Author’s note: as I tried following up in late 2016 and early 2017 on some loose ends from my pre-election piece, more and more material kept appearing in not just one rabbit hole, not just a burrow, but a whole mega-warren on deep, interconnected tunnels that made the incrimination of Team Trump dramatically more intense. I was continually shocked and amazed at what I was finding; every time I thought I was ready to publish, still more and more incriminating material appeared. Little did I know I would need to write a whole other major piece after this one, one that expanded the scope of the below piece as dramatically as this below piece expanded on the previous one, perhaps even more so. And it is even more shocking to consider the overall lack of big-picture coverage in the media; yes, the devil is in the details, but to realize you’re in hell, you need to see the bigger-picture and how the details add up to hell, or else you just feel the warmth without noticing the hellfire.
EXCLUSIVE analysis of information not yet reported in the necessary context shows that Trump the businessman, at best, was an unwitting tool used for Russian (mafia and government-tied) money laundering and that Trump the president is, at best, an unwitting tool for Vladimir Putin; at worst, Trump the businessman was a partner in Russian (organized and governmental) crime and Trump the president is the biggest scandal in American history. Even if Trump is an extraordinarily stupid leader with spectacularly terrible judgment and he is totally innocent of knowing what was really going on, it has been clear for some time that key associates of Trump are far less likely to be innocent when it comes to complicity and collusion and therefore treason, with the latest reports only confirming fire when the smoke was already suffocating. However the fire finally comes to light and whatever his personal involvement, since the best case scenario is that Trump is easily duped and manipulated, Trump is clearly unfit to be president.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse March 28, 2017
Built on part on these earlier pieces from July 30/31 2016: Trump, Putin, Russia, DNC/Clinton Hack, & WikiLeaks: “There’s Something Going on” with Election 2016 & It’s Cyberwarfare & Maybe Worse
See major follow-up piece:July 27, 2017: Think You Know How Deep Trump-Russia Goes? Think Again: This Chart/Info Will Blow Your Mind
Also, see his related piece from December 7, 2016: The (First) Russo-American Cyberwar: How Obama Lost & Putin Won, Ensuring a Trump Victory
Trump, Tevfik Arif, & Felix Sater (of whom Trump testified under oath: “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like”) © Mark Holden/WireImage
AMMAN — This information concerns business dealings over the last decade and then some of Donald Trump, who at the time was hurting for investors and investment as Wall Street had all but shut down its loaning operations to him; this information involved criminal dirty money laundering coming from Russia, Russian organized crime, and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time Putin, his government, his close associates, and future associates of Trump—most notably Paul Manafort, his future Campaign Chairman—were involved in a massive Eurasian natural gas and criminal money laundering scheme worth billions of dollars that was part of Putin’s grand plan to control Ukraine. Updates also discuss context involving lobbying efforts, financing for Trump’s projects, and new or related developments that, in terms of Russian intrigue, incriminate even further both associates of Donald Trump and his successful presidential campaign (and, therefore, perhaps even his very presidency).
At best, Trump himself may have had no knowledge of this money laundering and these ties, but even this scenario highlights serious deficiencies in Trump’s judgment in terms of who he did business and politics with and how he did business and politics, pillars of his management style and of urgent interest to the American people as Trump manages the nation as president.
While there is no direct proof of Trump’s knowing involvement or collusion in any single aspect of these dealings when it comes to laundering money or tilting a U.S. election with Russian help, the sheer number of them over a period of years and his close association with a number of key players in these crimes, combined with his positions and public statements as a presidential candidate that are the most pro-Russian of any major presidential candidate or sitting president, create a picture that stinks to high heaven and makes it more likely—not less—that something nefarious is going on between Team Trump and Team Putin.
We may never know exactly what happened or exactly who is responsible or exactly what Trump was and wasn’t aware of, but, despite ludicrous claims to the contrary, this has nothing to do with the media or with irresponsible speculation; with so many questionable people, actions, and circumstances, the only sane and responsible course forward is to continue to vigorously demand more answers to the questions Trump and his associates have raised because of their actions and no one else’s, especially since their accounts of these events and people keep shifting as more and more evidence comes to light. After all, contrary to American civil criminal law, in the court of public opinion, the burden is on a sitting President with so many questionable connections to shed light on his dealings and to clear any hint of suspicion if he wants to earn the benefit of the doubt.
Time to go over what we do know, and what, when put together and given proper context, what that information makes clear and what it suggests.
In earlier work, I revealed significantly deeper relationships than previously understood from all other previous public reporting between associates of Donald Trump, his presidential campaign, and entities related to them on one hand and associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Russian government, and entities related to them on the other hand, relationships concerning efforts to advance the Putin’s interests, Russian government interests, and Russian organized crime interests.
Two figures in particular, former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, were involved in major geopolitical events and entities that convulsed Ukraine beginning in 2004 with the Orange Revolution and through a massive Eurasian gas and money laundering scheme designed to facilitate Russian dominance of Ukraine whose effects are still being directly felt up through today with the war in Ukraine.
Manafort and Page were linked by lines of power and influence connecting them through a short chain of major players and entities, and their presence and roles in the region overlapped in key areas for several years as they worked for Putin’s key allies to enact a plan designed to corrupt and dominate the Ukrainian state and to serve the purposes of Vladimir Putin’s anti-Western, anti-American agenda.
Page operated on one end as an advisor not only to the Russian energy giant Gazprom, whose pipes much of the gas involved in the scheme passed through on its way to Ukraine (a fact well-reported), but also to another major Russian company, a large domestic power company called RAO UES (which I was the first to report in the context of Putin’s gas scheme) that ended up using some of the Gazprom gas—after passing through Putin-allied middlemen—to power its Russian power plants in a circular scheme returning the fruits of the gas to their country of origin.
Manafort’s part—far more pivotal, central, and direct than Page’s—was working with pro-Russian, pro-Putin Ukrainian political elites (especially Ukrainian on-and-off-again President Viktor Yanukovych, which the Orange Revolution had exposed and deposed, and his Party of Regions, for whom Manafort was the top political advisor) and business elites (especially oligarch Dmitry Firtash) and with Russian political and business elites (especially oligarch Oleg Deripaska); Firtash was linked to Putin friend and Russian mafia godfather Semion Mogilevich, who worked together to launder billions to profit themselves, Yanukovych, and Yanukovych’s political allies so they, flush with cash, could be bribed to do Putin’s bidding, bribe others to do the same, outspend rivals, and thus, overall, dominate Ukraine’s political system.
Manafort himself worked with Firtash and Mogilevich to set up a massive money laundering scheme in 2008 involving a Manhattan development project that defrauded its partners of millions and for which all of them were later sued by the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose loss in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential race to Viktor Yanukovych and subsequent politically motivated imprisonment at the hands of his government were facilitated in part by the Manafort-led Manhattan scheme. Manafort also worked with Deripaska to help launder millions in order to hide/protect the personal fortunes of Yanukovych and his allies. For these efforts, Manafort was paid many millions. A partner of Manafort’s—Richard “Rick” Gates—was also involved with burnishing his efforts there and in efforts to lobby U.S. official to help Yanukovych’s comeback government and hurt the imprisoned Tymoshenko’s reputation.
Manafort, Gates, and Page ended up on Trump’s campaign, from which they are easily among the prime suspects responsible for Trump’s and his campaign’s unprecedented pro-Putin, pro-Russian positions that have made them the most pro-Russian (and pro-Putin) candidate and campaign in American history.
Additionally, but hardly of least concern, Mogilevich is the link from the realm of the first scandal set to another roughly concurrent scandal set that ties directly to Trump at the time it unfolded (a fact not reported elsewhere before my earlier piece): a series of at least three real estate deals—one in Manhattan, one in Fort Lauderdale, and one in Phoenix—all spearheaded by a company called Bayrock and that all ended in scandal and disaster. One of the point-men for Trump on all of these deals was the son of Mikhael Sheferovsky—AKA Michael Sater—an alleged Mogilevich capo (an allegation not reported by any major news outlet before my previous piece); this son, one Felix Sater, has a mysterious but clearly Russian mafia-linked violent criminal past of his own that may have even involved working for Mogilevich. Sater and his Bayrock business partner Tevfik Arif helped bring in significant financing and financiers who were either Russians/former Soviets with Putin and/or Soviet ties and/or people with shady and/or criminals pasts, often tied to money laundering, especially Tamir Sapir, Alexander Mashkevich and the now-notorious FL Group of Iceland.
Through Mogilevich and cores of illicit Russian funding and financiers, then, three international illegal money laundering schemes—the Ukrainian Eurasian laundering plot, its related Manhattan money laundering deal, and the series of Bayrock deals with Trump that all either involved, likely involved, or were likely set up for money laundering—are all linked together at roughly the same time for the first time here.
