Friday, May 12, 2017

Trump's Kazakh Mafia Connection


The Donald and Felix

It's almost a year ago that I wound up in a former piece of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan, a central Asia kleptocracy where Donald and Ivanka Trump were in business with local mobsters laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. But Azerbaijan was hardly the only former part of the Soviet empire where Trump was trying to make a buck. Tonight, David Cay Johnston's broke a story about Trump and the Kazakh mobsters.

Kazakhstan is a huge country with something like 18 million people, rich in natural resources. The current authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was the First Secretary of the Communist Party in 1989 and then "became" president. He was elected in 2015 with 98% of the vote and is widely considered one of the most corrupt despots in the world. Richard Behar, writing for DCReport, asks if "a former Mob connected huster-- a real estate developer who in 2010 worked on the same floor as Donald Trump as his 'Senior Advisor'-- is threatening to spill some beans that could harm the President’s reputation? Sure looks that way, based on an intriguing Wall Street Journal story that exposed aspects of a bitter feud between two of Trump’s former key business associates. The newspaper revealed that the Russia-born Felix Sater-- a twice-convicted one-time Mafia associate-- is demanding hush money from a former boss, Kazakhstan-born Tevfik Arif, whose Bayrock Group worked in a close partnership for nearly a decade with the Trump Organization."
Sater warned Arif, in writing, that news headlines will read: “The Kazakh Gangster and President Trump,” unless Arif forks over $3.5 million to reimburse Sater for legal expenses he claims he’s owed, the Journal reported.   Specifically, Sater is threatening to reveal negative information about Arif’s “past relationship with President Trump and the Republic of Kazakhstan”—as well as Arif’s alleged connections to “organized crime figures and his business activities in Kazakhstan,” which involve “dealings in the post-Soviet metals industry there.”

Spokespeople for Bayrock and Arif have called the allegations “unsubstantiated falsehoods.” The general counsel of Trump Organization didn’t respond to calls and emails.

Sater, however, may not even need the dough.  I’ve discovered that he and a former Trump Organization colleague, Daniel Ridloff, received roughly $20 million-- in a settlement of a case that is linked to an alleged multi-billion-dollar global money laundering scheme originating in Kazakhstan, and stretching to Russia and the U.S.

Specifically, both men were accused in a 2013 complaint filed by a Swiss financier of absconding with nearly $43 million from the sale of an Ohio shopping mall (Tri-County Mall near Cincinnati) to-- American Pacific International Capital (APIC). That company is based in San Francisco. One of the directors is businessman Neil Bush—the son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush.

In the shopping center complaint, the financier included an exhibit-- a 2007 New York Times article that revealed numerous details about Sater’s criminal past. The article said Sater had pled guilty and become a cooperating federal witness. Sater’s cooperation agreement was unsealed by a federal judge in 2013, but many other documents in related cases are under court seal.

Five days after the Tri-County mall complaint was filed, the case was settled.

Neither Sater or Ridloff, whose LinkedIn bio says he worked in “Acquisitions & Finance” in 2010 for the Trump Organization, will comment about the subject. In his own LinkedIn bio, Sater describes himself as a former “Senior Advisor to Board of Directors” of one of Neil Bush’s oil companies (TxOil) that once drilled in Turkmenistan, an oil-rich part of the former Soviet Union.

Bush tells me he’s never heard of Sater. Bush also says that the mall was purchased for $43 million by APIC at a public auction, and then transferred to a Singapore publicly-held real estate company that he chairs called SingHaiyi Group.  “I helped the group [SingHaiyi] find the property through a friend,” he says.  When told about the subsequent litigation against Sater and Ridloff, Bush says: “I don’t remember anything like that.  We bought it at a sheriff’s auction. If the funds filtered through some undesignated [entity] or intermediary, I’m unaware of that.”

A second lawsuit filed in U.S. Federal Court (Southern District of New York) may shed additional light on Sater and Ridloff’s Kazakhstan-related business activity. In this case, the Bank of London and the Middle East (BLME; once the largest bank in Kazakhstan) and the government of Almaty (the country’s largest city) are accusing three Kazakh men-- a former Almaty mayor, his son, and a former chairman of BLME-- of absconding with billions of dollars and laundering the money.

The defendants-- Victor and Ilyas Khrapunov, and Mukhtar Ablyazov, respectively-- deny the allegations and claim the charges are politically motivated.

That’s not the view of Matthew L. Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor, now in private practice at the prestigious law firm of Boies Schiller Flexner, who represents the city of Almaty and the bank. “The international financial fraud perpetrated by Ablyazov, Victor and Ilyas Khrapunov, and their associates is as large and far-flung as they come,” Schwartz says.  “It involves billions of dollars and has touched at least two dozen different countries-- from Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine to the United States, England, and France-- and just about everyplace else.”

