Before Paradise: The Tangled Web of Brexit, Trump, and Russia
Back in May, an investigation into the complex affairs of Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, and Andrew Wigmore had already led to Lord Ashcroft. Oddly via Lesotho.
Now, with Trump's links to Putin and Ashcroft's Belize affairs back under the spotlight due to the Paradise Papers, it's a good time to refresh our memories and underscore the point that leaks do not hold all the answers.
Sometimes, you just have to kick the rocks over and wait for the world to catch up.
“I took the time to sit and review everything I’d uncovered so far and decided there was nothing so easy as a simple financial trail which would expose this global mess. Those days of investigative journalism were clearly dead, along with stories compacted to fit headlines and column inches. We were dealing with such a complex problem I still think the whole truth may never be known”
Within the somewhat expansive structure of Arron Banks’ complex business network, I discovered a rather plain looking diamond.
Parsons Jewellers in Bristol had been in the same family for generations when it hit trouble and was eventually bought by the man behind Leave.EU and Westmonster. In his autobiography, the same one which had proven useful time and time again as regards Russia, Banks outlined his desire to turn the outfit into a “brand.”
According to the Parsons website, Banks sources his gems from a series of mines he owns in South Africa, under the company name Kophia Diamond, and is listed as a director alongside Jonathan Ian Banks and James Pryor. Jonathan has a law firm registered to Banks’ primary offices in Bristol, and Pryor – ex-UKIP and a former Margaret Thatcher communications guru – is the same person connected to the other Banks linked company, Chartwell Political. While there was no website for the mining operation, Pryor’s email address was listed as the contact address for any queries. Banks himself is further linked to the region by lobbying and mining companies unearthed in the Panama Papers and he spent part of his childhood in South Africa, but other contemporary evidence was not hard to come by.
On the 25th of January 2015, ahead of the small state of Lesotho’s last election, Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore and James Pryor were both present in the country, “burning the midnight election oil.” Helpfully, Wigmore posted a photograph of them both – with that caption – on social media, along with pictures of him and Arron visiting mining operations at various points in time. At least one of Banks’ mining operations is located in Lesotho, where early general elections were held in June 2017 following a no-confidence vote in the incumbent prime minister – who led in coalition after a military coup caused the 2012 election to fail and a snap election to be held in 2015. The political landscape was clearly complex and I wrote to Wigmore and Banks, asking how the coming election could affect their mining interests in Lesotho but there was no reply. While there was no indication as to exactly what involvement they had in the 2015 election campaign beyond the photograph, Wigmore, along with both Arron and Jonathan Banks and James Pryor, were pictured with the King of Lesotho on the 11th of June 2014, during an apparent trip to visit their mining facilities.
Wigmore’s Instagram in general shows he is no stranger to political celebrity – he can also be found pictured in the infamous gold lift at Trump Tower and with Lord Ashcroft, among others.
Faced with undeniable connections between Trump, Brexit, Russia, and the far-right – including France’s Marine Le Pen, I made a very personal decision to go all in and see how far I could get.
It was already looking bleak, of course. Alongside Russia were the alt-right and a monstrous disinformation network – shady collaboration incorporating the deployment of Wikileaks, other hacking operations, and psychometrics company Cambridge Analytica. And all of them were engaged in ongoing interference with Western democracy. The extent of this murky, cloak and dagger operation was, however, becoming increasingly easy to root out.
On the 12th of January 2017, Arron Banks posted a picture of Andrew Wigmore in Mississippi. The caption read: “Andy over in the US this week with Gov. Bryant. & our good friends from Mississippi!” I knew this because an American researcher had contacted me via Twitter and set out some information which would have taken a lot longer to find otherwise. I call Wendy Siegelman the Queen of Charts, such is the quality of her work.
In April 2008, then Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour welcomed a delegation headed by Russian Federation Senator Mikhail Margelov and the US-Russia Business Council (USRBC) President Eugene Lawson to Jackson. USRBC is a trade association based in Washington, DC, which represents around three-hundred companies with operations in the Russian market. The Council’s mission, it says, is to expand the US-Russian commercial relationship and lobby for an economic environment in which businesses can succeed in a “challenging Russian market.” The council also provides “significant business development, dispute resolution, government relations, and market intelligence services.” The membership is cartel-like, being made up of major interests such as Alfa-Bank, Boeing, Cargill, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Ford, LUKOIL, Procter & Gamble, along with other well-known businesses, banks, law firms, and accountants. A career Foreign Service Officer, Daniel Russell was appointed CEO in 2013. He had served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for relations with Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus and for international security and arms control issues in the US State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He also held the role of Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, from 2008 to 2009; as Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow from 2005 to 2008; and as Deputy Chief of Mission in Almaty, Kazakhstan, from 2000 to 2003. With a CV like that, it was far from a flight of fancy to believe Russell may have been a spy.
