Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump

 With Additional Research by

The title of this article is borrowed from a Dutch film which documents or alleges a worldwide web of criminal activities, with ties to the Trump organization. See The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump. These activities involve many men from the former Soviet Union (several said to be tied to or part of the “Russian Mob”). A helpful article is the Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2017; McClatchy Washington Bureau, Other sources include Mafia-linked Figures, Felix Sater, Forbes Billionaires, Trump and the Oligarch ‘Trio’ and The Diplomat.

What emerges is an incredibly colorful and complex worldwide net of criminal activities by shady characters from Kazakhstan, Russia, Israel, the Netherlands, the United States and elsewhere. These transactions involve billions of dollars in dozens of countries all over the globe.

The story reminds me of the Tintin capers I enjoyed so much as a boy, or intrigue a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, with a tinge of Don Corleone thrown in. I suppose this topic should be taken very seriously. But for now, just enjoy:

According to the McClatchy Washington Bureau, two fugitive oligarchs are accused of laundering Kazakh money in US real estate, some of it owned by Donald Trump.

Switzerland received a request from Ukraine for the extradition of Ilyas Khrapunov, the son of former Kazakh energy minister Viktor Khrapunov. Ukraine wants to try Ilyas for hacking into the computer of a law firm representing BTA Bank, a Kazakh bank from where billions disappeared and which was seized by regulators in 2009.

These two men are also facing charges in the United States and in Kazakhstan. The Khrapunovs are accused in US lawsuits of laundering illicit money through the purchase and quick resale of luxury properties.

At the center of these transactions is the Bayrock Group. This is an investment company and a Trump business associate. It paid the Trump organization a license fee to use its name and for 18% ownership of a hotel and condo project. It involves Kazakh partners in the development of the huge Trump SoHo condo-hotel complex in New York and projects in Arizona and South Florida. Trump also gave the Bayrock Group the right to build a Trump International Hotel and Tower in Moscow, in exchange for a 20% to 25% stake in it.

The Bayrock Group was founded in 2001 by another Kazakh, Trump’s business partner Tevfik Arif. This man was arrested in 2010 in Turkey. The charges included human trafficking of underage girls. Another major partner at Bayrock is Felix Sater, a Russian emigrĂ© to the US. He is the son of a mobster who worked for one of Russia’s most powerful bosses, Semion Mogilevich (who had many people murdered).

Sater was indicted for several crimes, but he beat the rap by becoming an FBI informant. He went back to work for Bayrock. By 2013, he was (again) a major associate and adviser to Donald Trump. 

Financiers for Trump/Bayrock real estate investments include the “FL Group” in Iceland, a conduit for money/investors coming out of former Soviet areas. Bayrock and this FL Group are said to have launched a major tax fraud scheme in the US, allegedly involving Trump too.

Another source of tainted money brought into Bayrock by Sater comes from the Luxembourg investment company Triadou SPV S.A. Sater, and a company owned by Triadou are being sued by Jody Kriss, a former Bayrock partner.

The Khrapunovs are said to have funds invested in Bayrock/Trump’s SoHo building. There are large bank transfers from a Cyprus lender.

Viktor Khrapunov (the father) was also the mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan‘s largest city. That city has, along with former New York business partners, filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles against Viktor Khrapunov and his son Ilyas. These two men, along with Ilyas’ father-in-law Mukhtar Ablyazov, face criminal charges in Kazakhstan. Ablyazov is a fugitive banker who owned the BTA Bank (Kazakhstan’s third largest bank) until it was seized by regulators in 2009. $10 billion went missing from the bank and Ablyazov is alleged to have moved out at least $4 billion. He is also the father of Ilyas Khrapunov’s wife Madina. Ablyazov was arrested by French police in Cannes in 2013, and freed in December of 2016.

The California lawsuit against Viktor Khrapunov accuses him of arranging rigged auctions of state property while mayor of Almaty from 1997 to 2004. He and his wife Leila allegedly purchased property below market rates through shell companies and then sold them for a profit of $300 million. 

The money allegedly stolen by Viktor Khrapunov was deposited in the Eurasian Bank in Almaty, owned by Alexander Mashkevich, a partner in Bayrock. According to sealed British court documents, this man is linked to organized crime.

The trio of men claim to be the victims of political persecution by Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s President since 1990. Nazarbayev is said to have stashed money in offshore companies. The Khrapunovs claim that their fortune comes from matriarch  Leila, a businesswoman and TV anchor who became the owner of Kazakhstan’s first private TV station.

