Another Gift for a Putin Buddy, connected to Manafort too.

Even as new evidence surfaces that someone, probably in Russia, is meddling with another American election, we can forget about strict punishment from sanctions for at least one of the Russian oligarchs closest to President Vladimir Putin.

This week, the Trump administration further eased its pressure on Rusal, Russia's largest aluminum company, less than four months after sanctions on it and its notorious leader were imposed. Even as the White House seems willing to inflict pain on American farmers and consumers with its trade wars, Russian aluminum workers are apparently worthy of special protection.

Rusal is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a member of Mr. Putin's inner circle. As the Treasury Department acknowledges, he has been investigated for money laundering and accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official and taking part in extortion and racketeering. There are also allegations, made public by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, that Mr. Deripaska bribed a government official, ordered the murder of a businessman and had links to a Russian organized crime group. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, then Mr. Trump's campaign manager, tried to offer Mr. Deripaska private briefings about the campaign. On Tuesday, Mr. Manafort went on trial on charges of bank and tax fraud not directly related to the campaign. [see Post Script below for more on Manafort's relationship with Mr. Deripaska].

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he is considering lifting the sanctions altogether because they are punishing the "hardworking people of Rusal." But Mr. Mnuchin has it backward. If he was truly concerned about Rusal's 61,000 employees, he would not relent until the company fully washed its hands of Mr. Deripaska and the corrupt regime the aluminum giant serves.

Behind Mr. Deripaska's estimated fortune of as much as $5.3 billion, there stands a great crime. During the "aluminum wars" of the 1990s, when that economic sector was consolidating in the chaotic privatization that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the young metals trader was suspected of ties to gangsters as he seized control of huge Siberian smelters. According to testimony by a gang member in Stuttgart, Germany, part of Mr. Deripaska's value to the group were his links to Russia's security services. While his rivals were killed off or fled Russia, Mr. Deripaska somehow emerged as the director general of Rusal, a company that reported revenues last year of nearly $10 billion. But suspicions that the oligarch has had links to organized crime have denied him a visa to enter the United States.

Mr. Deripaska is little more than a trustee for his aluminum concern. In Russia, oligarchs like him owe their wealth and status to the Kremlin. In return, they must do its bidding, which in Mr. Deripaska's case meant spending more than $1 billion, through his holding company, on new infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Mr. Deripaska has embraced his role, stating that he does not separate himself from the Russian state. In line with that conceit, a memo obtained by The Associated Press showed that Mr. Manafort tried to pitch him a plan for an influence campaign to "greatly benefit the Putin government."

Mr. Deripaska was sanctioned on April 6 by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control for "having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, a senior official of the government of the Russian Federation." Also sanctioned were Rusal and the publicly traded holding company that controls it, En+. The sanctions caused Rusal's share price to plummet by 50 percent and roiled the global aluminum market. Mr. Deripaska soon announced that he would relinquish control of Rusal and resigned from the boards of En+ and Rusal.

This was the strongest signal yet that oligarchs like Mr. Deripaska should not be allowed to do business with the United States while supporting a government that has rearranged the borders of its neighbors, poisoned dissident Russian citizens on foreign soil and assisted the Assad regime in Syria in bombing its own citizens. Citing a Harvard researcher's finding, a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom reported in May that "Rusal's own website says that it supplied military material to the Russian military that was potentially used in Syria."

Almost immediately, however, the Treasury Department eased the pressure on Rusal. Deadlines were extended more than once. In May, Lord Gregory Barker of Battle, the chairman of Mr. Deripaska's holding company, hired a $108,500-a-month lobbyist to continue to negotiate with the Treasury Department. The firm he chose, Mercury Public Affairs, is the firm Mr. Manafort paid $1.1 million to lobby members of Congress on behalf of Ukraine and its then-president, Viktor Yanukovych before 2014. Led by David Vitter, a former Republican senator from Louisiana, Mercury has sought to enlist support from ambassadors of France, Germany and Australia, among others.

Mercury, which describes its approach as "high-stakes public strategy," turned up the heat on the Treasury Department last week, demanding more time to reduce the oligarch's ownership stake in En+ from 70 percent to below 50 percent. In a July 24 filing with the Justice Department, Mercury outlined a host of calamities that might be unleashed if sanctions aren't eased: The global aluminum market might suffer significant disruptions with "severe collateral damage to United States interests, allies"; En+ might have to entertain a potential acquisition by "Chinese and/or other potentially hostile interests"; or Mr. Deripaska might just hang on to his majority stake. Contradictory as these dire predictions seem — Mr. Deripaska can't both sell his company off to China and retain a majority stake — they appear to have been enough to make the Treasury grant Rusal yet another extension on July 31, giving Mr. Deripaska more time to divest his stake in En+.

The specter of a fellow traveler with gangsters dictating terms to the United States government is yet another sign of the Trump administration's inexplicable capitulation to Russia. And the timing of this latest surrender follows the July 16 summit in Helsinki, at which President Trump and President Putin met privately for more than two hours.