But in this case the devil—and the Trumps—are in the details.
Setting the Stage in Ukraine: Page & Manafort Arrive
To begin to understand the big picture, one has to go back to 2004.
In 2004, Carter Page moved to Moscow and set up Merrill Lynch’s branch there. His bio on the website of Global Energy Capital LLC, which Page founded and where he is currently a managing partner, states that “[h]e spent 3 years in Moscow where he was responsible for the opening of the Merrill office and was an advisor on key transactions for Gazprom, RAO UES and others.”
As Page was setting up shop in Moscow, Paul Manafort began running Victor Yanukovych’s political life.
Yanukovych is a notorious, scandal-ridden Ukrainian politician that first attracted global attention in the Ukrainian presidential election of 2004. Leonid Kuchma, the outgoing president during these elections, had appointed Victor Yanukovych as his prime minister late in 2002 and had backed him as a pro-Russian (and pro-Putin) candidate in the 2004 election, even to the point of trying to rig and steal the election for Yanukovych, which sparked the Orange Revolution that, in turn, led to the Ukrainian Supreme Court-ordered redo election that resulted in the defeat of Yanukovych and victory for the more pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, who had almost been killed by a mysterious poisoning incident (with poisoning hardly an unheard-of fate for opponents of the Kremlin and Putin).
Yanukovych had already developed a reputation for extreme corruption by this time, but that did not stop Paul Manafort from running Yanukovych’s campaign late in 2004 for the redo election. Despite the loss, Manafort stuck around and was hired to take charge of both rehabilitating the disgraced Yanukovych and strategizing for his political party, the Party of Regions, helping them helping them over the ensuing years to gain power at the expense of Ukraine’s pro-U.S., pro-Western, post-Orange Revolution government.
This type of work was hardly out of the ordinary for Manafort, as his client list includes dictators like the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (then Zaire’s) Mobutu Sese Seko, the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Somalia’s Siad Barre, Sani Abacha of Nigeria, and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi; other clients include Jonas Savimbi (the leader of the Angolan human-rights-abusing rebel guerilla group UNITA), and the Kashmiri American Council (a front for the terrorist-dealing Pakistani government intelligence service ISI that had helped create the Taliban, among other nefarious activities).
Interestingly enough, the Associated Press (AP) just a few days ago revealed a bombshell of a story in which it was revealed that Manafort proposed (through a formal memo, no less) a massive lobbying effort designed to discreetly help promote Putin, the Russian government, and their agenda while undermining their critics, with efforts concentrated in the United States, Europe, and former-Soviet republics and targeting government officials, political groups, the news media and journalists, and businesses by acting to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.”
The proposal was pitched to Oleg Deripaska in 2005, a fabulously wealthy Russian oligarch with ties to Russian organized crime who has a very close, generally good—if not always great—relationship with Putin and who, as I noted before, was then working with Manafort to promote Russian interests in Montenegro in a campaign designed to get Montenegro to secede from its union with Serbia and allow greater Russian (and Deripaskan) influence with that result (Montenegro would secede anyway in 2006 but not under Russian auspices, and it is quite telling that only a few months ago a Russian plot to overthrow Montenegro’s government and assassinate its prime minister, who is now trying to join NATO, was exposed and foiled).
Under the terms Manafort proposed, a contract was agreed upon in 2006 and lasted until at least 2009, one in which Manafort was paid $10 million a year and Manfort used a Delaware shell company—LOAV Ltd.—of his to conduct official business and transactions.
AP obtained numerous documents, memos, and wire transfer records to corroborate its story.
Later, as I also wrote about before, Deripaska and Manafort had a dramatic falling out c. 2014 that resulted in a Cayman Islands court battle over $19 million related to their efforts to launder money for Yanukovych and his allies, but not before the aforementioned working relationship was well established. The recent AP story broke just hours before CNN reported that FBI officials have information describing how “associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.,” and AP soon after reported that U.S. Treasury officials are investigating Manafort’s offshore financial dealings.
If these interactions seem dramatic, Manafort’s machinations involving Ukraine are even more so.
Criminal Scheme #1: Part I: Manafort & Putin Allies Oversee Flooding of Ukraine with Dirty Gas Money to Establish Russian Dominance
Court documents allege that Manafort first became acquainted with Yanukovych in 2003, a time when he also began cozying up to some of Ukraine’s and Russia’s most powerful oligarchs, at least ones allied with Yanukovych and Putin. Throughout the rest of the decade, Manafort entered into a variety of shady business deals with some of these oligarchs and others, deals that generally seemed to have some ulterior motive in advancing Putin’s agenda in the background. In particular, around the same time he began interacting with Yanukovych, Manafort befriended Ukrainian oligarch, natural gas businessman, and Putin ally Dmitry (Dmytro) Firtash, according to court documents. Firtash, featured in the Panama Papers revelations, had been the main middleman bringing in both Russian and Central Asian natural gas to Ukraine since 2002 and was linked to the essential head, or “boss of bosses”, of the Russian mafia, Semion Mogilevich, also a friend of Putin’s and on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list from 2009-2015.
A Swiss-registered company called RosUkrEnergo (RUE) was created in mid-2004 by the outgoing pro-Russian Ukrainian President Kuchma and the not-going-anywhere Putin to replace the company represented by Firtash that was handling Ukraine’s Russian-related natural gas imports. The imports ostensibly came from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan but through shady deals that seemed mostly orchestrated and subsidized by Gazprom, the Russian gas giant company then dominated, and soon to be majority-owned, by the Russian Government and close Putin allies; additionally, the gas traveled through pipes wholly owned by Gazprom that went mostly through Russian territory. But not much changed with RUE in that Firtash ended up owning 45% of the new company, a stake that is partially a front for Mogilevich to control the company. A total of 50% of RUE was owned by Gazprom, making clear the incestuous nature of the entire arrangement.
But there was a bigger picture, a greater purpose, to all these machinations than just Gazprom dominance of the region’s gas industry, and the specifics of the deal make the following scheme quite easy to understand: Gazprom would basically sell billions of dollars of gas to Firtash through RUE at a steal of a price; Firtash would then sell billions of dollars of the gas at hiked-up prices to Ukraine; the profits would then be used to fund pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine with billions of dollars; and, finally, bankers that were close Putin allies would open up lines of credit for Firtash in the billions of dollars so that Firtash could buy key Ukrainian assets and multiply his influence even further.
It’s no coincidence that this scam came into being not long after Yanukovych’s defeat at the hands of a more pro-Western candidate and as that candidate-turned-president’s relatively pro-Western government was trying to limit Russian influence in Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, some of the disputes between Ukraine and Russia involved fighting over gas deals. This all culminated in a January, 2006, shut-off of Russia’s gas flow into Ukraine and therefore into much of Europe as well, which received the vast majority of its gas from pipes passing through Ukrainian territory.
Soon after the shutoff, a new arrangement was made: RUE would now be the exclusive and direct supplier of all natural gas coming from Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan) and Russia, and, along with Gazprom and Gazexport (Gazprom’s export subsidiary selling non-Russian produced gas), it would sell to the Ukrainian market to all of its industrial customers through a joint venture with Naftogaz Ukrainy, Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, the joint venture being called UkrGazEnergo (or UkrGaz-Energo), and would sell gas to Naftogaz to distribute among Ukrainian households and municipalities.
But there was another key factor in the deal: RAO UES—Russia’s major and majority-state-owned power company—would buy and import Ukrainian-generated electricity into European Russia, with the Ukrainian government providing that energy from the gas that RUE was being paid by Ukraine to import from Turkmenistan into Ukraine that had been purchased by the joint-venture UkrGazEnergo to sell within Ukraine; the government of Ukraine would deliver the electricity to RAO in exchange for the gas needed to generate it, with RUE (or another Firtash firm) apparently acting as the intermediary, buying the gas from UkrGazEnergo; that gas would then be delivered to Ukrainian power plants, which would produce the electricity that would then be sold to RAO to sell in Russia. One of the reasons for this confusing complexity is that at each stage along the way there was the possibility of marking up or down the price when it suited the purposes of those who set up the system in the first place.
Naturally, this overall deal was so unpopular with Ukrainians—who felt cheated at getting sold gas at hiked-up prices and allowing entities with little (or no?) supervision in a process that presented opportunities for massive corruption—that Ukraine’s parliament voted against the deal, albeit it ended up being a nonbinding vote and the agreement went ahead anyway. This arrangement would last from 2006 through early 2009, when another dispute derailed it.
A Page-Manafort Connection Through Gazprom, RAO UES, Firtash, & Mogilevich?