At the time the delegation visited Barbour, a Russian investment by SeverCorr was in its first phase in the state and had brought four-hundred-and-fifty high-paying new jobs to Mississippi. The salaries were nearly ninety thousand dollars on average, compared to the state's median income of under forty thousand, according to reports. Mississippi listed over five billion dollars of exports in 2007 and the state's exportation to Russia alone grew fifty-two percent between 2004 and 2007. Over that period, many of the sectors the state government had been targeting for growth benefitted from the increase – for example, non-traditional Mississippi exports of computers and electronic products skyrocketed by more than five-thousand percent and Governor Barbour made a public statement that Mississippi looked “forward to a long and thriving relationship with Russia.”
At a delegation luncheon sponsored by SeverCorr, said to have been arranged to “enable state business leaders to take a closer look at Russia economically and politically,” USRBC’s President, Eugene Lawson, underscored the idea SeverCorr's investment in Mississippi should send a signal to other Russian companies – and the Russian government – that the US was open to (and welcomed) foreign investment. As Lawson pointed out, not one Russian investment in the US had been turned down by the US foreign investment review process, which is conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Senator Margelov, meanwhile, emphasised the importance of mutual cooperation in his own remarks, suggesting the two countries put aside the “negative rhetoric” which had emerged in Duma elections and that year's US presidential campaign which saw Barack Obama enter the White House, ousting the Republicans. Margelov suggested the US needed to take advantage of “a new generation coming of age in Russia that is not bound by Cold War stereotypes.” He also asserted: “Today's global realities demand pragmatism and an “equal partnership” between the US and Russia.”
Margelov had worked as an interpreter in the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He also taught Arabic at the Higher School of the K.G.B and was Senior Editor in the Arab section of the TASS News Agency. He was a spy. Between 1990 and 1995, he was employed by a number of US consulting companies dealing with investment projects and, in 1995, became project director for the publicity campaign of Grigory Yavlinsky and the Yabloko party. In 1996, he was the chief co-ordinator for advertising in President Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign, after which he went on to head the President's public relations department and was later a director of the Russian Information Centre (Rosinformcentr), a government agency covering events in the Northern Caucasus. From May 1998 to September 1999, he held a managerial position at RIA Novosti news agency, then spent January to March 2000 as a consultant to Vladimir Putin's Electoral Headquarters, in charge of contacts with foreign media. In 2009 Canada refused an entry visa for Margelov, by then the Kremlin’s special representative to Africa. The reason, according to Canadian sources, was Margelov’s connection to the Soviet intelligence services.
The Mississippi delegation also enjoyed private discussions with both Governor Barbour and his deputy, Phil Bryant. Parties from the USRBC attended a dinner at Barbour's private residence and Phil Bryant, then the Lieutenant Governor, hosted a private dinner at his home too.
Hayley Barbour, I discovered, had founded a lobbying company called BGR Group in 1991. In 2013, the firm was paid almost fourteen million dollars and its three largest clients were the Republic of India, Ukraine Chevron Corporation, and the State of Kazakhstan. In April 2015, the Government of South Korea retained BGR for public relations and image building. The firm also employed various former political figures.
“I realised it was also more complicated than a question of exposing diplomatic gain. Those days were gone too. This power play had gone directly for political and financial dominance on a scale which condemned the diplomatic wrangling of independent nations to the past, rendering countries standing as lone entities impotent. I could see this was the true reason the EU had been targeted – structurally, it could potentially defeat this axis along with NATO, which is why divide and conquer was crucial.”
