Sanctioned Russian oligarch linked to Cohen has vast US ties

Long before Viktor Vekselberg was tied to a scandal over the president and a porn star, the Russian oligarch had been positioning himself to extend his influence in the United States.

Working closely with an American cousin who heads the New York investment management firm Columbus Nova, Vekselberg backed a $1.6 million lobbying campaign to aid Russian interests in Washington. His cousin Andrew Intrater served as CEO of a Vekselberg company on that project, and the two men have collaborated on numerous other investments involving Vekselberg’s extensive holdings.

In early 2017, shortly before Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, Intrater hired Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, as a consultant.

Now, Intrater’s investment firm is wrestling with the fallout from financial sanctions the U.S. Treasury Department lodged in April against Vekselberg, one of a group of oligarchs tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Columbus Nova has insisted it only managed Vekselberg’s vast assets. But an Associated Press review of legal and securities filings shows that the cousins sometimes collaborated in a more deeply entwined business relationship than was previously known.

Spokesmen for Columbus Nova have told the AP that the firm’s business relationship with Vekselberg has been indefinitely halted by the sanctions, which targeted Russian oligarchs accused by Treasury of playing “a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities.”

All Vekselberg assets in the U.S. are frozen and U.S. companies forbidden from doing business with him and his entities. The deadline to sever those relationships was June 4, but talks between Columbus Nova and the government are continuing, the firm’s spokesmen said. A Treasury Department spokesman declined to comment.

The Columbus Nova spokesmen said the firm is also seeking permission from Treasury to retrieve any assets entwined with Vekselberg’s Renova Group, which the U.S. firm has called “its biggest client.”

Extricating Columbus Nova’s holdings from Vekselberg’s is not so simple. The sanctions apply to all assets in which Vekselberg has more than a 50 percent stake — including some investment funds managed by Columbus Nova in which the firm has an ownership interest, the spokesmen said. They discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions.

A Russian citizen who has had a U.S. green card and homes in New York and Connecticut, Vekselberg once told an American diplomat he felt “half-American.” Vekselberg heads the Renova Group, a global conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets that is based in Moscow.

He wields an estimated $13 billion fortune that supports Silicon Valley startups, programs at a California state park, a Western-themed resort amid the Joshua trees near Scottsdale, Arizona — and a loan to a Baptist church in Savannah, Georgia.

“I think all along Vekselberg thought a big chunk of his life was going to be anchored here in the United States and he, like other Russia businessmen, has made strategic investments in his philanthropic work to be in better standing here,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Vekselberg also has cemented tech deals using a Kremlin-funded foundation — raising national security concerns years before special counsel Robert Mueller began probing contacts between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian intermediaries. His opaque corporate structure, which includes an array of hard-to-trace shell companies, has fallen under Mueller’s scrutiny, according to several media reports.

FOLLOW THE LINK FOR THE FULL REPORT – JR

https://apnews.com/5e533f93afae4a4fa5c2f7fe80ad72ac

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