Sunday, August 05, 2018

What Is It With Cyprus?

When you find a point of convergence where shady characters gather to do shady things it's usually worthwhile to take a closer look.

Testimony in the opening days of the Paul Manafort tax evasion/bank fraud trial brought up the Bank of Cyprus where, it's alleged, Manafort stashed many millions of dollars to conceal it from Uncle Sam's tax collector.

This appears to be the same Bank of Cyprus that Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, was co-owner and co-chairman until joining Team Trump in 2017.

Ross always struck me as a curious pick for a guy like Trump. Not only does he look like Mr. McGoo, he reportedly infuriates Trump by nodding off at cabinet meetings. It's said staff try to arrange meetings for Ross well before 11 a.m.

Both Manafort and Ross have deep ties to Cyprus and its banks. Cyprus is also  a haven for Russian oligarchs. For a two million Euro investment, a Russian with a bit of loose cash can received Cypriot citizenship and, with it, the cherished EU passport.

Various news outlets have looked into Ross and Bank of Cyprus. This, from The Guardian, in March, 2017:
Ross, who had made billions of dollars years earlier by betting on bankrupt steel mills, was known for taking risky bets. But his decision to inject €400m into the bank with other investors encompassed a different kind of risk. It put him at the centre of the biggest financial institution in a country that was widely considered to be a tax haven for Russian oligarchs, even as the US and EU were imposing sanctions on Russia. In 2014, the year he made his investment, the US State Department considered Cyprus an area of “primary concern” for money laundering (pdf), according to its official assessment.

Ross was appointed vice-chairman at the bank after his investment in 2014, a post he shared with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally. According to the bank’s annual reports, the two attended two board meetings together in 2014 and as many as five together in 2015 before Strzhalkovsky’s May 2015 resignation from the board. One of the questions that has been posed to Ross by Democratic senators is whether he ever had contact with Strzhalkovsky. 
One of Ross’s first big decisions at the bank was the appointment of former Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann as chairman, whom he chose in part because of Ackermann’s “huge Rolodex”, according to a 2014 Bloomberg interview. 
Ackermann’s ties to Russia were especially strong, including a warm relationship with Putin and Herman Gref of Sberbank.
Forbes, meanwhile, offers a sometimes scathing look into Ross and his dealings with Russia and China.

The Dallas News reports how "Cyprus is at the center of a circle of corruption surrounding Trump."

The country of Cyprus has a long history as a laundromat for dirty money, particularly from Russia. ...And the cast of characters linked to the bank and President Donald Trump is troubling.

-When Oleg Deripaska, the founder of Russian aluminum company Rusal, began paying Paul Manafort $10 million a year in 2006 to act as a secret emissary for Russian President Vladimir Putin with Western governments, he paid Manafort through the Bank of Cyprus. Records handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigative team show that Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, had at least 15 accounts at the Bank of Cyprus and a bank that it took over in 2013, Cyprus Popular Bank, according to the National Herald. Mueller's 12-count indictment against Manafort and Gates charged the two men with money laundering and conspiracy against the United States.
...Ross was co-chair of the bank from 2014 until early 2017 when he relinquished his position to join Trump's cabinet. Ross's first co-chair was Putin appointee Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB agent and long-time associate of Putin. In 2015, Strzhalkovsky was replaced byMaksim Goldman, is director of strategic projects at Viktor Vekselberg's Renova Group and sits on the board of Rusal.

The Motley Crew
-Viktor Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, is the largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus holding a 9.3 percent stake as of early 2017, according to

