Mar 07

The Russian Connection: Trump’s Oligarch Shadow

Last week MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reported on story about a private jet that belongs to a Russian oligarch shadowing Donald Trump. Who is this guy? He is Dmitry Rybolovlev an ultra wealthy fertilizer producer who lives in Monaco. He is closely connected to Trump through newly appointed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and a windfall sale of a uninhabited mansion that he bought from Trump to hide his assets during his contentious divorce.

In 2004, Trump bought a neoclassical mansion in Florida for $41 million, with the aim of touching it up and flipping it. As the housing market cooled down, it sat on the market for two years from 2006—until one of the world’s richest men, Dmitry Rybolovlev, snapped it up for an astonishing $95 million, as recession loomed in the summer of 2008. Its top known valuation since the sale was $81.8 million, according to Politico.

Rybolovlev spent almost a year in jail in the 1990s for the alleged murder of a business rival; he was eventually acquitted. He is not known for having close ties to the Kremlin. But he has, like Ross, invested in the Bank of Cyprus.

The Cyprus bank that Ross and Ryblovlev both invested in was caught laundering Russian money and loaned Trump more than $1 billion.

Now that all happened eleven years ago but what is curious is where Dmitry and The Donald have been showing up at the same time:

A jetliner belonging to the Russian oligarch who had previously bought a Florida mansion from Donald Trump shadowed the candidate’s plane to at least four US cities – three during the campaign and one since the inauguration. [..]

Dmitry Rybolovlev visited Las Vegas in late October, then tiny Concord and Charlotte, North Carolina five days before the election in November. His plane was also in Palm Beach on the February weekend when Trump held an impromptu national security meeting in front of Mar a Lago diners.

Rybolovlev once purchased a $95 million home from Trump in a deal that appears to have been brokered by Trump’s secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, in order to shelter assets from Rybolovlev’s wife during a nasty divorce. Rybolovlev is also a shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, where Ross was a vice president until his confirmation by the US Senate. The bank specializes in catering to Russian ‘flight capital.’

The matching flight patterns were the subject of an article published yesterday at DCReport.org, the new website of journalist and author David Cay Johnston. It crashed shortly after Rachel Maddow covered their story in her evening broadcast at MSNBC and remains unavailable at press time.

But Rybolevlev’s movements have actually been discussed in the blogosphere for months. In a little-read article at Huffington Post, computer scientist John Mashey wrote in February that the oligarch’s airplane “made at least 7 visits to New York City … spending several days or more on each visit, usually overlapping with Trump presence there, given his habit of flying back most nights during the campaign.”

It looks like Dmitry may have done it again over the weekend:

According to the flight tracking of his private plane, which uses the call sign M-Kate, Rybolovlev had been in Los Angeles for an extended period. But the day before Donald Trump was scheduled to head to Mar-a-Lago, the flight tracking says that Rybolovlev suddenly flew all the way across the continent – to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. That’s only a two hour flight away from West Palm Beach via commercial aircraft. And if he no longer felt he could fly directly into Florida on M-Kate without arousing suspicion, then St. Croix would be about as close as he could get before needing to change planes.

We know the connection, the question is why the secrecy? Is Dmitry Putin’s go between? This sounding more and more like an international spy novel. The problem is, it not.