Aide to Britain's UKIP, George Cottrell, charged with US federal money laundering

Posted at 3:11 PM, Aug 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-13 18:11:09-04

A campaign worker for Britain's right-wing U.K. Independence Party has been indicted in the United States on charges including blackmail and money-laundering.

A federal indictment issued in Arizona alleges that George Cottrell agreed to launder money for undercover law-enforcement agents posing as drug traffickers. He is accused of 21 counts relating to money laundering, fraud, blackmail and extortion.

The indictment says that in 2014 Cottrell, using the online alias Bill, "agreed to launder the undercover agents' purported drug proceeds by transferring the property to offshore accounts." It says Cottrell later met the agents in Las Vegas and arranged for them to transfer $20,000 to an associate.

It also alleges that Cottrell tried to blackmail the supposed drug traffickers, threatening to go to the police unless they paid him 130 Bitcoin, then worth about $80,000.

Cottrell was arrested July 22 at Chicago's O'Hare airport as he and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage were returning from the Republican convention in Cleveland.

A judge denied bail, saying Cottrell "poses a serious risk of flight."

Cottrell, who is in his 20s, is the son of a wealthy aristocratic family. His uncle, Lord Hesketh, worked for the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and later became a supporter of UKIP.

His mother, Fiona Cottrell, is the daughter of another lord.

UKIP said Saturday that Cottrell had worked unpaid for the party, helping with logistics and media arrangements during Britain's European Union referendum campaign. UKIP supported the victorious "leave" side in the June 23 vote.

UKIP said in a statement that the criminal allegations "date from a time before he was directly involved" with the party.