The previous weekend, mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott and her former paper, the Sunday Times, came to the aid of Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore after tens of thousands of Banks’ emails were made available to Peter Jukes of Byline Media, and then Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer. There were spoiling accusations of hacking. The damage limitation exercise led the paper reviews. But that was then, and this is now.
This weekend, when the real Observer revelations have come raining down on Banksy and Wiggy, there has been no such intervention. Ms Cadwalladr has been studying more of those emails, and what she has concluded can be put directly: Banks and Wigmore have given every appearance of batting for Russia - a hostile state, let us not forget - around the time of the EU referendum. Here’s what she has to say.
“According to material seen by the Observer, Wigmore, who was Belize’s trade envoy to Britain at the time, forwarded an email to a Russian diplomat marked ‘Fw Cottrell docs – Eyes Only’. It is understood the email, dated 20 August 2016, showed six attachments of legal documents relating to Cottrell’s arrest by federal agents. It appears that Wigmore sent it to Sergey Fedichkin , a third secretary at the Russian embassy, saying: ‘Have fun with this.’” “Cottrell” was George Cottrell, an aide to Nigel “Thirsty” Farage.
He “was arrested by the FBI and charged with 21 counts of money laundering, bribery and wire fraud” when “Farage had been on the campaign trail for Trump”. So let’s have that put simply: “Material seen by the Observer suggests Wigmore sent confidential legal documents, including the FBI indictment, to the Russian embassy”.
Passing confidential FBI material to the Russian embassy. Small wonder that whistleblower Chris Wylie added “I've seen these emails. When I found out that LeaveEU may be passing on FBI and campaign intel to the Russian embassy, I reported it to MI5 and NCA. US intelligence knows too. Brexit looks like it was part of a coordinated Russian operation.” MPs across the political spectrum also weighed in.
For Labour, deputy leader Tom Watson asked “If they were handing over FBI documents to Russian diplomats in London it strongly suggests they were putting Russian interests ahead of US and probably UK interests. The real question is what was their motivation to do this?” Was there, whisper it quietly, a quid pro quo, and if so, what was it?
And after Tory DCMS chair Damian Collins asked Wiggy ”Did you discuss George Cottrell’s arrest with the Russian embassy?” and got the reply “It never came up. While at the time it probably seemed a big thing, there was so much else going on at the time it just was not an issue. It never came up”, he could only conclude that “Banks and Wigmore appeared to have misled parliament and ‘what we really need to know is why’. He added: ‘It makes you question whose side they are on.’”
Messing MPs around by treating the DCMS select committee with contempt - including apparently deliberately lying to it - as well as sucking up to the Russians is not a good look, however much Banksy and Wiggy try to make light of it.
They’ve been caught bang to rights. And the authorities in the USA might want to have a word with them too. They won’t provide grandstanding and bullshitting platforms, either.