It is important here to note that Carter Page’s tenure at Merrill Lynch was from 2004-2007; the only two companies his aforementioned current bio mentions in relation to this tenure are Gazprom and RAO EUS, claiming that he was an advisor on “key transactions” of theirs; it is hard to imagine transactions more “key” than those involving gas being transported from Central Asia and Russia to Ukraine and Europe and being sold to both, than the creation of RUE, than RAO’s subsequent deal with Ukraine; if Page is telling the truth about his role, it is virtually inconceivable—considering that he advised both Gazprom and RAO and the way they would be tied together starting in 2006—that he would not be aware of what was going on.
After all, as someone with a PhD and an MBA and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Page would certainly have been aware of the geopolitics of these deals and that they went against American interests at a time when Ukraine was trying to align itself with America and Europe and thus escape the stranglehold of the Kremlin.
However, Julia Ioffe’s profile of Page raises important questions about whether Page is exaggerating his role, and is filled with anecdotes from people knowledgeable about these types of deals who had never heard of Page and people who did know (of) him suggesting he was actually a nobody (though the veracity of their claims are unverifiable as well, some perhaps being of the sour-grapes variety, others perhaps not wanting information on him to get out and acting to throw the curious off his trail, others saying nothing to confirm that they had actually worked closely or directly alongside Page); maybe Page himself deliberately kept a low profile, staying under the radar purposefully. Without a more formal investigation, it is impossible to know what the full picture is; even if Page exaggerated his role, if he was still talking to people at both Gazprom and RAO at this time—even if his discussions interactions may have been more informal than formal (he was apparently often tasked with meeting and greeting, setting up meetings and seeing them through, presenting opportunities for many informal conversations and meetings)—it is certainly a realistic possibility that he still knew a lot and performed an advisory role, one that was perhaps unknown by his colleagues at Merrill.
Finally (and I raised this possibility last July), if he knew what was going on and was involved, there is certainly a possibility of interest being piqued if he came to know that another American in Manafort was involved on the other side of these deals, with the same being able to be said of Manafort, and that interest on either side could have led to either one making contact with the other, contact that may have led to some sort of coordination.
This is admittedly speculative, but a real possibility nonetheless, and is certainly not one bit less speculative than an enormous portion of the mainstream media discussion and reporting on both the e-mail/server situation with Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. The question of about a possible Manafort and Page link, and the fact that they were involved on one level or another in the massive Eurasian gas scheme, deserve more official scrutiny and need to be answered through a formal investigation because it is clear that those in question have no intention of sharing the truth.
Criminal Scheme #1: Part II: Manafort & Putin Allies Use Dirty Gas Money to Prep Yanukovych Comeback
As for the dispute that derailed the 2006 gas deal, the foundations were laid with the popularly unpopular 2006 deal itself.
A former prime minister and gas tycoon in her own right and a co-leader of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, rose to become prime minister again in December 2007, and it was clear that she was on a mission to drive out Russian domination of the whole gas system and push against Russian influence in Ukraine overall: this meant taking on Firtash, Mogilevich and the Russian mafia, and RUE.
The first step was to get rid of UkrGazEnergo, run by RUE and Naftogaz, but then Tymoshenko set her sights on taking RUE and Firtash (and thus Mogilevich and the mafia) out of the loop, an admittedly more ambitious step, which lead to a series of hostile exchanges between Russia and Ukraine. But in October of 2008, Tymoshenko finally worked out a deal with Putin to remove RUE from Ukrainian gas deals, but they were subsequently unable to agree on pricing, leading to another shutdown on the part of Russia of gas going into Ukraine, and by extension, most of Europe, for almost three weeks in January. But on January 19th, a long-term, ten-year agreement was reached, and only a few days later normal flows were restored, much to the relief of not only Ukraine, but also Europe, as it was the middle of winter; additionally, the parties agreed to take future disputes to arbitration in an international commercial dispute court in Stockholm, Sweden.
If it seemed the players of Team Putin gave up too easily on having RUE taken out of the game, they had other plans in motion to counter Tymoshenko’s effort to limit Russian influence in Ukrainian politics…
Criminal Scheme #2: Manafort Key Agent in Laundering Dirty Gas Money to U.S. During Crackdown
Even before Putin agreed to let Tymoshenko kill RUE, his agents—including Firtash, Mogilevich, and Yanukovych (the latter with Manafort acting as his right-hand man)—were already putting in place plans to go around and escape her efforts; some of these involved setting up a fake U.S. investment fund that was initially capitalized with $100 million; Firtash (acting on behalf of himself and Mogilevich) paid Manafort and his people—including Rick Gates, (who had joined Manafort’s efforts as part of his consulting firm in 2006)—$1.5 million to handle the money. The main purpose of said fund was to act as a conduit to launder money from the Firtash/Mogilevich gas dealings that were being scrutinized by the Tymoshenko government.
Among the various fraudulent deals they went into was one in 2008 for $895 million for the site of the famous Drake Hotel on Park Avenue in New York, with Firtash wiring $25 million towards the project to make it look legitimate, and a further $25 million was later laundered through the project, but rather than truly move forward and apply the money to the project, the Drake property was never actually purchased: the deal, like their other deals, never closed and eventually fell through after many third parties had spent a lot of time and money trying to close it out and after many employees were not paid, but not before Manafort, Firtash, Mogilevich, Yanukovych, and their allies were able to keep substantial funds away from the prying eyes of Tymoshenko and Ukrainian authorities during crucial periods of her time as prime minister (remember this model, it will return…).
Unfortunately for Firtash, Mogilevich, and their backers, unlike money, natural gas is not something that can be laundered: in early 2009, Tymoshenko orchestrated a seizure by Ukraine’s own state-run Naftogaz—a seizure allowed under the agreement she made with Putin—of 11 billion cubic meters of gas from RUE’s gas stockpiles, a quantity worth billions of dollars at the time; Timoshenko had effectively cut out the middlemen who had been hiking up prices and using those profits to poison and pollute Ukrainian politics for Putin’s plans.
Playing a longer-term game, Firtash initiated a lengthy arbitration process through Stockholm…
Other planted crops were already bearing fruit: unfortunately for Tymoshenko, though she had risen to be Prime Minister late in 2007, in that election and even in the prior 2006 parliamentary elections, Manafort had groomed Yanukovych’s Party of Regions into a party that campaigned using modern, highly effective techniques and tactics; in both elections, the Party of Regions ended up having the most seats in parliament of any single party by significant margins, but ended up being in the opposition because of alliances made between Tymoshenko’s bloc and other parties. Of course, Manafort and The Party of Regions were operating with a gigantic advantage: the enormous amount of money flowing from the massive Eurasian gas scam. All this meant that Yanukovych’s opposition was certainly within striking distance of taking over the government, and that even by 2006 Manafort and the gas scheme had already achieved great success in rehabilitating Yanukovych and his party and in making them together a smoother political machine with more power and influence.
The distance would close, and that strike would happen, in 2010.
Uniting Criminal Schemes #1 and #2: the Downfall of Tymoshenko & Setting the Stage for War
Early in 2010, Yanukovych won the presidential race (with a lot of money from Firtash, who had made over $3 billion from these crooked gas deals), defeating Tymoshenko in a runoff election, the culmination of over five years of work with Manafort and the whole gas scheme crew. Not long after, Tymoshenko lost her position as prime minister in a vote of no-confidence. Meanwhile, in the wake of his victory, Yanukovych worked to undo many of the Orange Revolution reforms, curbing democratic freedoms in areas ranging from the courts to the press. Most notably, in December, 2010, Tymoshenko was retroactively charged with abusing her power during her recent stint as prime minister, and, after a widely condemned(including by the U.S.) politically-motivated show trial, was sentenced to prison in October 2011.
Manafort and Gates actually lobbied American lawmakers on behalf of Yanukovych’s government from 2012-2014, defending the imprisonment of Tymoshenko and trying to discredit her, as well as trying to improve the image of their client and his government; they did this without disclosing their lobbying activities as required by U.S. law. Incidentally, in these efforts—paid in part by Rinat Akhmetov: Ukraine’s wealthiest man for the last eight years, one of Yanukovych’s main patrons, and a client of Manafort’s since Manafort’s earliest days in Ukraine and for whom Manafort helped arrange a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney—they utilized the services of two Washington, DC, lobbying firms, including Podesta Group Inc., run by the brother of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign Chairman and later victim of Russian-government hacking and WikiLeaks disclosures (the day after this information was made public in mid-August, 2016, Manafort resigned from his role as the Campaign Chairman of the Trump campaign during a week in which his role had already been eclipsed by the addition of Kellyanne Conway and extreme-right-wing Breitbart News’s Stephen Bannon to run the Trump campaign; as for Gates, it was unclear at the time if he had stayed on board or left and the Trump campaign was refusing to clarify the matter).
Lobbying efforts throughout this period for this circle were also hardly limited to Manafort and Gates, with those efforts for years having for years been tied to prominent Republicans in the United States.