Barbour was the governor of Mississippi between 2004 and 2012, having previously served under Ronald Reagan before becoming head of the Republican National Committee for a number of years. During his stint as governor, his BGR monies were held in a blind trust arrangement but this arrangement had always attracted media coverage. His filings with the Mississippi Ethics Commission showed continued payments from BGR and withdrawals from the trust which had a market value of nearly three-and-a-half million dollars according to its trustee, the president of the Bank of Yazoo City, Griffin Norquist. Correspondence between Barbour and the trustee from 2008 and 2009 – filed with the Ethics Commission – show Barbour pulling nearly two hundred grand out of the trust in 2008, seventy-five thousand dollars of it for an income tax payment, and over two hundred and fifty thousand out in 2009 with an unspecified portion of it being for taxes. His state salary was listed at just over one hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars a year, so the tax designations of these withdrawals indicate a significant second income which no one knew about. According to Norquist, as of December the 31st 2008, the aggregate market value of assets in the trust was almost three and a half million dollars.
BGR Group represented Alfa Bank, one of the USRBC members, from at least 2004 until 2015, during the period Barbour was holding the public office of governor. Lobbying Disclosure Act papers which I found on the internet – a much better system than the UK’s absolute refusal to discuss lobbying except during scandals – show BGR received almost six million dollars from the Moscow bank over the period, for lobbying activity related to “Bilateral US-Russian Relations.” The people behind the Russian financial organisation are very closely linked to Vladimir Putin according to the infamous assessment of Christopher Steele, a former British spy.
Alfa-Bank is one of the largest private financial houses in Russia as regards total assets, total equity, customer accounts, and loan portfolio. Under International Accounting Standards, in December 2014, the assets of Alfa Banking Group — which comprises Alfa-Bank as well as subsidiary banks and financial companies — totalled over forty-three billion dollars. By the end of 2014, Alfa-Bank served over one-hundred-and-sixty thousand corporate customers and over eleven million private individuals. Alfa-Bank has over eight-hundred branches in Russia and abroad, including a subsidiary bank in the Netherlands, as well as financial subsidiaries in the United States, United Kingdom, and Cyprus. According to the bank’s website, in February 2014, Putin held a meeting with one of its owners, Petr Aven, at his residence in Novo-Ogarevo. Putin and Aven discussed the: “Situation in the banking sector and current performance of the bank.” Aven also sits on the Board of Directors at LetterOne Group – also known as L1 Group, established in 2013 to invest in international projects in energy, telecommunications and technology.
L1 acquired assets from German utility business E.ON in October 2015, in a deal worth over one-and-a-half billion dollars, which saw the Luxembourg-based group gain Norwegian oil and gas resources. The group also had significant interests in BP and the North Sea. By 2015, Aven was named as one of the richest people in the world, with a personal worth of around five billion dollars. The group made fourteen billion dollars alone from selling TNK-BP to Rosneft in 2013 and bought up student housing in the UK and shares in Uber before assessing additional investments.
In May 2017, Aven and his fellow Alfa Bank owners, Mikhail Fridman and German Khan, filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the unedited and unverified Trump–Russia dossier of Steele, which alleged financial ties and collusion between Putin, Trump, and the three bank owners.
However, Alfa Bank also came to the notice of the media and the FBI when computer experts found its servers communicating with the Trump organisation before Donald was elected. A detailed analysis showed a series of DNS lookups between the Alfa Bank server in Moscow and a server owned by the Trump organisation, described as being set up in a peculiar fashion – it designed only to accept communications from a small number of other unique IP addresses. A private channel, in other words. From May the 4th until September the 23rd 2016, the Russian bank looked up the address to the Trump corporate server almost three thousand times – this was more traffic than from any other source. In fact, Alfa Bank alone represented eighty percent of the lookups. Indiana University computer scientist, L. Jean Camp, told reporters: “The conversation between the Trump and Alfa servers appeared to follow the contours of political happenings in the United States. At election-related moments, the traffic peaked.”
“There were considerably more DNS lookups, for instance, during the two conventions,” Camp added.
According to CNN: “Publicly available internet records show that address, which was registered to the Trump organisation, points to an IP address that lives on an otherwise dull machine operated by a company in the tiny rural town of Lititz, Pennsylvania.”
The Trump organisation claim it was a marketing server, however, Richard Clayton, a cybersecurity researcher at Cambridge University, commented on a series of objections to evidence of communication between the servers, saying “I think mail is more likely, because it’s going to a machine running a mail server and [the host] is called mail.” Others have also dismissed claims of the communication logs being faked to damage Trump due to an impossibility in recreating random traffic volume.
