Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Manafort and Deripaska: More Secret Russian Connections in the Trump Team

by Nomad

The tangled web woven by President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, just keeps getting more and more tangled.
And now there's this:

The Associated Press is now reporting that Manafort 
"secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics."
That's quite a bold claim. It's also one that would flatly contradict Trump administration assertions that Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
Nope, never. Fake news, people!

And yet, there's a real humdinger of a problem. As early as June 2005, the AP article claims,
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.
Interviews with insiders along with business records obtained by the AP suggest that Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, Russia's youngest oligarch. Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in the beginning in 2006.
Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
AP calls Deripaska "a close Putin ally" but that should come with a bit of clarification. That's debatable since Putin once reportedly called Deripaska a "cockroach."
That doesn't rule out a working relationship. Putin is probably surrounded with people he would consider little better than bugs. It goes with the territory.

And Deripaska is very much part of the territory. Deripaska is married to Polina Yumashev, the daughter of former President Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff. Deripaska's father-in-law, in turn, married Yeltsin's daughter, which makes Deripaska a grandson of Yeltsin by marriage.
Putin Oleg Deripaska

 Deripaka is also the founder and owner of one of the largest Russian industrial groups Basic Element company, president of En+ Group and United Company RUSAL, the largest aluminum company in the world.
He is estimated to have a net worth of US$5.4 billion. (That's nearly two billion more than Trump.)

Sometimes it is hard to grasp the full scale involved. Deripaska owns a 100% stake in Eurosibenergo, the world’s largest private hydrogeneration company and the largest private power company in Russia.The company produces approximately 9% of all electricity in Russia.

How close Mr. Putin actually is with Mr. Deripaska is unclear. However, The Moscow Times reported in 2014 that whatever insect comparisons Putin might once have made, their relationship is much more on an equal footing.
Putin secretly awarded medals to billionaire businessmen and heads of state-owned companies who invested in the Sochi Winter Olympics. Deripaska just happened to be one of them.

Another clue that things are not "on the outs" between Putin and Deripaska? Unlike his fellow oligarchs, Deripaska says he has no interest in leaving Russia. Oligarchs on Putin's bad side tend not usually feel that way for some reason.  

Oleg DeripaskaOne thing we can be sure of , Manafort's choice of clients was clearly not based on reputation. An excerpt from Deripaska's biography states:
In late 2000, a competitor filed a civil suit for racketeering against Deripaska and his company in a New York court, including charges of bribery, judicial corruption and armed force. The judge dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds. Deripaska was barred from travel to the United States and from entrance to the Davos economic summit in Switzerland.
Last week, Sean Spicer, spokesman for the White House, made an attempt to distance Manafort from Trump. Spicer claimed- rather ridiculously- that Manafort played a "limited role" for "limited time" in the Trump campaign.
Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016 to lead the delegate operation on the floor of the Republican National Committee in Cleveland. Manafort was promoted in May to campaign chairman and chief strategist. And when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June, Manafort -- who butted heads with Lewandowski -- was widely seen as the campaign's top official.
In his own defense, Manafort maintains his innocence. It was all harmless.
"I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments. My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests."
However, the documents found by AP leave little room for doubt that Manafort misrepresented the role he played as a lobbyist for Russia. For instance, Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska
"We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,"
The effort, Manafort wrote, "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
The same cache of documents point to Manafort's proposals included "strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. 

This latest find adds more fuel to the fire that is raging in the Trump administration: the charges that Trump's (and his close staff's) ties with Russia cannot be written off as mere coincidences.

Yesterday, CNN broke yet another story on Manafort. Manafort is facing brand new allegations over his links to former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Sergii Leshchenko, a Ukrainian legislator, uncovered a trove of unverified documents which implied that Manafort tried to mask payments to him from Yanukovych's party.
Leshchenko showed CNN a six-page document that appears to bear Manafort's signature on a contract and invoice for 501 units of assorted computer equipment, yielding a payment of $750,000.
If nothing else, it begs the question how Donald Trump- who has often claimed to be the smartest man in America, could have unknowingly hired Manafort, given his shady history. That's an intriguing mystery.
Or perhaps, it's not a mystery at all. It's just business as usual.

Update: Rachel Maddow fills us in the whole story.

Rachel also discusses a case which we covered in detail (three parts!) two years ago. Follow this link and sit down to read a LeCarre story in real life.

The story of William Browder is a fascinating study of what's wrong in Russia today. The lawyer of the Browder lawyer and accountant who died while in custody- Sergei Magnitsky- recently fell from the fourth floor of a Moscow apartment building a day before he was set to testify.