Perhaps most prominent among the lobbyists, former Senator and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole—for whom Manafort had been a strategist—was paid over half a million to lobby for Deripaska, who was then, and is still, denied a U.S. visa for his links to the Russian mafia.
Yuri Boyko, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who is a close Yanukovych ally, former minister of several energy related sections of Ukraine’s government, and was heavily involved in setting up the Eurasian gas scheme, paid nearly $100,000 to a Washington lobbyist to meet with top Republicans.
Barbour Griffith & Rogers, co-founded by the former Republican Governor of Mississippi and major GOP insider/activist Haley Barbour, was paid over $800,000 for lobbying efforts by a lawyer who “structured” the legal aspects of the Eurasian gas scheme.
Though he had been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Mogilevich strangely enough has been able to retain the lawyerly services of Republican William Sessions, who was the FBI director from 1987-1993, to lobby on Mogilevich’s behalf for deals with the U.S. government to clear his charges; those talks, which failed, were arranged by Neil Livingstone, a prominent consultant whose firm, GlobalOptions, serviced many Russians and former-Soviet-republic-businessmen; GlobalOptions was introduced by Barbour Griffith & Rogers to a shell company called Highrock Holding(s) used by none other than Firtash as a prominent vehicle for his money laundering in the Eurasian gas scheme; Highrock paid GlobalOptions for at least two projects, one a mysterious “special operation” as named in a subsequent lawsuit for an unnamed member of the Ukrainian government. And just to give one example of Firtash’s European outreach, Firtash’ relationship with several Conservative MPs in the UK may prompt an official investigation.
For his part in engineering Yanukovych’s comeback and Tymoshenko’s downfall, Firtash also got some $3 billion in gas assets returned to him that had been seized by Tymoshenko’s government as a result of proceedings at the arbitration court in Sweden, as once Yanukovych was in power, Ukraine and Firtash essentially became the same party in the case, with Ukraine’s lawyers dropping opposition to Firtash’s attempts to recover the seized gas, now only too happy to see $3 billion in gas go from the ownership of the Ukrainian people back to Firtash; it was clear in this matter that the Yanukovych government was willing to fight for the interests of Putin and Firtash, but not its own people; without Ukraine’s representatives making any case whatsoever, the court simply sided with Firtash in June of 2010.
Firtash also got his aforementioned credit lines from Putin’s bankers not long after Yanukovych’s victory, specifically some $11 billion in credit from a consortium of banks arranged by Gazprombank, the flagship banking arm of Gazprom (the corruption is so blatant that the companies apparently do not care that their names announce it to the whole world); Gazprombank would not disclose which other banks were part of this arrangement, but by itself it lent him $2.2 billion, the largest possible amount under Russian law and almost one-quarter of the bank’s total capital, making him Gazprombank’s single largest individual borrower; Firtash used this cash to expand his holdings (especially in the chemical and fertilizer industries) and power in Ukraine, all while staying close to Yanukovych. These moves actually made him the fifth-biggest fertilizer maker in Europe and helped him establish relationships with politicians throughout Europe; when reporters asked him where all the money came from to enable him to do all this, he coyly replied: “It’s a secret.” From January 2011 on, Firtash was again buying Gazprom gas at a discount through shady international front companies, then selling that gas back at a far higher price to his new assets, to the tune of billions in questionable profits to his shell companies, in something of a return to the old system before Tymoshenko had rocked the boat.
But the spirited Tymoshenko was not content to only be on defense during this period; during her trial and from prison, she filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Manhattan in April 2011; in it she names Firtash, Manafort, Mogilevich, Yanukovych, and their front companies as defendants, including initially RUE (but RUE was switched out to name the front companies that controlled it for Firtash and Mogilevich in later amended complaints); the suit accused them of setting up a series of racketeering, fraud, and money laundering enterprises in the U.S. designed to keep dirty gas money away from Ukrainian authorities when she was prime minister and that such activities resulted in material harm for her since they contributed to the downfall of her government and her unjust trial and imprisonment. After being rejected several times, a fourth and final version of the suit was rejected in September, 2015; while not ruling out criminal wrongdoing on the part of the defendants, the judge ruled that the higher-than-average standards for convictions under the RICO statute were not met; still, in the longer ruling rejecting the third complaint, it was noted that “the Court accepts as true the allegation that some of the money that passed through the U.S. Enterprise was ‘funneled back to Ukraine’ — albeit by unidentified actors — and somehow used as ‘financing’ for Tymoshenko’s ‘persecution.’”
Yes, after the 2010 election, everything was going perfectly in regards to Ukraine for Putin, Yanukovych, Manafort, Gates, Firtash, Mogilevich, and their teams, but, as in 2004, there was one thing that they did not plan well for, and it was the same thing that confounded Soviet leaders for decades and led to the downfall of the USSR: the people had other ideas.
Many Ukrainians—especially younger ones—realized what was happening to their country, and were hopeful of better opportunities and a better future by having Ukraine orient itself more to the West, towards Europe and the U.S. and less corruption. Yanukovych sought to placate these desires by courting a major trade deal with the EU.
But in November 2013, protests erupted over Yanukovych’s about-face backing out of this long-desired EU trade deal in the face of a Russian counteroffer. In particular, protests erupted in a main square (the Maidan Square) in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, protests that did not go away and came to be known as the Euromaidan protests. After months of a tense situation, security forces shot and killed dozens of protesters on February 20th, 2014; in response to the government’s use of violence, the protests swelled exponentially, fueled by mass public outrage at the bloodshed, and by the end of February 22nd, the Ukrainian parliament had voted Yanukovych out of office, security forces had melted away in Kiev, protesters had taken over the capital, Tymoshenko was freed from prison (in a wheelchair, recovering from what she said was physical abuse and ill-treatment at the hands of her guards and authorities), and Yanukovych has fled the city; soon, he would flee the country to Russia with the help of none other than Putin; today, he is still wanted by Ukrainian authorities for the deaths of the protesters, but he hopes to one day return to Ukraine again as president, which he still contends he is legally.
Putin had overplayed his hand: his royal straight flush of an ace of natural gas, a king in Yanukovych, a queen in Firtash, a jack in Mogilevich, and a 10 in Manafort did not anticipate a wild-card joker in the form of Yanukovych’s allies fleeing him; that joker lined up with four 2s consisting of many of the Ukrainian people to make five of a kind, the people beating Putin’s flush. But Putin had invested a lot into Ukraine over many years, into controlling its politics and energy sector through gas, Yanukovych, Mogilevich, Firtash, and Manafort: faced with his whole house of cards collapsing in on itself in the face of popular resistance, and with a government hostile to him and his intentions once again in place after a decade of effort designed to restore and maintain Russian hegemony over Ukraine, Putin went to Plan B: the dismemberment of Ukraine and war.
Firtash has fled Ukraine as well, and is also wanted by U.S. authorities for a separate racketeering and bribery scheme; he was living in a sort of exile in Austria, but just late last month, a U.S. extradition request based on bribery and corruption charges in a Chicago-based case was approved in Austrian court (the ruling is almost unappealable), though in a bizarre twist he was arrested mere minutes after the ruling by Austrian authorities on a Spanish warrant related to charges of money laundering and organized crime.
In light of ties to Manafort and the related implications for Trump’s presidency, as well as the scandals and ensuing war in Ukraine, his relationship with the Russian mafia, and importance to Putin, this could be one of the most sensational and important internationally focused trials in many years. And, not to be macabre, but it is highly doubtful that either Putin or the Russian mafia will give Firtash the chance to prove his loyalty or show his disloyalty, as powerful men willing to orchestrate murder for far less have little reason to allow him to be tried and risk so much, especially as they have demonstrated a willingness to act through any means necessary to silence individuals who put them at risk.
In the end, Manafort made millions and Gates profited too to the tune of who knows how much off the activities mentioned here (e.g., hand-written records from the office of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions show the Party had set aside payments totaling $12.7 million specifically for Manafort from 2007-2012 alone; Gates was also involved with Manafort in the $19 million Cayman Islands fiasco with Deripaska, who accused both of the other two of illegally bailing out on him the fate of that $19 million is still unknown; all this is totally apart from the newly-revealed annual $10 million Manafort got from his Deripaska-brokered deal), profiting to an obscene degree all while helping to weaken and corrupt Ukraine’s democracy, assisting massively crooked international energy deals, undermining U.S. interests, helping Putin and his allies profit enormously, and helping Russia dominate Ukraine. The culmination of their work for over a decade can be seen in the first war on European soil in two decades. And it was this resume which earned them spots on Trump’s campaign as he sought to become the leader of the free world and succeeded. For some time it even seemed Manafort had more influence on Trump than anyone whose last name was not Trump.