I did more research and found Listrak is the Lititz-based company. It is regularly hired to send emails on behalf of stores, hotels and other businesses. Apparently rapidly growing, the company sends more than two billion marketing emails a month to generate interest for its clients. Listrak Chief Executive Officer Ross Kramer told reporters the FBI came to the Listrak office before the November election and, though he declined to provide details on the FBI visit, he said “it was very cordial, and we’ve given them everything they need.” Kramer added Listrak was retained by a Florida company, Cendyn, which specialises in marketing for the hospitality industry and was working on behalf of Trump hotels.
What I subsequently found really odd was a statement from Cendyn, which said: “A thorough network analysis conducted by Cendyn at the request of the Trump organisation determined an existing banking customer of Cendyn, completely unrelated to Trump, recently used Cendyn’s ‘Metron’ Meeting Management Application to send communication to AlfaBank.com.” The explanation defied all logic, in particular when the second highest number of DNS hits coming from Alfa Bank was aimed at Spectrum Health, which belongs to the family of Trump team stalwart Betsy DeVos.
Devos issued a completely different denial, saying the lookups related to “Voice over IP traffic.” To me, the pattern looked like a simplistic data transfer, with transmission periods from seconds to over an hour on a regular basis and a number of secretive, though benign, hackers have arrived at similar conclusions. One, for example, stated: “When Spectrum connected to Trump Tower, Trump Tower’s next connect time was significantly longer, indicating Spectrum had modified a large chunk of records [which] had to be synced to Trump Tower, then pushed on to Alfa Bank. This detail was important in identifying that replication was in use. In this scenario, Trump Tower was functioning as a center-point, a data distribution center if you will.”
Less covertly, Christopher Davis, who runs cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec, told reporters “I’ve never seen a server set up like that. It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.” Davis won the prestigious FBI Director Award for Excellence after tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks. Another internet cyber-security pioneer, Paul Vixie, told Slate: “The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.”
Then, four days after New York Times journalists started following the story, on September the 27th 2016, the original server, mail1.trump-email.com, was switched off and the Trump organisation created a new hostname, trump1.contact-client.com. This simply enabled communication to the very same Alfa server via a different route. The new server’s first communication was, in fact, with Alfa Bank and experts have made clear “when a new hostname is created, the first communication with it is never random. To reach the server after the resetting of the host name, the sender of the first inbound mail has to first learn of the name somehow. It’s simply impossible to randomly reach a renamed server.”
This is where things started to come full circle from Mississippi to Russia, again. Jeffrey Birnbaum of Barbour’s BGR rejected allegations of communication between Trump’s team and the Russian bank, on behalf of Alfa, saying: “Neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have or have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organisations. The assertion of a special or private link is patently false.” By the time I started to find all this out, the Sunday Times had called the Bank’s parent company, Alfa Group, “one of the most controversial business empires on the planet.”
Alfa Bank financed one of the companies involved in building Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, according to corporate documents and lobbying disclosure records. In the mid-2000s, according to its own public reports, Alfa Bank provided financing to Atomstroyexport, a state-controlled Russian company which was a major player in Iran’s developing nuclear energy program. The relationship included “loans and other client services.” At the time Birnbaum – of BGR – dismissed reports of Alfa having deeper links to Iran’s nuclear ambitions as misguided, saying: “Just because Alfa Bank had a line of credit with an entity that did business with Iran does not make Alfa a financier of Iran’s nuclear program.” Communicating through BGR, the bank’s CEO added that contact had ended “after 2008 U.N. sanctions.” At the time, there was no problem with the plant from a US foreign policy perspective. In fact, during 2007, while Alfa was financing Atomstroyexport, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed the plant as a proper component of Iran’s civilian nuclear program and, in 2010, Hillary Clinton told the UN “Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr. Our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program.”
Alfa’s other owner, secretive oligarch Fridman, even freely enjoyed the privilege of visiting the White House twice, in May 2010 and again in May 2011. Each time, according to White House logs, Richard Burt, a former top diplomat who negotiated the 1991 START I nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union, accompanied him. According to Burt, Fridman’s goal was “to strengthen ties between the United States and Russia and to discuss Russian ascension to the World Trade organisation.”
Burt has longstanding connections with both BGR Group and Alfa. He was previously executive chairman of Diligence LLC, a corporate intelligence operation which employs former spies, and now holds an advisory role at Aven and Fridman’s investment operation, Letter One.
