewa.

This short appearance in Phoenix, Arizona formally ended a three-year Internal Revenue Service investigation. In return for Cottrell’s guilty plea to one count of wire fraud the remaining 20 counts would be dismissed by motion of the United States.
So who is young George?
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.
For an anti-establishment insurgency, the Leave bunch sure have some fancy connections. So, apart from having been born with a whole canteen of silver cutlery in his mouth, what qualified Baby George for the role of Ukip's joint chief fundraiser?
[Nigel Farage's] closest aide on the trip [to see Donald Trump accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination] 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.”

...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.
Was it George's interesting financial skill set that impressed the Ukip high command, or just his air of well-bred insouciance (in a Telegraph interview, George quipped that "Had I not been to boarding school, prison would have been infinitely harder")? Cynics might suggest the former:
Cottrell, who was already under active investigation by the Department of Treasury, was well placed to find the much-needed money with an address book littered with European royalty, British aristocrats, Russian billionaires and Asian organized crime figures.

How and where Cottrell funneled money will be extremely difficult to identify. As an offshore private banker and criminal financier it was Cottrell’s job to hide the nature, control, source and ownership of money. Even special agents acknowledged in court that they were impressed by Cottrell’s knowledge of finance, US government procedures, and anti-money-laundering laws.

However, it appears that Cottrell’s testimony and cooperation with US & UK investigations are already resulting in action; less than two weeks ago Cottrell was interviewed under caution by detectives from HMRC and the National Crime Agency.

It is known that Cottrell personally arranged for two separate donations (both exceeding the reporting threshold of £7,500) originating from Russia to be remitted to a UKIP “accounting unit” which were not declared – the sum total was in turn donated to the central party. Both transactions, brokered by Nigel Sussman, originated from Russian bank accounts in the name of Russian individuals.

Cottrell – who was not a permitted participant – also incurred sizeable EU Referendum expenditure personally which went undeclared. Receipts and invoices submitted to investigators, seen by this blog, routinely show that UKIP & Leave.EU associated venue hire, merchandise, staffing costs and travel reimbursements not to mention excessive food and alcohol bills were paid for using cash by Cottrell.
Nigel Sussman, who brokered the donations from those Russian accounts, was, coincidentally, a member of the Westminster Russia Forum (WRF):
The Forum, formerly known as Conservative Friends of Russia, was launched in August 2012. Leaked e-mails from Russian officials soon appeared, saying they had been urged to use the organisation to campaign against the Magnitsky Act in Westminster. CFoR tweeted photographs of the anti-Kremlin head of the Parliamentary Committee on Russia, Chris Bryant, in his underpants. The Russian diplomat liaising with the group was Sergey Nalobin, first secretary in the embassy’s political section (his father was a senior figure in the KGB and FSB). They were accused by the Guardian, World Affairs and Private Eye of being a lobby group for the Kremlin.
Whether or not the Kremlin saw the disruption of the UK as a juicy opportunity, young George Cottrell, certainly did:
...when Sunderland voted for leave by a bigger than expected margin, Cottrell sensed a betting opportunity. ‘At 10pm, I couldn’t believe I was still getting 9/1 [for a majority leave vote],’ he says. ‘We were in our campaign office and I was tracking all the major stock indices, the dollar and pound currency markets. When it got to 3am, I was getting my managers out of bed to get me another 50 grand on here, another 50 grand there, to short sterling. I just couldn’t help myself.’
Mind you, what's 50 grand here, 50 grand there, to a baby-faced high roller like George?
Cottrell won a six-figure sum that night but promptly ‘lost most of it the next day, on some horse running called Exit Europe or something like that. I was a compulsive, habitual, addicted gambler.’ Generous but self-effacing, with a sharp memory, Cottrell relates the events of that day and night with the self-assurance that the English public-school system produces – a chauffeur brought him to lunch, and only later did I realise he had bodyguards in attendance.
All in all, it would be a shame if we forgot about baby-faced George and his exploits amid all the Marney-mania and Farage-fed Ukip 2.0 hype. It would be even more of a shame if the Electoral Commission, or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs were to forget about George's short, but remarkable, career. I'm sure he's got more interesting tales to tell than most young men of his age, and the relevant authorities should be all ears.