Manafort and Gates have plenty of other questionable dealings, including one particularly scandalous piece of drama with a Russian oligarch featured in the Panama papers revelations and close to Putin. There are at least two U.S. government inquiries into Manafort and one into Page, and Trump associate and Republican political operative Roger Stone is being investigated by the FBI for his ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, who have questionable ties to Russia and who the whole world knows is receiving information stolen by Russian government hacks related to Clinton, Podesta, and the Democratic party. There are also other Trump campaign staff and/or associates with questionable ties to Russia: Michael Caputo and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and one American ex-spy alleges a plot by the Kremlin to co-opt Trump against the backdrop of all this.
Less is known about Gates and his role, but after he was brought onto the Trump Campaign by Manafort), he was important enough to be trusted with the vetting of Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech—Donald Trump’s wife’s introduction to the nation as a whole—a task at which he famously failed, and failed miserably. It was not clear what the status of Gates was once Manafort resigned, but recent reporting has shown that kept a low profile after and acted a link between the campaign and the RNC; once Trump won, he was apparently planned Trump’s inauguration, and since then he was shipped off to a pro-Trump and strangely quiet-ish nonprofit called America First Priorities (which also landed Trump All Star Katrina Pierson), where he has stayed until this the new reporting on Manafort, after which it seems he was deemed too much of a liability and was nudged out just days ago.
As for Page, it still isn’t even clear who brought him into the Trump Campaign (Julia Ioffe’s account of Page, the most exhaustive yet, illustrates how multiple answers have been given and none have been confirmed, but people sure seem angry about being asked about him); what is known (and it isn’t much) is that he was one of only five foreign policy advisors Trump could actually name in a Washington Post interview from a year ago, suggesting his influence on Trump could be far from insignificant. As his relationships with important Russians are being looked into by the U.S. government, to simply dismiss him as being a charade would be premature, indeed—especially in light of information on Page apparently meeting with Russian officials coming out of the as of yet only partly-substantiated dossier from an ex-MI6 intelligence officer—despite questions of how serious his role was at Merrill and how deep his ties to Gazprom and RAO UES actually were. What is certain is that questions about his role remain, questions which need to be answered, especially in light of his incredibly anti-American, pro-Russian views that could just as easily be coming from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov or a “pundit” on RT and his continued investment in Gazprom.
Direct Trump Involvement
Trump might have enough to worry about were it just for what has been described above; still, while both of the previous schemes are relevant to Trump insofar as three future Trump Campaign staff—Page, Gates, one of the most important and powerful people in his entire presidential run: Manafort—were involved in various ways in the just-outlined past criminal schemes and/or in the future acted to further the interests of Putin and his Russian government, now we get into territory where Trump himself was directly involved, and in not just one, but roughly a half-dozen situations linked to Russian organized crime.
A piece of context that is important to note for all of the following cases is that the setting for the following suspicious deals was a Donald Trump and a Trump Organization that was reeling financially.
By the mid-2000s Trump was having a hard time finding investors: he had just declared bankruptcy in 2004 for one of his major casino businesses to the tune of $1.8 billion in debt (and would declare another business bankruptcy in 2009, his fifth and sixth overall business bankruptcies, respectively) and all major Wall Street lenders—whose relationships with Trump had been souring for years—stopped offering Trump loans, in part because of his frustrating and suspicious business practices.
That is, all but one: Deutsche Bank, yet even that relationship “frayed” starting in 2008 because of Trump’s untrustworthiness as a business partner (Deutsche itself would later become involved in major money laundering scandals involving Russia, but more on that later).
So Trump was clearly hurting for investment after that 2004 bankruptcy, and yet, somehow, by 2008, Donald Trump Jr. was able to publicly remark that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and that “we [i.e., the Trump Organization] see a lot of money pouring in from Russia;” yes, this was a time when Trump was aggressively courting Russian business (it should now be obvious why Trump has not released his taxes and why that information could, and likely will be, so crucial to the investigations into his Russia ties and to the public’s evaluation of Trump).
In fact, a report from Reuters from less than two weeks ago noted how in just seven Trump luxury towers in southern Florida, 63 Russian passport/address-holders have bought $98.4 million in property; they include “politically connected businessmen and other elites,” though “none of the buyers appear to be from Putin’s inner circle;” one buyer, Alexander Yuzvik, was senior at Spetstroi, a Russian state-owned company that has done construction for Russian military and intelligence, including the G.R.U. and the F.S.B. intelligence agencies that were heavily involved the 2016 American election hackings, with Yuzvik only stepping down in March 2016, after the hacking operations had begun, though as of now, no evidence has surfaced linking him to these operations.
The above figures may even be a conservative estimate: at least 703 out of 2,044 of the units in the seven towers were owned by limited liability corporations (LLCs), often designed to mask their owners’ identities; many owners’ nationalities could not be identified; and Russian-Americans without a Russian passport/address were not included.
At the same time the aforementioned Eurasian gas and Manafort-led New York real estate dual schemes were taking place, and while Donald Trump was losing investors in the U.S., Trump was cultivating Russian/former-Soviet business relationships. One of his point men in these efforts was Felix Sater, the son of an alleged mob captain of Mogilevich’s Russian mafia operation; the offices of Bayrock, Sater’s real estate company where he was Chief Operating Officer and eventually the dominant force within, were even in Trump Tower itself.
Sater, a man with a violent, criminal, mafia-rife past of his own, had himself previously been caught up in an elaborate 1990s $41 million stock fraud scheme on Wall Street that had used the Russian mob to launder money at a time, it should be noted, when Mogilevich was active in large-scale stock fraud and laundering in North America. Sater ended up assisting U.S. authorities for years, even, apparently, on CIA-related national security issues involving missile terrorism-related purchases in either Afghanistan or Russia, and the details on all this remain something of mystery: his operations with the government remain secret and the juiciest details of the Wall Street case were sealed and remain so despite repeated efforts to unseal them (they were sealed at the time, interestingly enough, by then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, who just stepped down as U.S. Attorney General the day Trump was inaugurated president).
As a result, there is also virtually no information on the specifics of the Russian mafia’s activities in Sater’s Wall Street scam, but there is a reasonably good chance or even higher that Mogilevich was running the Russian mob’s involvement in it, or was at least involved, since he was actively pursuing similar schemes in the U.S. at the time, possibly had a connection to his alleged old capo in Sater, and since Mogilevich was already such a major figure in the Russian mob at this point, keeping in mind that hierarchy matters quite a bit in organized crime; in fact, it is far less likely that the Russian mafia would be involved without Mogilevich when considering the points just mentioned.
Now, that last point should not be taken lightly, considering that, just a few years later, Mogilevich was a primary actor in laundering billions of dollars on behalf of Firtash, Manafort, Yanukovych, and Putin; is it more or less likely that he would turn to an old connection—one with experience laundering money who had come to have the favor of the U.S. government, no less—to help with the laundering? Even without the Wall Street capers, Sater would have been an attractive candidate based on (possible) family ties alone, as would his nominal entry into real estate, as the real estate market in the U.S.has been an ideal avenue for money laundering for some time and is a top concern of U.S. officials, in part due to lax state, local, and federal laws.
Sater began working with Trump in in the early 2000s, trying to help him land real estate deals in Moscow, even showing Ivanka and Donald Jr. around the city in 2006 and introducing the Trumps to influential Russians. None of these potential Moscow deals ever went through…
Criminal Scheme #3: The Trump/Sater/Bayrock Deals
But a number of deals in the United States between Trump and Bayrock produced a far more interesting—and incriminating—history.
Perhap’s Sater’s most famous partnership with Trump was an infamous deal to develop a SoHo property in Manhattan. The deal was concocted in 2006 by Trump, Sater, and two other partners from former Soviet states: one was Bayrock chairman Tevfik Arif, an ex-Soviet government official from Kazakhstan who’s rise to fortune is at least somewhat questionable; the other was Tamir Sapir from Georgia, who had decades ago established ties to numerous important Soviet officials after immigrating to the U.S., who may have very well been (once) part of—or even come to the U.S. secretly working for—the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (at whose academy he had apparently studied), whose source of his wealth had long been subject to rumor-fueled suspicion, who introduced Trump to Bayrock, and whose former business partner had pled guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges spanning 13 years with the Gambino crime family (incidentally or not, at the time of the SoHo deal, it seems Sapir was not exactly mentally fit).
It turns out that the SoHo deal had a significant portion of its Sater-and-Arif facilitated financing—some $50 million specifically approved by Trump for it and three other projects—flow from a firm in Iceland, FL Group, linked to the Panama Papers revelations and one apparently known as a hub for the money of Russians “in favor with Putin.” Financing for these projects was also secured from Alexander Mashkevich (or Machkevich), a Kazakhstani billionaire with a history of money laundering.