In 2005, BGR and Diligence became ensnared in scandal when, working as a BGR contractor, it was alleged they attempted to obtain corporate records of an Alfa rival from the auditor KPMG. As a result, KPMG sued Diligence and the latter settled the case by paying KPMG over one-and-a-half million dollars. Another rival, IPOC Growth Fund, also sued Diligence and BGR Group in a case which was settled in 2008. Ed Rogers, BGR chairman, was an early owner of Diligence and, according to reports, the company was actually set up inside BGR’s Pennsylvania Avenue office.
In the first two quarters of 2016, Burt’s lobbying firm received over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for work he and a colleague did to garner support for a proposed natural-gas pipeline opposed by the Polish government and the Obama administration. The Nord Steam gas connection would have allowed more Russian gas to reach central and western European markets – bypassing Ukraine and Belarus and extending Putin’s leverage over Europe. Burt’s lobbying work for New European Pipeline AG began in February 2016 when Russian state-owned oil giant Gazprom still owned only a fifty percent stake in the company. In August, however, five European partners pulled out and Gazprom now owns one-hundred percent. The Swedes, of course, were specifically concerned about details of the discussions around Nordstream being relayed from the Riksdag to Russia when the property scandal involving the Sweden Democrats and Putilov erupted.
During the same period, Burt says he also helped shape Trump’s first major foreign policy address, recommending the man who is now president take a “more realist, less interventionist approach to world affairs. In the subsequent speech, Trump said “I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia — from a position of strength — is possible,” adding: “Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”
It was obviously incestuous, to say the least, but when you look at the 2016 development of Alfa Bank’s L1 portfolio things become even clearer. LetterOne’s new L1 Health unit, which was to be based in the US, was announced in mid-2016 and was already working to identify investment targets, aided by an advisory board which included not only Burt, but Diageo Plc Chairman Franz Humer, a former chairman of the world’s largest manufacturer of cancer drugs, Roche Holding AG.
“Innovations in technology, biology, and genomics are changing the way we think about health-care treatments,” Fridman said of the project, adding: “This enables us to look at health care in new and unique ways.”
One of Trump’s flagship policies was always the removal of so-called Obamacare and, server or not, it is now clear Trump was never far removed from Alfa Bank in any case. All of this, however, also led me right back to Arron Banks’ January 2017 photo of Phil Bryant – by then the Governor of Mississippi years after his private dinners with the Russians and Barbour – with Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore.
Bryant had been close to Vice President Mike Pence for years, through the Republican Governor's Association, but his direct ties to Donald Trump were even clearer. By the end of the presidential election campaign, Bryant had swapped allegiance from Ted Cruz to become broadly referred to as one of the most reliable Trump surrogates. He also set to work raising two million dollars for Trump’s campaign in short order. Bryant subsequently enjoyed a close relationship with Trump, including visits to Trump Tower in New York, and commentators noted the then Presidential candidate often made a “B-line to Bryant even in a crowded room of VIPs.” According to one source: “Trump even ditched his Secret Service detail to get on an elevator with Bryant in Trump Tower, then gave Bryant a personal tour of his war room.”
This also put Bryant in direct contact with Jeff Sessions.
“Almost idly, I called the Ecuadorian Embassy, to ask how many times Nigel Farage had visited Julian Assange. They hung up as soon as the question was asked.”
While being interviewed by reporters in late 2016, Bryant had to cut one interview short, saying Sessions’ Chief of Staff, Rick Dearborn, had been meeting with Ivanka Trump to “work out calendars” and needed to update his itinerary. Rick Dearborn is now the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative, Intergovernmental Affairs and Implementation, having been the executive director of the Presidential Transition Team for Trump. He had spent more than twenty-five years working on Capitol Hill before this and, during that time, also worked on President George W. Bush's Energy Agenda. Dearborn worked as Chief of Staff for Jeff Sessions when the latter was a senator – from 2004 until 2016 when he joined the Trump team. He was, I’m told, the second Sessions staffer to land a senior role in the Trump White House.
One of the central issues in the investigation into Donald Trump and his relationship with Russia relates to Carter Page – a man whose CV largely consisted of doing financial business with Russia until Trump. Page was somewhat mysteriously hired by the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor, despite holding no qualifications for such a role. During the election, it became public knowledge the FBI was investigating Page’s ties to Russia and, after Trump’s success, Page travelled to Moscow for “unknown” reasons. In February 2017, it was discovered he had “been colluding with Russian intel officials during the election.” Spy agencies, including GCHQ, were not specifically targeting members of the Trump team but happened to gather evidence through what CNN reported as “incidental collection.” Their accidental intelligence was then passed to the US as part of a routine exchange under the so-called “Five Eyes” agreement between the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Page’s own direct connection to Jeff Sessions is not in doubt and, importantly, sources have also been publicly clear: “The Page connection was Rick Dearborn, Sessions’ chief of staff, who hired Page because Dearborn knew nothing about foreign policy but needed to put together a foreign policy staff for Trump’s Alexandria, Virginia, policy shop and he happened to know Page.”