Leila Khrapunov also did business with Tevfik Arif and Bayrock in a joint venture called KazBay

The family fled to Switzerland in 2008 and sought asylum there a few years later. Even though Interpol sought to detain Viktor and Ilyas Khrapunov, Viktor managed to buy property in Los Angeles and Trump SoHo condos in New York.

Ilyas Khrapunov and his wife Madina (daughter of the fugitive banker Ablyazov) obtained diplomatic posts representing the Central African Republic in Geneva from former ruler Francois Bozize before he was toppled and fled the country in 2013. Through a land acquisition, the couple obtained dual citizenship in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Khrapunov’s New York lawyer John Kenney, of the firm Latham & Watkins LLP, wants the case to be tried in Switzerland. However, Almaty’s lawyer David Schindler wants the trial in Los Angeles.
Switzerland has refused to extradite Khrapunov to Kazakhstan, on grounds that he would not have an equitable trial there. Kazakh authorities are asking US authorities for information about Bayrock, as they attempt to recover stolen funds.

The Dutch connection:
Bayrock, the Khrapunovs, Tevfik Arif and its other partners have a strong and shady presence in the Netherlands. For example, Arif has sex hotels in Amsterdam.

Furthermore, these people establish letter-box companies in that country. These “companies” function like P.O. boxes for the deposit of large sums of money whose provenance cannot be determined. The companies have names followed by the suffix B.V., which in Dutch stands for “limited liability company.” There is a Bayrock B.V. in Amsterdam, and a KazBay B.V., handling dirty money from places such as Kazakhstan. We are told that Kazbay B.V. was established by Rudolph Giuliani! 

Thus, Holland is a favorite place for oligarchs from the former Soviet Union to launder their money, through letter-box companies and otherwise.

Another major Bayrock partner and Kazakh oligarch is Alexander Mashkevitch. He is a multi-billionaire who owns a metals and mining empire. His main company is the ERG - the Eurasian Resources Group, registered in Luxembourg, and with a major branch in Amsterdam. Mashkevitch is also a citizen of Israel and a leader of the Jewish community.

Blood Diamonds:
The Dutch documentary devotes much time to another Soviet-born Jew who moved to Israel, Lev Leviev, nicknamed “the King of Diamonds.” He is a billionaire who has invested heavily in diamond mines in Angola, Namibia and elsewhere in Africa. He is said to be dealing primarily in “blood diamonds.”

Also, kleptocrats in the former Soviet Union have acquired control over Dutch diamond companies.

Leviev, now centered in Tel Aviv, is in business with Jared Kushner and Trump. He is close to Putin, and an active supporter of the Jewish faith and of Jewish projects, including the building of West Bank settlements. He is said to support dictators such as Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Dos Santos in Angola. He is accused of looting Angola and supporting the sadistic security forces that torture and murder diamond miners.

Leviev is also in business with the 88 Queensway Group. This is a Chinese organized criminal group in Hong Kong that also invests in African diamond mines and traffics in blood diamonds. It is headed by Sam Pa, a Chinese kleptocrat. 88 Queensway also conducts criminal business with North Korea.

One way diamonds are trafficked criminally is to paint them black artificially, so as to give them the appearance of much cheaper black diamonds while transporting them internationally.

Leviev is in contact with Trump. He makes real estate deals with Jared Kushner (who also funds West Bank settlements). Netanyahu and Leviev’s daughter are fond Trump supporters.

So here you have it. A web of kleptocracy and criminal corruption that is impossible to untangle. Not a coherent plot. Just global kleptocapitalism that touches dozens of countries.

If nothing else, this has been a lesson in geography. These are the countries I have mentioned: Angola, Central African Republic, Britain, China, Cyprus, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Namibia, Netherlands, North Korea, Russia, Soviet Union, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, Zimbabwe.

So, what about the alleged Trump connection? Well, all we can say is this:

(1) Trump and Russia (and the rest of the former USSR) have been tight for a long time (think of events such as the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow).
(2) Trump is a bad businessman; he often goes bankrupt; his credit is bad; he may have to rely on shady creditors from places like Kazakhstan.
(3) After the collapse of the USSR, during Yeltsin, the oligarchs got to buy for a song and a dance all the former state-owned real estate, state-owned minerals, state-owned wealth. The Soviet Union’s “crown-jewels” were being parceled out to them...
(4) There is now an oligarchy that is difficult to distinguish from the mob.

So, is Trump in bed with such business partners?
Is this why he doesn’t want to reveal his taxes?
Is this why he is so nice to Russians - because they have “dirt” on him?
Has the Trump organization benefited from the flow of illegal money through the Bayrock Group and its Kazakh investors?

© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved
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