Rinat Ahkmetshin, who met last year with Donald Trump, Jr. alongside other Russian operatives peddling damaging information about Hillary Clinton, has worked more than once with firms accused of hacking political and legal opponents, according to a new profile of the Russian-born lobbyist TPM wrote about in July.
The New York Times associates the former Soviet operative and beltway influence-peddler with a previously unreported hacking campaign carried out on behalf of Suleiman Kerimov, a 51-year-old billionaire financier the Financial Times dubbed “the secret oligarch.”
Kerimov was accused of attempting to infiltrate the computer network of a business rival, Russian parliamentarian Ashot Egiazaryan, while he was Akhmetshin’s client. When Egiazaryan’s lawyers found malware in emails, they used that malware to send traceable documents back to the senders; those documents were then opened by people using computers at one of Kerimov’s companies.
Akhmetshin said he was only tangentially involved in Kerimov’s dispute with Egiazaryan, according to the Times:
After an inquiry of more than 18 months, Scotland Yard investigators concluded in January 2013 that they lacked sufficient evidence to bring any charges, a spokesman said. Representatives of the lawyers targeted declined to comment.
Mr. Akhmetshin has said in court papers that he was paid only by one businessman in the alliance with Mr. Kerimov, but coordinated with Mr. Kerimov’s team.
Kerimov, for his part, is believed to have been a target of a high-level French money-laundering probe. A house in the south of France that was raided earlier this year in connection with the probe is said to belong to him, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Ahkmetshin has been more directly accused of hacking a second client’s business rival: International Mineral Resources, a Russian mining concern. IMR alleged in court papers that Akhmetshin, hired by its competitor Eurochem, had undertaken a public PR campaign targeting them. Over the course of that campaign, the company alleged, somebody broke into its computers, made off with gigabytes’ worth of data and sent that data to reporters and human rights groups, according to the Daily Beast. The allegations were later withdrawn.
Akhmetshin hasn’t been accused of anything related to the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committe, or Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. At the moment, the organization that broke into the networks of multiple Democratic Party organs during the 2016 campaign goes by the designation assigned to it by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike: “Fancy Bear.” And the evidence that the network-breakers stole emails from those groups is mostly circumstantial: The emails are from the period when Fancy Bear, which the U.S. intelligence community strongly believes is associated with the Russian GRU military intelligence service, had access to those networks.
As of last week, it looked very much like some of the people who coded the software used in the break-ins themselves were unaware that their code had been used to those ends.
This post has been updated