Russian agents have not held back from commenting on Page either, highlighting his ambitions in the energy sector. “He got hooked on Gazprom,” Victor Podobnyy, an officer of the SVR (Russia’s foreign intelligence agency) said. “It’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.”
Page, it appears, shared a mutual interest with Burt. Christopher Steele’s controversial intelligence dossier went further, alleging Page met with the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin – a man described as one of President Vladimir Putin’s key deputies. According to the report, Page and Sechin discussed lifting sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and “support of pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine.”
Flicking through the pages and pages of research, I noted that, in January 2017, BGR was hired by the Ukrainian government to: “Support and help open lines of communication between key Ukrainian officials and US government officials, journalists, non-profit groups and others.” In truth, I wondered if Ukraine had simply decided to spy on the US’s Russian link directly. Without a doubt, however, I could see there were no degrees of separation between any of these men. This is where the second round of Russian connections manifested, in the form of Nigel Farage.
The distinctly shadowy advisor to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and equally controversial Trump-appointed Attorney General, Sessions, had already known Farage for several years. In 2012, Bannon invited the UK politician to New York and Washington where he was introduced to Sessions. This was two years before Breitbart launched in London. Sessions himself was, at the time I was doing this snooping, embroiled in a fresh ethics row after President Trump’s firing of the FBI Director James Comey, right in the middle of the Russia inquiry. Extraordinarily, the Attorney General had to remove himself from the investigation after undisclosed meetings between him and Russian officials were made public. Those very same officials were photographed inside the White House shortly afterwards and Sessions’ name went on to become synonymous with the other subjects of the unprecedented collusion allegations, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. But there, right in the middle of all this, was a British politician I’d linked to the far-right and Russia already.
Visiting the Republican National Committee in mid-2016, Farage met a Bryant aide, John Barley Boykin, who suggested Farage visit Mississippi. The following day a formal invite from Bryant was sent to Farage. On the 23rd of August 2016, Farage arrived in Mississippi with Leave.EU’s financial backer Arron Banks. According to reports, it was actually Bryant who asked Farage to speak at the Trump rally and it was Steve Bannon who telephoned Farage to discuss what he would say. When Farage and Trump subsequently met the next day, Donald Trump was so impressed with the speech he wanted to personally introduce Farage to the stage. Sessions was present at the rally along with another Russia Inquiry figure, former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. Russian oil company Rosneft is a client of Rudy Giuliani’s law and consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, and Alfa Bank has previously hired Rudy Giuliani as a paid speaker. Investigative journalist Grant Stern has written: “Circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that President Donald J. Trump and his campaign associates brokered a massive oil privatization deal, where his organisation facilitated a global financial transaction to sell Russian Oil stock to its Syrian War adversary, the Emirate of Qatar.” The Emirate of Qatar was another Giuliani client.
Aside from this monstrously deep web of US business links to Russia, along with speeches by British politicians, my investigations had already established more substantial collaborative efforts between the so-called “Bad Boys of Brexit”, the Trump campaign, and Russia. Yet, the Leave.EU connection was relevant at the time for one further reason: Roger Stone. During the 2016 campaign, Stone was accused by John Podesta of having prior knowledge of Wikileaks publishing his private emails which had been obtained by a hacker. In fact, before the leak, Stone tweeted: “It will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel,” and five days prior to the release he did it again, writing: “Wednesday Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.” Breitbart News, the Mercer and Bannon disinformation channel, also published a subsequent denial by Stone, in which he claimed he had no advance knowledge of the Podesta e-mail hack or any connection to Russian intelligence. The thing was, I had already established a link between Russia, disinformation, Wikileaks, Trump, and Brexit, and found clear evidence from intelligence agencies that Wikileaks was known as a Russian operation.
It transpired that Stone was a gift that kept giving the more I looked into him.
During a speech on the 8th of August 2016, Stone said: “I actually have communicated with Assange” and referred to an “October surprise” coming via the Wikileaks site. He also stated that, while he had never met or spoken to the site’s founder, the pair had a “mutual friend” who served as an intermediary. The same day the speech was given, Stone was tweeting about a dinner he had with Nigel Farage, who was, of course, seen visiting Assange in March 2017 and had always refused to give reasons for the meeting.
