Russian Oligarch Victor Vekselberg Links Russia, Cohen Probes

Mikhail Metzel/TASS

We’ve known since last fall that U.S. citizens linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg gave millions to Republican political committees supporting Donald Trump.

Now, a new document shedding light on Michael Cohen’s financial dealings offers evidence that a U.S. firm directly tied to Vekselberg continued to shell out some $500,000 in payments to Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal fixer, after Trump had entered the White House.

Much of the core information in the new document, which was compiled by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, and released Tuesday, has since been confirmed by major news organizations including the New York Times.

Vekselberg, who is one of Russia’s wealthiest men and is said to be close to Vladimir Putin, is on the U.S. sanctions list. He was interviewed by prosecutors with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office at a New York-area airport this spring

According to the new document, over the first eight months of 2017, Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm, funneled $500,000 to Essential Consultants LLC, a shell company that Cohen also used to pay hush money to Daniels. Columbus Nova has been described as the U.S. affiliate of The Renova Group, which is chaired by Vekselberg.

A lawyer for Columbus Nova called reports that Vekselberg used the firm as a “conduit for payments” to Cohen “patently untrue.”

But people with close ties to Vekselberg have funded Trump before. Leonard Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, billionaire, and longtime business partner of Vekselberg, gave $383,000 to the RNC and $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund, ABC reported in September. And Vekselberg’s cousin, Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater, gave $35,000 to the Trump Victory fund and another $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund, per the report. Vekselberg reportedly attended the inauguration.

Mueller’s investigators asked Vekselberg about his cousin’s 2016 donations and the Columbus Nova payments during their airport sit-down, as CNN reported Tuesday. Intrater has reportedly also been interviewed by the special counsel’s team, according to CNN.

A third U.S. businessman linked to Vekselberg, Russian-born oil executive Simon Kukes, gave $280,000 to Trump’s campaign and various GOP political committees after Trump became the GOP nominee, ABC News reported. Kukes worked for both Vekselberg and Blavatnik at oil giant TNK, as Open Secrets documented.

Vekselberg also was present at the infamous 2015 dinner hosted by Russian state news network RT, and attended by both Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. And a company Vekselberg controlled became the biggest Bank of Cyprus shareholder in 2014, after Wilbur Ross, a Trump ally who is now Commerce Secretary, assumed a controlling interest in the financial institution.

Vekselberg’s name cropped up again in a January 2018 Washington Post story documenting all of the high-powered Russians who flew to Washington, D.C. to attend Trump’s inaugural festivities.

At some point in the following few months, according to the New York Times, federal agents stopped Vekselberg at a New York City airport after his private jet landed, searched his electronic devices, and questioned him.

Then, in early April, the Trump administration announced that it was imposing sanctions on a host of Russian individuals and entities to punish Putin’s government for “malign activity” around the world. Vekselberg was among the seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials barred them from traveling to America or doing business with American companies.

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