Jul 27

The Russian Connection: The Russian Mob

Update 16:24: This just dropped at TPM:

Felix Sater, who worked obtaining financing for Trump projects including the Trump SoHo, told TPM that the “peace plan” came up in the course of his attempts to broker an agreement to sell energy abroad from Ukraine’s nuclear power plants with Andrii Artemenko, at the time a Ukrainian parliamentarian. The plan was to refurbish dilapidated nuclear power plants in that country and then sell the power generated by them into Eastern Europe, using established commodities trading companies as a means of retroactively financing the deal, Sater said.

The business proposition would help break the Russian monopoly on energy, according to Sater. But Artemenko’s political proposal would have had Ukrainian voters decide whether to lease Crimea to Russia for 50 or 100 years—an idea encouraged by advisors to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and so offensive to his country’s government that Ukrainian prosecutors accused Artemenko of treasonous conspiring with Russia after the peace plan was first reported earlier this year.

It’s been widely reported that Sater and Artemenko met with Michael Cohen, who was then Trump’s personal lawyer and who has known Sater since he was a teenager, in January; under discussion was the peace plan, which would have paved a path for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Russia. Cohen has given conflicting statements about his involvement. Sater said he came to be involved in the scheme through Artemenko.

You remember Felix, the felon who stabbed a guy in the head with a broken Margarita glass and turned FBI/CIA informant after pleading guilty to major securities fraud scheme tied to the Genovese and Colombo crime families. Trump keeps such nice company.

Like the Italian mafia, the Russian mob of oligarchs, bankers and con-men is like a many headed hydra. Back in February when I wrote the first Russian Connection, I briefly mentioned Dymitro Firtash, a Ukrainian with closed ties to ousted Ukraine leader Viktor Yanukovych who made his fortune in gas and chemicals, as one of the cast of characters. He has been fighting extradition to the US from Austria to answer charges for allegedly conspiring to pay millions of dollars in bribes to Indian officials through US banks. He was also an associate of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort in a real estate project to redevelop the Drake Hotel site in Manhattan. Firtash transferred $25 million into an escrow account to fund a business venture with Manafort to buy the Drake Hotel for $850 million. The Drake deal was named in a 2014 racketeering lawsuit, which was later dismissed.

Firtash’s name has once again popped up in a Justice Department report leaked to NBC News. He has named as an associate of “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime.”

The declaration came in a 115-page filing as part of the government’s case against Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was once involved in a failed multimillion-dollar deal to buy New York’s Drake Hotel with Manafort, and an important player in the Ukrainian political party for which Manafort worked.

Firtash is being prosecuted for what federal prosecutors in Chicago say was his role in bribing Indian officials in order to get a lucrative mining deal to sell titanium to Boeing.

The government says that prosecuting Firtash and his co-defendant in the alleged scheme, Andras Knopp, “will disrupt this organized crime group and prevent it from further criminal acts within the United States.”

In 2008, according to court records, Manafort’s firm was involved with Firtash in a plan to redevelop the Drake Hotel for $850 million. Firtash’s company planned to invest more than $100 million, the records say.

One of the other partners working with Manafort on the deal was the former exclusive broker for Fred Trump’s properties, Brad Zackson. Fred Trump is the now-deceased father of Donald Trump.

Eventually, documents show, Firtash’s investment company transferred $25 million into escrow to further the project.

Also in 2008, according to a State Department cable posted by WikiLeaks, Firtash told U.S. Ambassador William Taylor that he got his start in business with the permission of one of Russia’s most well-known organized crime bosses, Semion Mogilevich. But Firtash claimed to Taylor that he was forced to deal with such people. [..]

Firtash was a major backer of Ukraine’s Party of Regions, the pro-Russian party for which Manafort worked for many years, according to the federal criminal complaint and another leaked State cable. Manafort’s firm made more than $17 million in gross revenue from the party in just two years, according to his recent Foreign Agent Registration Act filing. Another leaked cable said that Manafort’s job in 2006 was to give the Party of Regions an “extreme makeover” and “change its image from … a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party.”

Obviously, somebody in DOJ leaked this report. Who would in the DOJ be motivated to do that? Somebody “pissed” at Trump?

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow discussed this latest twist into the investigation of Paul Manfort and his role in the Russian interference of the 2016 election. She also reported on Trump’s latest nominee to head up the criminal division at the Justice Department, Brian Benczkowski, a former lawyer in the G.W. Bush Justice Department. Benczkowski, who led the Trump-Pence transition team at the Justice Department, has a longstanding relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In private practice, he represented Volkswagen against the DOJ charges of conspiring to dodge emissions standards and obstruction of justice. He lost that case. As recently as last year represented a Russian bank, Alfa Bank, the largest private commercial bank in Russia, whose computer server activity has been under scrutiny by FBI counterintelligence.