Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has, for some time now, been seen as a potential suspect in the ongoing investigation into collusion between Russia and Donald Trump. Last week, the Associated Press reported that Manafort worked for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and Putin ally with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government.” And today, WNYC did a deep dive into Manafort’s “puzzling real estate deals,” which some experts say resemble money laundering.
The whole story is worth a read, but the gist is this: between 2006 and 2013, Manafort purchased three homes in the city—his apartment in Trump Tower in 2006, a Soho loft in 2012, and a brownstone in Carroll Gardens in 2013. He paid for all three of those properties in cash using shell companies, transferred the properties to his own name, and took out significant mortgages against the properties. Law enforcement and real estate experts noted to WNYC that this pattern is often replicated by money launderers.
Though Manafort claims his “investments in real estate are personal and all reflect arm’s-length transactions,” there’s a lot to dig into. WNYC points out that he purchased his Trump Tower apartment around the same time his firm signed a $10 million contract with Deripaska. The apartment, located just a few stories from Trump’s own apartment, was actually purchased by Manafort and his lobbying firm partner Rick Davis under the shell company “John Hannah LLC,” then transferred to Manafort’s name for no money in March 2015. Not long after that, Manafort began working on Trump’s campaign.
Then there is this:
A Cyprus bank investigated accounts associated with Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, for money-laundering, but instead of cooperating with the investigation, Manafort closed the accounts, NBC News reported.
Sources told NBC Manafort was associated with 15 bank accounts and 10 companies on Cyrpus. Court documents indicate at least one of those accounts received funds from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, NBC said.
Manafort, who resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in June after questions about his relationship with ousted pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, is under investigation for alleged ties to Russia but has denied repeatedly he ever worked for the Russian government.
Most of the accounts were at Cyprus Popular Bank, which asked for more information on them under the anti-money-laundering procedure known as Know Your Customer, NBC said. Instead of providing the information, Manafort closed the accounts just before a 2012 banking crisis that prompted a government takeover of the bank.
Bank of Cyprus assumed control of Cyprus Popular Bank in 2013 and told NBC the assets it took over did not include any accounts associated with Manafort.
Speaking of The Bank of Cyprus:
Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s new commerce secretary, presided over a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin while serving in his previous role as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.
The transaction raises questions about Ross’s tenure at the Cypriot bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs. It comes amid confirmation by the FBI that it is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
In 2015, while he served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president’s strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties.
Avetisyan’s business partner, Oleg Gref, is the son of Herman Gref, Sberbank’s chief executive officer, and their consultancy has served as a “partner” to Sberbank, according to their website. Ross had described the Russian businesses – including 120 bank branches in Russia – as being worth “hundreds of millions of euros” in 2014 but they were sold with other assets to Avetisyan for €7m (£6m).
Ross has not been accused of wrongdoing and there is no indication the Russian deal violated US or EU sanctions. Ross resigned from the Bank of Cyprus board after he was confirmed as commerce secretary last month.