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Who is ‘Posh George’? Meet the Aristocrat and Convicted Fraudster Close to Nigel Farage

George Cottrell was Farage’s Chief of Staff until he was found guilty of wire fraud in 2017. He’s now returned to the Reform leader’s side as an advisor

George Cottrell and Nigel Farage at a pro-Brexit event in March 2019. Photo: Mark Kerrison / Alamy
George Cottrell and Nigel Farage at a pro-Brexit event in March 2019. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

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Reform leader Nigel Farage has brought back into his inner circle an aristocrat nicknamed “Posh George” who was once jailed for serious fraud – despite claiming Reform is “anti-elitist” and the “party of law and order”. 

Farage, who announced this week he was taking over Reform, had a milkshake thrown over him during a visit to Clacton on Wednesday, where he is to stand as an MP, hoping to win election to Parliament at his eighth attempt.

This newspaper can now reveal that one of the men escorting Farage on the trip, and who was seen dining with the 60-year-old at an upmarket restaurant in early April, is his former Chief of Staff George Cottrell.

Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage has a drink thrown over him as launches his General Election campaign in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex on June 4. Photo: PA Images / Alamy
George Cottrell behind Nigel Farage as the leader of Reform has a drink thrown over him as he launches his General Election campaign in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex on 4 June. Photo: PA Images/Alamy

Cottrell comes from a long line of aristocrats; his late grandfather was a baron, his parents are wealthy landowners with links to the Royal Family, and his uncle – Lord Hesketh, who is also a baron – is a former Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords and Treasurer of the Conservative Party.

Farage disowned Cottrell after he was sentenced in 2017 to eight months in a US jail after prosecutors agreed to dismiss 20 counts – including that he conspired to launder millions of dollars worth of drug money using offshore bank accounts – in return for him pleading guilty to a single count of wire fraud in which Cottrell admitted to explaining how criminal proceeds could be laundered.

When asked in September 2018 about Cottrell’s previous role – which Farage said was “unpaid” – he added that he “can’t be responsible for what everyone around me is up to”. Cottrell, 30, has since joined Farage’s advisory board.

It is not clear what Cottrell’s role in Reform is, or whether he is now being paid, but a source close to Farage told Byline Times: “I don’t believe he has an official party title but is an affable chap with loads of money who’d seemingly do anything for Nigel.”

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The apparent involvement in Reform’s ranks of a Blue-blooded convicted criminal is at odds with the party positioning itself as the “party of law and order” and which accuses the government of being “soft on crime”, with “crime solving…at an all-time low”.

Reform also claims to be committed to constitutional reform in a country it says is “ruled by an arrogant and out of touch elite”, in which “patronage around the House of Lords and honours system is leading to corruption in public life”.

Reform did not return a request for comment.


Who is ‘Posh George’?

Cottrell was born in London, England, to an aristocratic family. His father, Mark Cottrell, a businessman from Gloucestershire, attended Gordonstoun School with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, while his mother, The Honourable Fiona Watson, a daughter of the late Rupert Watson, 3rd Baron Manton, was a former glamour model and girlfriend of King Charles III.

Raised and educated on the private island of Mustique, Cottrell – who has had a four-year, on-off relationship with Made In Chelsea star and I’m A Celeb winner Georgia Toffolo, 29 – attended Malvern College, although he was expelled for illegal gambling.

Cottrell’s penchant for gambling has led him to be a high-stakes poker player. He was reported by the Daily Mail to have last month lost £16 million in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro while playing against Chinese billionaires, Hollywood celebrities and some of the world’s best poker stars. 

Such financial derring-do has also served Cottrell well in his career, as he is understood to have held jobs at private banks. 

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It was during this period that Cottrell “learned about the murky and complicated world of ‘shadow banking’, secret offshore accounts and sophisticated financial structures”, according to one Daily Telegraph profile. As The Daily Beast reported in 2017, one of his roles included helping high net worth individuals shift their money across borders. 

Cottrell’s background dealing with big finance saw him appointed Deputy Treasurer of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) after the 2015 general election. He also became the party’s lead fundraiser, and Chief of Staff to Farage, who was at the time UKIP leader.

A UKIP insider told The Daily Beast that Cottrell 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.”

But, behind the scenes, Cottrell was being investigated by the IRS (Inland Revenue Service) over a criminal scheme which in July 2016 saw him arrested and placed in handcuffs by five officers at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as he flew back to the UK with Farage after the Republican National Convention. 

Also with them was Andy Wigmore – spokesman for the Leave.EU campaign and the business partner of Arron Banks, the biggest funder of Brexit – and Brexit cheerleading journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Banks later said of Cottrell’s arrest: “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 found out why Cottrell had been led away. “Nasty shock today as Nigel got Posh George’s full rap sheet. It’s not pretty.”

A US court later heard how, between March and September 2014 Cottrell had participated in a scheme to advertise money laundering services on a black-market website on a TOR network, which stands for “The Onion Router”.

He communicated with undercover agents who pretended to be criminals seeking to launder the proceeds of criminal activity, and proposed to send him up to $150,000 of drug money every month. 

Having explained how to launder the money in offshore accounts, Cottrell met with the agents in person in April 2014 in Las Vegas to discuss a transaction.

In March 2017, Cottrell was sentenced by US District Judge Diane Humetewa to eight months jail after he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, although the then 23-year-old did not spend long behind bars as he had already been in custody in Phoenix, Arizona, for almost eight months. He was also fined $30,000.


Back in the Fold

While it is not known for how long Farage put Cottrell into political exile, his criminal background does not appear to have undermined their relationship.

In May 2019, The Guardian claimed that Cottrell had told friends that he was overseeing the Brexit Party’s fundraising operation, while the Sunday Times also reported that a senior source in the party said that Cottrell had “reprised his role as one of [Farage’s] top fundraisers”.

At that time, the Brexit Party was criticised by the Electoral Commission for accepting donations through PayPal without any full audit of the source of funding.

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A spokesman for the Brexit Party said at the time that Cottrell had “no official position with the party and is not paid by the party”. He declined to deny Cottrell’s unpaid involvement. 

When told that The Guardian had seen photographs of Farage and Cottrell together in recent months including at Brexit party events, he said: “Tens of thousands of supporters have been to Brexit party events, as has Mr Cottrell. By your logic, all of them have positions in the party.”

Yet when asked about his relationship to Cottrell in 2020, Farage said: “I love George. He’s like a son to me.”

In April this year, the pair were photographed dining together at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, with MailOnline describing Cottrell as Farage’s “former advisor”.

Byline Times asked Reform whether Cottrell had returned to advising Farage, what he was being paid, and what his exact role was.

The party was also asked whether the organisation, and its new leader Farage, had any concerns that Cottrell’s involvement undermined its claims to be “anti-elitist” and the “party of law and order” in the eyes of the British public.

They did not respond. However, a letter from Cottrell’s lawyers, received two days after this article was published, emphasised that their client has no formal role with the Reform Party, and pointed out that he was investigated by the IRS and not the FBI*.

*Copy amended on 7 June 2024



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