-Dmitry Rybolovlev, Russia's "Fertilizer King," owns a 3.3 percent stake in the bank. Rybolovlev purchased Trump's mega mansion in Palm Beach for $95 million, which allowed Trump to more than double his $41 million investment in the property in four years. The timing of the purchase was essentially a Trump rescue package Trump was suing Deutsche Bank, his one remaining creditor, to try to avoid repaying a $40 million real estate loan. He lost. 
-Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank from 2002 to 2012, replaced Ross as co-chair of the bank. Like co-chair Goldman, Ackermann currently works for Viktor Vekselberg. He joined the board of Vekselberg's Zurich-based holding company, Renova Management AG, in 2014 to manage Renova's international assets. Clearly, Vekselberg's interests are fully represented at the Bank of Cyprus.
After being blackballed by U.S. banks for failure to pay his loans, Trump turned to Deutsche Bank for liquidity. Deutsche Bank is estimated to have loaned Trump as much as $3 billion since the 1990s. Trump's financial disclosures show that he has $364 million in loans from the bank that will mature in 2024. 
During Ackermann's tenure as chief executive, Deutsche Bank engaged in a wide range of financial misconduct including, according to the New Yorker, laundering $10 billion of Russian money through its offices in New York, Cyprus and Moscow. Through November of 2017, the bank had paid over $670 million in civil penalties to the U.S. and the U.K. related to its Russian trades. Deutsche Bank's Moscow office was run by Andrey Kostin Jr. until 2011 when he died in an ATV crash in a forest in northern Russia. Kostin's father, Andrey Kostin Sr., is chief executive of VTB, the second largest state-controlled bank in Russia that is currently under U.S. sanctions. In an interview with CNBC Kostin said, "We are sick and tired of what's happening in America and this anti-Russian stance."
... Gazprom's investment subsidiary is managed by Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek-Russian billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin. Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign and made several trips to Russia in 2016, reported, has deep financial ties to Gazprom. 
Yuri Milner also invested $850,000 of his personal funds into a real estate startup, Cadre, which Jared Kushner co-owns with his brother. Kushner failed to disclose his association with Cadre when he joined the Trump White House.
It seems even the surprise retirement of US Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy brings up connections, via Kennedy's son, Justin, to Donald Trump.
The son of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was leading a real-estate division of Deutsche Bank as it gave President Donald Trump over $1 billion in loans to finance his real-estate projects when other banks wouldn't, The New York Times reported Thursday
Justin Kennedy, the former global head of Deutsche Bank's real-estate capital markets division, was one of Trump's close business associates, The Times reported, citing two sources familiar with the matter. 
Because of Trump's inconsistent track record in business, which included multiple bankruptcy filings and frequent lawsuits, most other major banks would not lend to him. Deutsche Bank loaned Trump the funds to construct and renovate skyscrapers and other developments in New York City and Chicago, The Times reported. 
After Trump's first address to Congress, in February 2017, he reportedly stopped to chat with Anthony Kennedy, saying: "Say hello to your boy. Special guy."

In May, Bloomberg explored links between oligarch Vekselberg and Trump's fixer turned snitch, Michael Cohen.
Viktor Vekselberg hasn’t topped the list of Russian oligarchs suspected of ties to President Donald Trump’s circle. But maybe he should.

Columbus Nova, a private-equity fund operator affiliated with Vekselberg, moved $500,000 to an entity set up by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen last year. The transfer places Vekselberg at the center of an unfolding drama over alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, linking Vekselberg to the Delaware company Cohen used to pay off porn actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, before Trump was elected.

Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born billionaire who made his fortune in oil and aluminum, attended Trump’s swearing-in last year after his cousin donated to the inauguration fund. Through his Renova Group, Vekselberg invested in Bank of Cyprus in 2014 alongside Wilbur Ross, who is now Trump’s commerce secretary.

Notably, Vekselberg has made an effort to signal his loyalty to President Vladimir Putin: Last September, he was one of two dozen Russian businessmen to meet with Putin in a closed-door session at the Kremlin.
Now we return to Putin crony and oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, and the aluminum company he founded, Russal. Deripaska, as noted previously, "began paying Paul Manafort $10 million a year in 2006 to act as a secret emissary for Russian President Vladimir Putin with Western governments, paid [to] Manafort through the Bank of Cyprus."

Apparently Deripaska was told to unload Russal, which he did, and now the Trump administration is talking about lifting sanctions imposed on the Russian aluminum producer even as it is slapping tariffs on aluminum produced by America's allies.

All of which suggests that, before the Mueller investigation wraps up, we are going to hear a great deal more about Russian oligarchs, their links to the Trump family, the role played by the Bank of Cyprus and Deutsche Bank in the affairs of Trump's empire and, perhaps, how Wilbur Ross came to become Trump's commerce secretary.


Lulymay said...

2 years ago this month we took a trip that I had been wanting to do for a long time. It was a river cruise between St Petersburg and Moscow. By far, the largest number of people on board were Americans. Most of them said that they found Russia a lot different than what they had been lead to believe by their politicians and press. One of the most interesting comments, however, came from one of our tour guides (a Russian) who informed us that Moscow had the largest number of billionaires per capita than any other city in the world. Lots of multi-national corps were also located there. It was a real eye opener to travel there. There were definitely some restrictions on where we could walk (stay on the sidewalk) when we toured the area where the Kremlin is located, but I doubt they were any different than what we would experience if we were to venture anywhere near to the White House in the US.

The Mound of Sound said...

It sounds like quite a visit.

Trailblazer said...

Be they Russian, American, British or Canadian the tax dodgers live in a world that we will never be part of.
Expose after expose have revealed the rich and (in) famous politicians do not adhere to the same tax conditions that you or I do.

Do you honestly think that the rich and famous pay the high tax rates they so abhour?
Not a friggen chance.
Whilst they whine and complain they use their high priced lawyers to eek out every tax break possible culminating in off shore accounts that vary as the tax collector approaches.
I really believe that the common factor in many world events is the desire of the rich and famous to reduce or not pay their fair share of contributions to society.
I thinks that this is borne out of the present day situation where the oligarchs of the USA, UK Russia and the EU are besides themselves trying to cover the antics of tax evasion.
The connections between these is becoming more obvious by the day.
Farage, Trump, May Putin ; the list is long.

Sometimes I wonder if we fighting the right fight?


The Mound of Sound said...

Agreed, Trail Blazer.

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