In May 2017, Farage changed tack and told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper he visited the Ecuadorian Embassy for “journalistic reasons, not political reasons” before cutting the questions short, saying: “It has nothing to do with you. It was a private meeting.” What set him off, according to the reporters, was when they directly asked if he was working for Russia. In response to questions about his 2013 meeting with Yakavenko, Farage began ranting “I think you are a nutcase! You are really a nutcase! Brexit is the best thing to happen: for Russia, for America, for Germany and for democracy.” For me, Farage’s response clarified pretty much everything. This car-crash interview came shortly after Wikileaks had dumped material aimed at influencing voters in France to vote against Emanuel Macron and side with the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen – whose deep financial and political ties to Russia I’d already exposed. Farage was, as I’d set out, openly supporting Le Pen during her campaign, and was backed up by Leave.EU and Banks’ alternative media site Westmonster. By this time, that deep relationship between Farage, Russia, and Julian Assange, most openly displayed through RT and UKIP’s activities, was bathing in the disinfectant of sunlight.
I took the time to sit and review everything I’d uncovered so far and decided there was nothing so easy as a simple financial trail which would expose this global mess. Those days of investigative journalism were clearly dead, along with stories compacted to fit headlines and column inches. We were dealing with such a complex problem I still think the whole truth may never be known, especially if the assertions of Christopher Steele – that the cover-up operation began on Putin’s orders as soon as Trump won – are to be given credit. I realised it was also more complicated than a question of exposing diplomatic gain. Those days were gone too. This power play had gone directly for political and financial dominance on a scale which condemned the diplomatic wrangling of independent nations to the past, rendering countries standing as lone entities impotent. I could see this was the true reason the EU had been targeted – structurally, it could potentially defeat this axis along with NATO, which is why divide and conquer was crucial.
Almost idly, I called the Ecuadorian Embassy, to ask how many times Nigel Farage had visited Julian Assange. They hung up as soon as the question was asked.
I had stuck my nose into Banks' and Wigmore's links to the small African country of Lesotho, following the trail of company listings from the Panama Papers. Wigmore had, by the election, confirmed to me they were, as a group, supporting the Basotho National Party in the Lesotho elections, though he also clarified the corporations listed in the Panama Papers were just “shell companies.” He added their Lesotho operations include diamond mines, call centre employing 1500 people, and huge charitable donations into Lesotho. Even now, I am struggling to find relevant company records but the Lesotho National Development Corporation had issued a tender which states: “Call centre outsourcing is a big business opportunity for developing countries with a huge qualified workforce and high unemployment rates. Many organisations prefer to outsource call centre services as this is a cost saving opportunity for them while being beneficial for the hosting country as well.” Of course, if a group dedicated to a brighter future for Britain outside of the EU, taking a fiercely 'patriotic' line, were also encouraging outsourcing to a foreign country, this might raise some eyebrows among their supporters. I asked Wigmore what the call centre does – if it was outsourced insurance, international or domestic services, what the company was called, that kind of thing – but he didn't reply, other than saying: “What do you think a call centre does.”
One of the companies I uncovered in the Leave.EU network was a relatively new outfit called “Big Data Dolphins” and no real records of its function existed. However, Wigmore told me during our conversation the company was working on “Artificial Intelligence,” adding it was: “Already fully functional based out of Bristol and Mississippi for insurance/financial services.”
I asked him what the company focused on, if Governor Phil Bryant had been useful, and if they were using any of the databases they had established through other companies. Wigmore didn't reply.
I had uncovered those extensive links between Farage, Leave.EU, and the Mississippi governor, which connected all of them back to Trump's White House and the Russia probe and, after the initial Mississippi article was published, Farage had actually hosted Governor Bryant as a guest on his LBC radio show - during which they discussed President Trump's “strong affection” for the UK's departure from the EU and talked about free-trade deals.
Big Data Dolphins put not just Farage but the whole of Leave.EU squarely in the Trump-Russia arena in a way the previous connections had not.
You can read more in Alternative War, crowdfunded through Byline and published by Cynefin Road in August 2017…before anyone believed Russia had really done anything.
*Where practicable links to source material have been carried over from original articles. Due to the volume of material, backlinking is ongoing across the body of work.