Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Here's Another Trump Cabinet Pick With Close Financial Ties to Russians

In October—two days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declared that Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic targets to influence the 2016 election—the Trump campaign zapped out a press release claiming that Hillary Clinton was actually the candidate in the race with "close ties" to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and that she had "sold out American interests to Putin in exchange for political and financial favors." One piece of supposed evidence for this claim was that Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire oligarch and Putin ally, made a donation, through his company, to the Clinton Foundation.
Vekselberg is one of the richest men in Russia, and he has been a Putin supporter who was placed in charge of a major Russian initiative to bring high-tech business into the country—an effort criticized by some, including the Trump campaign in this press release, as partly designed to swipe advanced technology, sensitive military and civilian research, and other secrets from the United States. (And his company did contribute between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to the foundation's website.) But even though Trump the candidate asserted that Clinton's association-via-foundation with Vekselberg was a problem and a sign she was too cozy with Putin, Trump the president-elect has welcomed into his administration a businessman with a much tighter and more financially significant relationship with Vekselberg: Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who has specialized in distressed assets and who is now Trump's pick for commerce secretary.
For the past two years, Ross has been a business partner with Vekselberg in a major financial project involving the Bank of Cyprus, the country's largest and most significant financial institution. A financial crisis in 2013 led to the bank's collapse and eventual bailout. The bank had held billions in deposits from wealthy Russians—some of it presumably dirty money or funds deposited there to escape Russian taxation—and during its restructuring, a large amount of these deposits were converted into shares, giving Russian plutocrats a majority ownership (on paper) of the bank. The idea of Russians gaining control of a European bank unnerved European financial powers. But in the summer of 2014, Ross led a 1 billion euro takeover of the troubled bank in a deal that offered Russian shareholders a buyout. (Ross had previously bought a stake in the Bank of Ireland during an earlier European debt crisis—a move that turned out to be profitable.) Still, the Bank of Cyprus would not be freed of Russian influence. Shortly after Ross' deal, the bank announced that Vekselbergs' conglomerate, the Renova Group, had become the bank's second-largest shareholder. Read full article here 

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