As Nigel Farage, a prominent member of Britain’s right-wing U.K. Independence Party, was preparing for his flight back to Britain, one of his closest aides was grabbed and arrested by the FBI. The aide in question, George Cottrell, had been under investigation from the FBI since 2014 for offering to launder money for deepweb drug traffickers.
The arrest came as a surprise to Mr. Farage who had traveled to the United States for a Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. As they met with U.S. Senators and appeared for TV interviews, it turns out that the FBI was also at the convention, monitoring Cottrell. Farage claims to have known nothing of his aide’s illegal activities and was forced to return to Britain without him. He was allegedly given no information by the five FBI agents who carried out the arrest.
Cottrell is being held in the United States and is facing 21 charges related to money laundering, fraud, blackmail and extortion, according to a 2014 indictment.
The 22-year-old was offering money laundering services on the deepweb when undercover agents, posing as drug dealers, contacted him regarding his services. The court documents reveal that Cottrell was advertising to launder their money for a fee, using his offshore accounts. He claimed that he could provide “complete anonymity and security” and went under the name “Bill.”
Proceeds from the purported drug money were transferred to Cottrell’s offshore accounts. The agents met with Cottrell in Las Vegas to arrange the transfer of another $20,000. Cottrell then decided to blackmail the agents, still believing them to be drug dealers, claiming he would report their activities to the police unless they paid him $80,000 (130 BTC at the time).
After Cottrell was arrested and charged, he was denied bail by a judge who said he “poses a serious flight risk.”
According to The Washington Post, “He comes from an aristocratic family. His uncle is Lord Hesketh, a former hereditary peer, who worked for former prime minister Margaret Thatcher before losing his seat in the Lords in 1999 as a result of the House of Lords Act. He later defected to Ukip. Cottrell’s mother, Fiona Cottrell, is the daughter of another peer.”
Motherboard reporter Twitter user, @josephfcox, pointed out that in the released indictment documents, Cottrell used an encrypted messenger called Cryptocat for his money-laundering activities. It clearly did not help his case when he used the application to blackmail federal agents. Privnote and Jabber messages were used as evidence as well.