Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Colorful Mr. Sater: A Few Notes on Trump's Former Business Partner

by Nomad

Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater in 2007 / Getty

Postponed Times Two

Soon after the Michael Cohen hearings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff publicly announced that a former Trump business partner would appear at a public hearing March 14 - later postponed to March 27. It was part of Congress' deeper inquiry into “Russian investment in Trump’s businesses and properties.”

Then came the filing of the Mueller Report apparently casting considerable doubt on allegations of Russian-Trump collusion during the election. The White House went on the offensive and  crowed about the administration had been "completely exonerated."
Within hours, a spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee announced:
“In light of the cursory letter from the Attorney General, and our need to understand Special Counsel Mueller’s areas of inquiry and evidence his office uncovered, we are working in parallel with other committees to bring in senior officials from the DOJ, FBI and SCO to ensure that our committee is fully and currently informed about the SCO’s investigation, including all counterintelligence information. With the focus on those efforts this week, we are postponing Mr. Sater’s open interview.
How long that Sater hearing will be delayed is anybody's guess. At the moment, the Democrats, the mainstream media (and all of the experts they relied upon) are all scrambling to salvage this situation. The promise of Sater's testimony now seems like a peek back into an alternate universe.

From Businessman to Mafia Thug

Sater's bio on Wikipedia (along with a few other sources) provides us with this Felix Sater's pre-Trump timeline:

1966 - born in Moscow into a Russian Jewish family.

1972 - family emigrated to Israel.

1974 - emigrates to US, settling in Brighton Beach, New York.

1970s - becomes a childhood friend of Michael Cohen.

1984 - attends Pace University but drops out

1985 - 1991 - works for several Wall Street investment firms

1993 - convicted of first-degree assault, after stabbing a commodities broker in the face with broken glass.

1998 - convicted of fraud in $40 million penny stock pump and dump scheme conducted by the Russian Mafia.

2000 - began working as a government informant for FBI and DIA, reportedly tracking jihadists and hunt for Bin Laden

2003 - becomes senior advisor/ managing director of Bayrock Group LLC.

Bayrock, a real estate conglomerate based out of New York, was founded by and is owned by Kazakh-born Tevfik Arif who has deep Russian ties going back to the Soviet era.

Even before the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end real estate, which offered an ideal vehicle to launder money from their criminal enterprises. This was right up real estate mogul Trump's alley.
According to the book, The Making of Donald Trump, when Trump Tower was completed, it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers- as in Russian oligarchs.

According to a Russian crime site, Bayrock had its built-in connections. Its founder, Arif had worked for 17 years in Russia's Ministry of Commerce and Trade. Bayrock has worked with the Trump Organization on several projects. Their most notable partnership included the $450 million, 46-story, 391-unit hotel condominium, Trump SoHo.

According to one report, Tevfik Arif obtained funding for the Trump SoHo project from a now-defunct Icelandic bank, FL Group.
FL Group was one of a number of Icelandic banks with surprisingly deep ties to the Russian billionaire class ascendant in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet system... The wealth of the post-USSR oligarch class was so directly tied to the Icelandic economy, in fact, that Russian president Vladimir Putin offered $5.4 billion to bail out Iceland’s banks during the global financial crisis, though the deal never went through.
Malcolm Nance, in his book The Plot to Hack America, reported that, in addition to obtaining funding, Arif also played a major role in matching Trump to Russian investors. 

The Engineer

For pretty obvious reasons, Trump has done his best to downplay his relationship with Sater. In a 2013 video deposition, he claimed under oath:
“If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like."
And when he was campaigning for president and Sater's name came up again, he claimed he was not familiar with Sater. either on a business or personal level.

When news of Cohen's plea broke late last year, Trump immediately claimed that Cohen’s negotiations with Russian officials and their proxies to arrange financing and permits for a Trump Tower in Moscow has never been a secret. Trump claimed, falsely, about his company’s covert effort was not covert at all.
“Everybody knew about it, it was written about in newspapers, it was a well-known project during the early part of ’16 and I guess even before that.”
A classic Trump lie.
The thing Trump left unsaid was that in the "before that" (2015) Sater, had boasted to Cohen in emails that, with his ties to Mr. Putin building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a breeze and that it would "get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. "
Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this."
A fair question would be: what did Sater have to gain if the Trump Tower project had gone through? The possible answer to that question came to us in court papers filed in Manhattan federal court by a Kazakhstan bank just this week.
BTA Bank and the City of Almaty, Kazakhstan, allege Felix Sater conspired with the son of the city’s former mayor [Ilyas Khrapunov] to use some of the $440 million to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow.
This calls for a bit more explanation. BTA bank was at the center of one of the world's biggest cases of financial fraud cases back in 2007. Up to $6 billion of cash was allegedly pocketed by BTA's former chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov
The lawsuit claims that Sater and Ilyas Khrapunov have investment connections to Ablyazov's stolen loot. In addition, it has been widely reported that the Khrapunov family had been charged in U.S. lawsuits with “cleaning” illicit money through the purchase and quick resale of U.S. luxury properties. Sater was, if the allegations are true, an integral part of those money-laundering schemes.

According to an article in Time, the bank also claims that Sater helped Khrapunov hide $3 million as down payments on three condominiums in that Trump SoHo deal that Sater helped develop as an executive at Bayrock.
The lawsuit said while there is no evidence that Trump engaged in impropriety or that he was aware of the shadiness of Sater and Khrapunov, Sater did arrange a meeting between Trump and  Khrapunov to discuss potential investments.

Double Agent

But then, just when you think you have Sater nailed as a species of con artist, Russian wheeler-dealer or Putin's secret agent, there comes the twist.
According to court records and U.S. officials, Sater also worked for a decade as a confidential informant for the FBI who were searching for dirt on the Russian organized crime. More astoundingly, Sater also revealed that he worked with U.S. intelligence agencies. 

In what sounds like a scenario straight out of the pages of a LeCarre novel,  Sater was recruited by top-level Russian military by virtue of his telecommunications company in Russia and his Wall Street contacts.
At the time the Russian intelligence was attempting to build a new system for information collection out of the Soviet wreckage. Sater's company sold transatlantic cable for voice and data transmission from the newly democratic countries of the former Soviet Union to AT&T.

As one source notes:
A bevy of former military officers and intelligence operatives went to work for businessmen—some legitimate, some with ties to organized crime, all looking for a piece of the new Russian economy.
Later, an officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency, operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow successfully flipped Sater to become an intelligence asset for the West. That work would involve attempting to buy antiaircraft missiles on the black market for the CIA, tracking Afghan jihadists and hunting for Bin Laden's satellite phone numbers.

(For more information on that aspect, click on this link.)
As dubious as all this might seem, this version of events has apparently been confirmed by anonymous US government officials.
Here's Sater discussing his espionage work for US intelligence agencies while trying not to discuss ongoing investigations. 

With so many stories to dish about secret shenanigans, Felix Sater's live testimony before the House Intelligence Committee should prove to be interesting.
That is, if anybody on the committee has the courage to demand a full airing of the information.