Considering Sater had helped pave the way for this investment and recalling his possible Mogilevich connections, it is hardly unreasonable to assume that there is a high probability that some of the money coming in from Russians was in one way or another tied directly or indirectly to the giant Eurasian gas scheme worth billions, as this period was especially a time when Russians tied to Putin and operating through Manafort, Firtash, and Mogilevich were aggressively trying to funnel money away from prying eyes of the likes of Tymoshenko. Besides the Russian financing, some of the transactions involving the property were clearly carried out by shell corporations for the purpose of laundering money, transactions from which Trump profited. Furthermore, the SoHo deal was structured to cheat the U.S. government out of tens of millions in taxes, as the investments were illegally restructured as loans (not incidentally tax-free) to avoid paying hefty taxes on them, loans that would also give FL Group a big chunk of theoretical future profits over time.
In the end, the deal went terribly for Trump, who was sued for fraud—his children Eric and Ivanka had inflated the level of interest in order to attract buyers—and in a 2011 settlement, he refunded 90% of the deposits on the building’s condos.
One must wonder why likely Russian investors were so eager to invest $50 million in this deal, and if it was an excuse to launder money, rather than an actual investment, as was the case with the Park Avenue deal involving Manafort & Co, and that model would seem to be repeated by Bayrock again and again, Repeated in deals with Trump and with Sater serving again as a point-man.
Even as construction on Trump SoHo began in 2007, another of the Trump/Bayrock projects was rising in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; this one, the Trump International Hotel & Tower, would also result in disaster and led to over a dozen lawsuits, with over 100 condo buyers suing for $7.8 million. The project was supposed to have been completed by the end of 2007 but fell way behind schedule; Sater and his Bayrock partners secretly and seemingly cashed out their stakes in this project and several others—including the SoHo deal—in a deal with the aforementioned Icelandic firm, FL Group. Trump eventually pulled his name from the project, and when its buyers learned this in May, 2009, this only increased their outrage and added to lawsuits already in motion accusing Trump and Bayrock of fraud. As in the SoHo deal, confidential settlements, this time with dozens of buyers, ensued, and Trump refused to accept any responsibility, blaming the problems on the economic crises. Florida courts declined to rule that Trump or his partners had committed fraud, including a state appeals court just last year. The project finished years late, cost some $200 million, and was eventually sold for merely $115 million at a foreclosure auction. And while the evidence of money laundering in this case is not as explicit or solid as the information publicly reported on in the SoHo deal, it is still a similarly structured deal with the same partners that led to a similarly dubious result, making it more likely, not less, that similar laundering was taking place.
Another Bayrock partnership with Trump in Fort Lauderdale (not part of the FL Group ventures) was originally conceived of as the Trump International Beach Club; an initial $2 million in capital was provided by Arif in 2003, and from that point, Sater and Arif conned a friend of Arif’s who was also Sater’s landlord, Elizabeth Thieriot, lying about the value of the club, hiding their own investment in the project, and convincing her to provide a $1 million investment for a mere 4% of the Club, 12 times what they had paid for that percentage and allowing them to make a 1,125% profit on her investment; as in the SoHo deal, they illegally labeled the investment a loan to avoid paying taxes on it and were using their fraud to hide skimming $1 million off the top; on top of that, when there was income finally generated in 2005, they defrauded their partner Thieriot of her rightful share; eventually Theiriot figured out some of what was going on and sued her scammers in court in 2006, and they pulled similar scams on other investors/members in the Club. The project was apparently eventually reconceived of as the Trump Las Olas Beach Resort, but was suspended in a declining market by Trump himself in October 2007.
Another deal among the four which received FL Group financing was a failed project that never even got off the ground in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump began eyeing the Camelback area of Phoenix, Arizona, for a luxury residential tower back in late in 2003, a project similar to the others; Trump’s team, and then Trump himself, met with the mayor, who wasn’t impressed with Trump, and at a meeting in January, 2005, when plans were unveiled, local residents showed up to argue against the development, yet by September, the appropriate city bodies had approved the plans. It seems Sater’s people organized intimidation, bribery, and deception as tactics to deter residents from gathering enough signatures to force a public referendum that could have overridden the city bodies’ approval; under this pressure, the city council voted to reverse its decision and pressed the developers and the neighborhood association to reach a compromise, at which point Trump himself abandoned the project, not wanting to be part of anything that would be scaled down any further in scope and ambition. Ernie Mennes, the owner of the Camelback property who had gone into a partnership with the Bayrock/Trump developers, sued Bayrock in 2007 in federal court, accusing Sater of both threatening to “cut off his legs and leave him ‘dead in the trunk of his car’” and of stealing money from the project for himself. The judge oversaw a settlement and the case was sealed, likely because of Sater’s special relationship with the government. This property was part of the $50 million pseudo-offloading to FL group, and by June of 2009, Bayrock was relieved of the property, which it had left $36 million in debt, when it was “sold out from under” the company at a trustee auction for a mere $10 million.
The final in the group of four projects of Bayrock tied to FL’s “investment” involved a Waterpointe property in Queens (apart from approving FL’s money, Trump was otherwise not involved as far as we know). Bayrock bought the property in 2008 for $25 million, but the soil was contaminated and had to be replaced, which Bayrock did with other soil that was even more contaminated and was fined $150,000 for doing so; when Bayrock defaulted on a loan in 2011, the lender took over Waterpointe and sold it for roughly $11 million, less than half what Bayrock had paid.
As for FL Group, it failed in spectacularly 2008, along with Iceland’s other major banks/funds and many others in the world during the great global financial meltdown.
In a 2013 NY State Supreme Court lawsuit rising from a process that began in 2008, former and then-business partners of Sater’s at Bayrock—Jody Kriss and Michal Ejekam—sued Sater and his accomplices for damages and nonpayment related to Sater’s hiding of his past and his use of Bayrock primarily as a vehicle for criminal activities; in it, Donald and Ivanka Trump and the Trump Organization are named as defendants and the federal government is accused of illegally concealing Sater’s past and crimes in a way that defrauded previous victims from 1998 scam—including Holocaust Survivors—and subsequent victims of the other above schemes of many millions in restitution. The NY State Supreme Court removed the Trumps and their Organization from the suit; the plaintiffs had only sought declaratory relief in regards to the Trumps, i.e., they asked the court to determine what liability the Trumps had in regards to the case, and they were removed “without prejudice,” meaning the removal was no comment on their guilt/responsibility/innocence and that they could be sued again on the same grounds later.
Taken together, these examples amount to catastrophic losses and colossal mismanagement on the part of Sater and Bayrock and, at the very least, gross negligence and incompetence on the part of Trump; at most, he might have been aware of some of what was going on and turned a willful blind eye, or, even worse, he might have been in on it, though no evidence exists that proves this).
Actually, the performance of Bayrock was so bad, one would not be faulted for concluding they did not care at all about performance. And that seems to be right on the mark: it seems, if anything, these schemes were designed to move large amounts of money, often Russian-tied, into temporary projects that never came to fruition, but that would benefit Sater, Trump, and others high-up in the deals, but rarely if ever the investing partners outside this upper echelon; it seems these other duped partners and especially Trump would lend an air of respectability to clearly criminal schemes that were so poorly managed that the only logical conclusion is that Sater and his friends at Bayrock did not care about the future success of the projects nearly as much as they cared about laundering money and skimming from the top. Furthermore, since FL Group was a stupendously bad performer even by the standards of the 2008 financial crisis, and given its close ties to Kremlin-connected Russian money, one could also be forgiven for thinking there was something more going on there than met the eye. We may never know all the details or whose money was laundered and for what reasons—and if I had a magic wand I’d love to see if any the Manafort/Yanukovych/Firtash/Mogilevich Eurasian gas scheme money made its way into any of these Trump ventures—but it seems clear a lot of dirty Russian money was involved.
When considering Sater, it is important to remember that he has been busted multiple times by law enforcement and yet has not served jail time in America (with the exception of one year for stabbing a man in the face with a margarita glass and severing a nerve in the man’s face, or, as Trump put it under oath, Sater “got into a barroom fight, which a lot of people do.”) and enjoys the favor of the U.S. government, suggesting he is anything but a generally and especially stupid person; also remember that Sater has a long history of money laundering.
So, in fact, once you look at the Bayrock deals and Sater assuming Bayrock’s primary reason to exist is for RICO money laundering, these deals that were once seemingly mind-bogglingly stupid all of a sudden make a lot of sense, and, in series of lawsuits beginning primarily on behalf of two of Sater’s Bayrock partners—Jody Kriss and Michael Ejekam, who weren’t in on the fun—for money they say is owed to them, Bayrock is precisely described as a RICO criminal organization, of which money laundering is one of its primary activities (in the main complaint, the word “launder” or one of its derivatives appears 39 times in the document).
