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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

 

Follow the money laundering, Part 2

by Tom Sullivan

Back in four-spark-plugs-and-a-distributor days, I had both the time and (marginal) talent for fixing my own cars. But I noticed I had a propensity to diagnose simple problems as more complicated and expensive ones. That vibration I feared was an early sign of transmission trouble would end up being from a bad motor mount. That persistent burning smell was not my wiring harness threatening to catch fire, just a plastic grocery bag melted onto the catalytic converter. Occam's razor is your friend.

So it may be with our assumptions about the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. On that, Sean Illing at Vox interviewed Seva Gunitsky, a political science professor at the University of Toronto and author of "Aftershocks." Gunitsky has followed Trump's connections to Russia. They go back decades. To understand Trump and Russia, simply follow the money. And/or the money laundering.

The Vox interview took place prior to the news yesterday that the eighth man in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. is Irakly Kaveladze, described as an accused Russian money launderer connected to Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov.

What is at stake for Trump could be money Russians have poured into his properties and casinos, "hundreds of millions of dollars. Possibly even enough to keep Trump out of another bankruptcy." The Magnitsky Act speculation is leading nowhere, Gunitsky says. Putin's involvement might be overstated. We should be looking instead at the Prevezon case:

So Prevezon is a holding company with links to Russian elites that has been accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars through New York City real estate. It's also part of Hermitage Capital, an investment fund that was being investigated by Magnitsky (the Russian lawyer who was killed in a Moscow prison in 2009) more than 10 years ago.

Prevezon was part of this giant tax fraud scheme that Magnitsky uncovered in 2008, which led to his death and which led indirectly to the Magnitsky Act of 2012. The U.S. Attorney’s Office was also preparing a massive case against Prevezon last year. Until it was abruptly dropped.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney in the June 9 meeting, was Prevezon’s lawyer, Gunitsky continues. It may be that she was there to ask for help with that in exchange for campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Several months after Trump takes office, the Prevezon case is dismissed. So what happened? The U.S. attorney was carefully preparing a case against Prevezon Holdings. They were all set to go forward, and then suddenly the case was settled. Prevezon's own lawyers were kind of shocked. We know they paid something like $6 million, which is a fraction of what the lawsuit was about. So they were extremely happy about it.

Congressional Democrats have openly expressed concerns about what happened here. They want to know why it was settled so quickly. Was pressure being applied from above? In any case, we can see the possible motivations of the people approaching Trump for favors. When I say the collusion starts with financial interests, this is what I mean.
Illing links to last week's Foreign Policy examination of how the settlement came soon after the Trump Justice Department fired Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who brought the case. And two days before it was to go to trial:
The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who was fired by Trump in March. The case alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.
The deep financial ties had been there for decades. It is not that Putin does not have parallel political interests. It is just that when Trump made waves politically, Gunitsky explaines, Putin and the Kremlin saw a target of opportunity aligned with the interests of the oligarchs, of which Putin is the principal one. Besides, "in Russia the distinction between political power and economic power is very fuzzy."

Trump's consistent pro-Russian posture, he explains, is simpler than collusion (or treachery). It stems from Trump's consistent fixation on making money and the size of his stash.

Besides himself, money is the one thing Trump believes in.