We don't know what they discussed, but given the stakes on both sides, there's a good chance that the discussion touched on the subject of the sanctions the United States has imposed on Russia's biggest aluminum company.

Seth Hettena, an investigative report for the Associated Press from 1998- 2006, is now a freelance journalist. Heis the author of "Trump/Russia: A Definitive History." He wrote this in the New York Times, on August 2, 2018, under the title, Another Gilft for a Putin Buddy


August 2, 2018

Post Script. I thought that the article above while establishing a troubling connection between Manafort and the aluminum king Deripaska, doesnt make clear how even deeper and more troubling the relationship is.

There has been wide speculation that Manafort is fearful of Deripaska who, after all, has been known to murder people for less than the $20 million unpaid debt that Manafort is reputed to owe him. Do you think Manafort might feel gratitude to Trump for assuaging Deripaska? Does Trump seeking to remove sanctions on Deripaska himself and on Russia aluminum not just make Putin smile, but make Manafort feel Trump has his back?

Oh, did I mention that Trump vetoed an offer from a Chinese firm to buy Ohio aluminum manaufaturer Aleris in the spring, and now there is a serious question if he will allow an Indian firm to buy that firm?

Plus he is now threatening to bill foreign aluminum makers with a 25% tariff? Well, Chinese and Indian aluminum makers, not this Russian auluminum maker, for whom Trump seeks an exception? Is this to protect American workers or is this to make Putin and Manafort smile? #TrumpTreason

Read a more detailedaccount of the relationship between Manafort and Derispaska below.

Business Insider, June 27, 2018.

Newly unsealed court filing shows Paul Manafort was more indebted to Putin ally Oleg Deripaska than previously known.

A newly unsealed court filing shows that Paul Manafort received a hefty loan from Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin.

Manafort is the former chairman of President Donald Trump's campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia's election interference, has charged Manafort in two indictments with dozens of counts related to tax and bank fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, false statements, and failure to register as a foreign agent.

Manafort recently lost motions seeking to dismiss each of the two cases against him — one in Virginia and one in Washington, DC. He is currently incarcerated in Northern Neck Regional Jail in Virginia.

The document unsealed on Wednesday is a July 2017 application for a warrant to search Manafort's home in Virginia, Reuters reported . In an affidavit attached to the application, an FBI agent said that while reviewing tax returns for a company Manafort and his wife own, he discovered that Deripaska loaned Manafort $10 million. It's unclear when the loan was made.

Deripaska is a longtime associate of Manafort's, and the two men have a complicated financial history.

The affidavit disclosed that Deripaska financially supported Manafort's consulting work in Ukraine when it began in 2005 and in 2006.

Deripaska and Manafort also worked together on a lobbying project in the US in 2006, and Deripaska signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort for the deal, which Manafort said would "greatly benefit the Putin Government."

When Manafort joined the Trump campaign ten years later, he owed Deripaska close to $20 million, according to legal complaints Deripaska's lawyers filed in the Cayman Islands and New York.

Manafort's debt to Deripaska attracted scrutiny last year, after The Atlantic published several emails appearing to show Manafort using his elevated role in the Trump campaign to resolve his conflict with Deripaska.

Manafort reportedly wrote an email to his associate, the former Russian-Ukrainian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik, offering to give Deripaska "private briefings" about the campaign. Kilimnik was indicted by Mueller this month.

"I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?" Manafort reportedly wrote to Kilimnik.

"Absolutely," replied Kilimnik. "Every article."

"How do we use to get whole," Manafort responded. "Has OVD operation seen?"

Former intelligence officials told Business Insider that Manafort was likely offering the briefings in an effort to repay his debt to Deripaska. Investigators have concluded that "OVD" was a reference to Deripaska's full name: Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska.

Kilimnik reportedly told Manafort in a later email that he had been "sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD." Victor was a senior aide to Deripaska, according to The Atlantic.

"Frankly, the coverage has been much better than Trump's," Kilimnik wrote. "In any case it will hugely enhance your reputation no matter what happens."

On July 7, 2016, Manafort wrote to Kilimnik, "If he needs private briefings, we can accommodate."

Manafort and Kilimnik met at least twice during the campaign — once in May 2016 and once in August.

Three days before the August meeting, Kilimnik wrote in an email to Manafort that he had "met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago," a reference to Deripaska's previous loans to Manafort. "We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you."

Manafort has said he and Kilimnik discussed the Trump campaign and the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee during the August 2, 2016 meeting. Kilimnik said they did not discuss the campaign, but talked about "current news" and "unpaid bills."

Meanwhile, hours after their meeting, a private jet linked to Deripaska landed in Newark, New Jersey, close to where Manafort and Kilimnik met. It was in the US for less than 24 hours, and the trip has now caught the eye of congressional Trump-Russia investigators.

Deripaska's representatives confirmed to Vice News that his jet flew to New Jersey that month, but said Deripaska was not on board, that the trip had nothing to do with Manafort's offer, and that Deripaska never received the offer.

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