After Sater left Bayrock in 2008, none of this stopped him from being brought into the Trump Organization in 2010 as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump” even after Trump was made aware of Sater’s criminal past, and circumstantial evidence points to Sater still being connected to the Russian mafia. For his part, Trump has issued his typically contradictory and slippery statements—more aptly called lies—in regards to these dealings and, in particular, his relationship to Sater, with Trump lying repeatedly about his relationship with Sater and Bayrock in an attempt to falsely minimize them. And there is no distancing Trump from Bayrock: one of Bayrock’s flagship presentations from as late as 2008 list its three Trump-named projects discussed above before all others and lists The Trump Organization as its first “strategic partner” (followed by FL Group), Donald Trump as its first “reference,” and “Trump Tower” in New York as its address.
The Huffington Post also recently discovered just a few days ago that Sater owns three shell companies—Global Habitat Solutions (GHS), United Biofuels Company LLC, and Sands Point Partners GP LLC—that are apparent fakes that “sell no products and have no customers,” ideal for being used to launder money; GHS had collaborated with another company named Titan Atlas in promoting itself, a company co-founded by Donald Trump Jr. and in which Trump Jr. also invested; Sater used promotional images from Titan Atlas’ website for GHS’s own after Trump Jr. introduced him to Titan Atlas’ other co-founder, Jeremy Blackburn (with an unsurprisingly troubled corporate past), and Tital is now owned by another company controlled by the Trump Organization, run by Trump Jr. since his father became president. .
Sater even donated the maximum amount allowed to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and the White House is even using Sater as a back-channel diplomatic go-between for Trump’s person lawyer, Michael Cohen, and a heavily-pro-Russian/pro-Putin Ukrainian legislator, Andrii Artemenko, who are discussing a Ukraine “peace plan” being pushed by close Putin aides; Artemenko also claims he has information damaging to Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s anti-Russian president facing off against Putin and his proxies in the Ukrainian Civil War. In an only partially-verified-by-U.S.-officials 35-page dossier on Trump and his people compiled by a respected ex-MI6 British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, Cohen is said to have secretly met with Russian government officials during the late stages of the presidential campaign, though it is not clear if this—or what—specific information has been corroborated by U.S. officials, with journalists having been unable to thus far verify the information on Cohen, who denies playing this role.
The reason a lot of what is known about Sater and his past misdealings is publicly available, besides a then-revelatory late-2007 New York Times article, is because of the intrepid efforts of two of the lawyers who often represented plaintiffs against Sater in court: Richard Lerner and Frederick Oberlander.
Going back to that 2013 lawsuit, because Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Kaminsky was included in these accusations for allegedly illegally aiding and covering up for Sater, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Preet Bharara (more on him on in a bit) ended up being involved tangentially in defending him in his capacity as a U.S. Attorney, playing a role in trying to moving the suit from the state court system to SDNY jurisdiction, but it was ultimately moved because of Sater and his ties to the government, not Kaminsky. Once in the hands of the federal court, Kaminsky was removed without prejudice from the proceedings.
Which brings us to one of the untold stories of this election, and one which may never be told in full: how Sater’s cooperation with the government gave him government protection from being held liable in many cases for his misdeeds while also helping to suppress information about him and these misdeeds, and how, had his past and crimes been front and center over the past decade, this knowledge could have done much to derail and discredit Donald Trump, his brand and family at a time when he was building a national following with his hit show The Apprentice, which he even used to promote his fraudulent, money-laundered SoHo deal.
That the public, including Trump’s and Bayrock’s clients and customers, were kept in the dark about Sater—a fact which undoubtedly helped all of these related deals and others advance, which was not lost on partners of Sater’s, and which is at the heart of much of the legal action against Sater—and were kept in dark because Sater cooperated with the U.S. government, adds quite a what-if twist to the tale of Trump and his dramatic rise over the last decade to become the most powerful man in the world: what if the government hadn’t protected Sater, and all that evidence was out in the open while Trump and Bayrock were courting buyers and were fighting court battles? What would that have done to Trump’s reputation if he became most known for defrauding customers and money laundering with a Russian mafia-deluged violent felon, to his hit show The Apprentice (one can just imagine NBC saying “You’re fired!” to Trump), and to his political aspirations?
In a much less chaotic, less exciting world than the insanity that confronts us today, one can be sure such a salacious story involving a playboy New York tycoon would have been front, center, and dominant in national and international media coverage; lawsuits, trials, and investments may also have gone differently for Trump if such information was common knowledge, too; he may have just faded away in disgrace, or least into a sideshow, if not landing in jail.
Yes, if not for the favors the U.S. government did in protecting and, thus, abetting, Sater, it is far more likely that Trump would have collapsed in scandal than risen to be our current president. This abetting may very well be unwitting, but the two aforementioned lawyers—Lerner and Oberlander—believe differently, that the government cooperation with Sater yielded disappointing results, that Sater fooled and tricked the government into helping him in exchange for dubious assistance of questionable value and that this arrangement may have been such an embarrassment for the government that they covered up this and his past to save face and protect the careers of those involved. No court rulings have affirmed these assertions, yet it is notable that in the U.S. Supreme Court proceedings involved in arguing over Sater’s information being withheld from the public, the Court tacitly admitted that at least some of the points made by Lerner and Oberlander were valid when they ordered many of the documents surrounding Sater be made public, the only reason that much of information about him is now publicly available.
Epilogue of Intrigue
As for Arif and Mashkevich, two other major players in the whole Trump/Bayrock/FL Group saga, Arif was arrested in Turkey in September 2010 when he was at a sex party with apparently underage girls on board a Yacht (which had been once belonged to none other than Atatürk) under suspicion of running a complex prostitution and human trafficking ring in a scheme of which it seems Mashkevich was also a part, though Arif was later acquitted under mysterious circumstances and Mashkevich was not charged.
Going back to Trump’s sole major Wall Street lender, Deutsche Bank, since 2012, it has loaned trump over $300 million, a sum that is still owed. This amount presented a major conflict of interest for the newly inaugurated President Trump in late January 2017, because Deutsche was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) for orchestrating $10 billion in illegal fake trades from 2011-2015 that might have been part of a massive Russian money laundering scheme; U.S. and UK officials levied $630 million in massive fines against Deutsche at the end of January 2017, but DoJ was not part of this and is still investigating, raising the question of the independence and impartiality of Trump’s own new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, himself under fire for possible improper interactions with Russian officials and forced to pledge to recuse himself from any investigations of into the 2016 election and Russian interference in it. Deutsche itself is under pressure to allow an independent investigation into Trump’s accounts with the Bank (his family also has accounts with Deutsche), even after its own investigation apparently found no link to Trump’s accounts and Russia.
It was just revealed that Deutsche was also involved in another major laundering scam of Russian money to the tune of $24 million, including the specific division that Trump owes $300 million, with the overall laundering scheme—known as the Global/(Great) Russian Laundromat—involving dozens of Western banks and a sum ranging from $20-$80 billion through the years 2010-2014; the hundreds involved in the scheme include Russia’s notorious oligarchs and Russia’s F.S.B., the main successor to the famed Soviet K.G.B. intelligence agency, with Putin having longstanding intimate ties to both and with some of the money in the scheme apparently being used to further Putin’s and Russia’s interests.
As if there weren’t enough bad connections to Trump Tower, Mogilevich-associated Russian mafia boss and apparent all-around celebrity Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was overseeing an illegal high-stakes international gambling ring for wealthy clientele that in part operated out of Trump Tower in New York. Among other prolific activities, Tokhtakhounov had gained notoriety for apparently fixing 2002 Olympic ice skating matches to help get a gold medal for a fellow Russian, as well as one for a pair of French skaters in exchange for a French visa, but was soon after in Russia and safe from prosecution. The gambling ring connected to Trump Tower, run by two of his capos, Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik, was popular with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs in both Russia and Ukraine, and besides the gambling ring, they also engaged in some $100 million in money laundering. Trincher himself in 2009 bought an apartment in Trump Tower just below an apartment owned by Trump himself, in which he nearly held a fundraiser for Newt Gingrich two years later, but had to cancel because of a mold problem and a water leak; it was from this apartment that Trincher ran a branch of said gambling ring. Another linked gambling/laundering ring was run by one of Trincher’s sons, who owned an entire floor in Trump tower, and another son of Trincher’s ran multiple illegal poker rooms throughout New York City.
An indictment naming Tokhtakhounov and his people was filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, mentioned earlier, and the same Preet Bharara fired controversially by Trump just last month after Trump had promised Bharara he would not fire him, and it should be noted that several of the past and ongoing cases involving Trump and/or his associates occurred in the jurisdiction of SDNY and that a number of potential future cases would also occur there if they moved forward and would have been handled by Bharara if he had not been fired. It was Bharara’s indictment that led to a 2013 raid on Vadim Trincher’s Trump Tower apartment, and arrests made there and elsewhere nabbed 29 suspects. A mere seven months after he was indicted, a nonchalant Tokhtakhounov was a red-carpet VIP guest at Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, a city where, to this day, he is regularly seen at trendy public places.