Schwartz adds: “We’ll follow the money stolen by these fugitives wherever they may try to hide it.” (A Switzerland-based spokesperson for the family welcomed questions, but declined to respond to any.)

Needless to say, the saga-- a saga within a saga-- is very complicated. A declaration in the Khrapnukov case is by Nicolas Bourg, who happens to be the same Swiss financier who accused Sater and Ridloff of stealing the $43 million from the Ohio mall deal. In the declaration, he says that he was president of a real estate fund (named Swiss Development Group, or SDG) that was controlled by the Khrapunov family “and used to conceal the movement and investment of his family’s money.”

Time out. Where does Trump fit into all this? In October, the Financial Times revealed that three Trump Soho condos in Manhattan were bought in 2013 with $3.1 million that came from the alleged Khrapunov laundering caper. Trump Soho was 18% owned by Trump at the time. There is no evidence that Trump was involved or knowledgeable about the Khrapunovs. But he seems to have benefitted.

In addition, bank statements submitted by City of Almaty lawyers indicate that the ultimate beneficiary of the companies that bought the condos was Elvira Kudryashova-- the California-based daughter of Victor Khrapunov. The FT reported that correspondence and company documents seen by the newspaper showed that Sater and Ridloff worked closely with Kudryashova in 2012.

“They agreed to serve as directors of a company through which she would pour $3 million into a business venture as part of her efforts to secure a U.S. investor visa,” wrote the newspaper.

Sater and Ridloff, my reporting shows, ran the U.S. arm of the Krapunov’s SDG entity at the time. Another connection is in the Linked-In bio of Ridloff’s, where he refers to himself as the former vice president of SDG-Investment Fund.

Bourg, the Swiss financier alleging fraud in the Ohio mall sale, maintains in his declaration that a shell entity he created in Luxembourg-- Triadou-- was an investment vehicle wholly-owned and controlled by SDG.  Bourg states that Triadou was also the entity used to buy the Ohio shopping mall.

An exhibit with the declaration from Swiss financier Bourg includes emails to Felix Sater and others in 2014 with “swift code” details for an account at a now-defunct rogue bank that was headquartered in Dubai. Swift codes are used for international money transfers. In 2015, the bank BLME, formerly Bank of the Middle East, was banned from operating in the U.S. due to money laundering and terror financing allegations. The email to Sater cites an entity called Telford International, which was allegedly used to move the money to BLME.

And-- closing the circle-- Telford was used to fund Triadou, the entity that bought and sold the Ohio mall, according to Bourg. has obtained an audio recording in which three of Bayrock’s top four executives can be heard discussing coal and oil projects involving Bayrock and Sater, in which the name “Khrapnukov” and “his son” are mentioned. The recording was made in Bayrock’s offices in the Trump Tower in 2008. In all likelihood, the references are to Victor Khrapnukov and his son Ilyas.

The recording was made just three months before Victor reportedly fled Kazakhstan as a fugitive. Ilyas is also accused by Kazakh authorities of money laundering and is a fugitive. Excerpts from the audio are here, and emails penned by Sater in 2007 from Kazakhstan also talk about a coal deal he had just closed-- three days after arriving in Kazakhstan without a visa. Whether the emails are referring specifically to a Khrapnukov deal is unknown.

The Russian-born Sater spent a year in prison in 1993 after pleading guilty to assaulting a man with a broken glass during an argument with in a bar. (The victim required more than 100 facial stitches.) Next, he pled guilty in 1998 to racketeering. Specifically, he helped run a huge pump-and-dump stock fraud with members and associates from four of New York’s five Italian mafia families-- including the brother-in-law of Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, the Mafia hitman turned Gotti-informer.

In a press release two years later that cited Sater, New York’s then-police commissioner dubbed the case “Goodfellas meets Boiler Room”-- a reference to both the classic film and to cold-calling operations where salespeople often peddle fraudulent securities. This time around, Sater avoided prison by becoming a government cooperator for more than a decade, ratting out mobsters.
This is the video I wanted to embed... but this one below gets the point, albeit less specifically, across (but do yourself a favor and watch the one at the link too):

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At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

another piece:

This humiliates the American "so-called" press. There are money trails that could be followed by journalists, if the usa had any. But they are too busy commenting on his tweets and bitching about not being invited into the oval for the Russia meeting.

It also humiliates the FBI and both chambers' so-called "investigative committees". If Dutch journalists could find all this, why won't they? Well, we know why congress won't. But why won't the FBI?

And why doesn't the American electorate give a flying fuck?

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US press did cover this, but remember, the Press has a beauty pageant to run.

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nytimes?!?!? Did they accidentally commit journalism?

Bill Moyers is great, but he's not part of the "Media". He's in the "media".

The Sunday morning talkies have to cover this as well as the mainstream evening newsesss. Until they do, we have no press. We only have TMZ and the various competitors.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't expect any action to be taken by either party. Both survive on the donations of such criminals whose "earnings" always come at great expense from those who need.


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