Trump Explored Moscow Deal With Russian Firm Tied To Sanctioned Banks

Traffic passes Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

President Donald Trump’s erstwhile lawyer, Michael Cohen, said this week in a statement provided to congressional investigators that Trump signed a letter of intent during the campaign to develop a tower in Moscow with a firm that appears to have partnered with two Russian banks under U.S. sanctions.

Real estate news outlet The Real Deal was first to surface news of the apparent associations between the Moscow-based firm, I.C. Expert Investment, and VTB and Sberbank. The firm’s website lists both VTB and Sberbank as partner banks.

Cohen was negotiating the project for the Trump Organization with the help of Felix Sater, both an old pal of Cohen’s and a longtime business associate of Trump’s who served as a conduit for money from the former Soviet Union. Sater told Cohen that he’d arranged financing for the project with VTB, according to emails that were provided to the House Intelligence Committee and reviewed by the New York Times.

Sberbank and VTB were both sanctioned in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and the U.S. Treasury specifically disallows them from issuing the kinds of financing used in real estate transactions to “U.S. persons or within the United States.” Trump signed the letter of intent to do business with IC Expert on Oct. 28, 2015, according to the Washington Post; but by January, Cohen said he killed the proposal.

The day before Trump’s inauguration, the president of VTB called on Trump to lift those same sanctions. And the connections don’t end there: Marc Kasowitz, who briefly helmed Trump’s team of outside lawyers fielding the various federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, defended Sberbank in federal court in Manhattan against a lawsuit brought by a Russian businessman.

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