We also have the curious case of the Trump’s fabulously ostentatious mansion—the “Maison de l’Amitie”—in Palm Beach, Florida, that he bought back in 2004 for $41 million. A representative of Trump claimed Trump put $25 million of his own money into renovating the house, but this is doubtful; plans obtained who improvements were relatively minor, and, Typical of Trump, he seemed to be lying through his teeth: when taking a local reporter on a tour, he claimed he installed gold fixtures in bathroom, but when the report scratched a faucet, gold paint came off to reveal not-gold underneath. Trump set his asking price at $125 million when he listed early in 2006, but had trouble finding a buyer; then, in March 2008, he brought his price down to $100 million, but it still wasn’t until that July that he got Russian oligarch billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev to buy the mansion for $95 million after some haggling in a deal said to be the largest U.S. residential real estate deal ever. If you’re thinking that Trump might have swindled Rybolovlev, that’s very possible: he has a habit of falling for tricksters, especially when it comes to art deals; the house was appraised at less than only $59.8 million in 2013, and though it rose to $81.8 million in the summer of 2016, that was still about 15% less than what he had paid. Just months after he bought the house, he ended up in a messy divorce drama with his wife, who was after the house; there are plans to demolish the house, and Rybolovlev has not even physically entered the house, which may be demolished.
But unlike other major Russian oligarchs doing business with Trump or his allies, either directly or indirectly, Rybolovlev is no apparent friend or ally of Putin or the Russian mafia, which seems to put this story in the category of mere trivial.
But then, multiple reports that Rybolovlev’s private jet had repeatedly been tracked to cities where and when candidate and later president Trump was: Las Vegas in October, just five days before Election Day in North Carolina, and in Miami in February, creating a sense of intrigue. One might be tempted to say this is meaningless, yet on top of this, his accounts of the mansion deal have changed, making people wonder if he has something to hide.
At the very least, this Palm Beach mansion saga is a good reminder that Trump is a swindler and a liar, and if you’re still not convinced, google Trump University, Trump Steaks…
And oh, we just found out that during the campaign, Republicans paid a private intelligence firm that works closely with an ex-K.G.B. officer to dig up dirt in Clinton.
Putting the Pieces Together: Not a Pretty Picture
Sorry, Trump fans, but it’s time a reality check: it’s more likely that you will soon be struck by lighting than that all of these threads together and tied together by a Russian mafia godfather end up as innocent, harmless coincidences when it comes possible connections between Team Trump and Team Putin.
It is also crucial to note that the whole Russian operation in Ukraine—using Russia’s natural resources, deals related to them, and the profits from selling them to dominate and corrupt political elites of neighboring and other countries along with hacking and (mis/dis)information operations—is hardly unique to Ukraine; Putin is trying to do much the same thing throughout Europe, and it was clear he successfully threw his weight around last year during our election to help Trump win in what I called the (First) Russo-American Cyberwar, part of his overall war on Western Democracy and promotion of what I call democratic fascism.
The question is now about whether or not there was treason going on during that (First) Russo-American Cyberwar. If (and we don’t know yet) Putin was able co-opt agents people Manafort, Gates, Page, and/or others, this would simply be current Russian standard operating procedure for how it spreads its power throughout the world in the era of Putin; such hybrid warfare and “Cold War”-type or non-hot warfare being directed at America should not only not surprise Americans, it should be expected. And it seems that, along with Manafort and Page, the record-fast-recently-resigned-due-to-Russian-related-stuff Trump National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn and longtime Manafort and Trump confidante Roger Stone are all under an official FBI “counterintelligence”—to use FBI Director James Comey’s exact word—investigation, and Manafort, Page, and Stone all just volunteered to testify before Congress.
Should those hearings be public, that would be epic.
Conclusion originally a Part II published here
Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and Ivanka Trump on stage for a rehearsal at the Republican National Convention- NBC
Conclusion: Trump Has Terrible Judgment or Is a (Treasonous) Criminal or Both
I will never forgive the news media or the American people for not caring enough about the aforementioned information when it mattered most and had the chance to change the outcome of this election, since any one of these main three threads alone carried more weight than Clinton’s and yet got only a fraction of the coverage that red-herring of a “scandal” got. Nor will I forgive Comey for his political tone-deafness, the politically-suicidal liberals who empowered Trump by myopically and narcissistically not voting for Clinton, or the Republican Party for so willingly spreading its buttocks for Putin; anyone who doubts me on that last point can watch the disgraceful behavior of Republicans on the supposedly relatively non-partisan House Intelligence Committee, especially its Chairman Devin Nunes and shallow grandstander Trey Gowdy, the latter of whom led the partisan witch-hunt that was the last “Benghazi”—really Clinton e-mail—investigation. Yes, I have no faith in Trump—Team Trump has lied at least 20 times about its ties to Russia as of early March and only continues to do so in the most outlandish and unprecedented and Orwellian of ways, making the possible reality of a serious cover-up more and more likely—but seeing Nunes as the Intelligence Committee Chairman act in such an unprecedented way—blatantly covering for the president—made me tear up and almost cry because his behavior is such a dramatic sign of how our government is failing us and how the last bastion protecting this country from what I call democratic fascism—that bastion now being that the party in power won’t twist every organ of government it can to benefit itself politically no matter the cost—may be crumbling. As historian Douglas Brinkley (who implored the public after Trump won to “give…[Trump]…a chance”) said of all of this: “There’s a smell of treason in the air.”
Trump repeatedly claimed during his campaign he would surround himself with “the best people;” I’m sure he believed himself, and that is the problem. What has been outlined here is probably one of the strongest cases (if not the strongest) against Trump’s judgment as leader, whether in business or in politics; if you surround yourself on a regular basis with mobsters and criminals and those who favor the worldview (or purse) of America’s greatest enemy over America itself, there is no more discussion to be had: Donald Trump is too stupid and too incompetent a leader to be president as he simply cannot be trusted to make decisions about whom to give power to (for every supposed hit there are far more misses and we can’t delegate the fate of our nation a game of chance; sorry, but I’m nearly convinced that Trump picked Gen. Mattis to run the Pentagon simply because he like Mattis’ nickname of “Mad Dog”); Trump’s selection of Paul Manafort alone would be disqualifying enough, and that’s just the beginning.
And that is the best case scenario that he was too stupid to see that his people were playing him for a fool or were abusing their power in a way that could destroy his potential presidency and do the nation irreparable harm. But if Trump himself in any way knew about any possible collusion with Russia, that takes us from disqualifying incompetence into the realm of treason. Even if that is not the case, the newest revelations are making it more and more likely that some sort of treason from within his camp will be uncovered—Comey recently noted that this counterintelligence investigation began in July, some ten months ago, and if it was clear there was no collusion it would probably have ended long ago—and it is increasingly likely that this issue will cripple Trump’s presidency in ways not seen since the later nineteenth-century, when Reconstruction’s war between President Andrew Johnson and Congressional Republicans, as well as the scandals of the Gilded Age, dramatically weakened the presidency.
Russia is as defiant as ever, just in recent months and weeks assassinating—or trying to assassinate-—opponents, arresting hundreds of peaceful protesters and Russian’s main opposition leader (Alexey Navalny, again) during Russia’s largest protests in five years, trying to overthrow democratically elected foreign governments (Montenegro), hacking foreign politicians in ways designed to sway elections (from Hillary Clinton to France’s Emmanuel Macron and beyond), fanning the flames of war in Ukraine, slaughtering civilians in Aleppo, and assaulting the world of norms the West has known since the end of WWII.
And Donald Trump is in the White House and wants to be Putin’s friend.
Sometimes, if there’s enough smoke, it’s undeniable that there is a fire even if the flames are obscured or not visible from afar. Back in July, when I began my in-depth exploration around the same time the FBI did, I wrote that
… it’s possible there is some sort of coordinated effort going on between Trump or people in his campaign and Putin or people associated with him. But I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if we also have two groups of actors here acting mostly independently yet with common purpose. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of Trump’s associates, especially Manafort, are part of some sort of deal (tacit or otherwise) to promote Putin’s agenda within Trump’s campaign between several staffers or just himself on one side and Putin’s agents on the other, given Manafort’s and several staffers’ histories. And it’s certainly believable—in fact, almost certain—that Putin would like to see Clinton defeated and Trump in the White House, since it would be hard to envision a leader that would or could play more into Putin’s hands than Trump.
Sometimes I hate being right.
© 2017 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, no republication without permission, attributed quotations welcome
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