Ex Trump associates helped fugitive Kazakhs in visa scheme

 

Two for­mer asso­ciates of Donald Trump helped a fam­i­ly of wealthy Kazakh fugi­tives make exten­sive invest­ments in the United States, some aimed at help­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers obtain legal res­i­den­cy here, a McClatchy inves­ti­ga­tion shows.

Felix Sater, an ex-con and one-time senior advis­er in the Trump Organization, helped the Trump fam­i­ly scout deals in Russia. He led an effort that began in 2012 to assist the stepchil­dren of Viktor Khrapunov, who that year had been placed on an inter­na­tion­al deten­tion request list by the glob­al police agency Interpol.

Former Kazakh Energy Minister Viktor Khrapunov, shown in this pho­to from an Interpol notice in 2012, faces civ­il law­suits in the United States alleg­ing that he and his fam­i­ly laun­dered stolen mon­ey through prop­er­ty in the United States and elsewhere.

Khrapunov is the for­mer Kazakh ener­gy min­is­ter and ex-may­or of Almaty, that nation’s most pop­u­lous city. He fled to Switzerland a decade ago, after Kazakhstan’s lead­ers accused him and his wife of steal­ing gov­ern­ment funds. They are now accused in civ­il law­suits of laun­der­ing mon­ey through lux­u­ry prop­er­ties, includ­ing Trump-brand­ed con­dos in the Soho neigh­bor­hood New York.

McClatchy’s probe reveals that with the help of Sater and his then-busi­ness asso­ciate Daniel Ridloff, also for­mer­ly affil­i­at­ed with the Trump Organization, the Khrapunov fam­i­ly invest­ed mil­lions in a short-lived com­pa­ny that sought to place bio­met­rics machines in air­ports across the country.

The real aim of Khrapunov’s invest­ment was obtain­ing US res­i­den­cy for at least one mem­ber of the fam­i­ly; the com­pa­ny sub­mit­ted, with the help of the one­time Trump asso­ciates, at least three requests to obtain visas for for­eign workers.

The McClatchy inves­ti­ga­tion reveals a deep­er rela­tion­ship than pre­vi­ous­ly known between the for­mer Trump Organization fig­ures and the fugi­tive Khrapunovs — under­scor­ing how lit­tle is known about many of those involved with the Trump Organization.

There is no evi­dence that Trump him­self par­tic­i­pat­ed in the court­ing of the Khrapunovs, but the affair sheds light on the often murky activ­i­ties of the asso­ciates with whom he did deals at home and abroad.

What Ties?

On paper, Donald Trump’s busi­ness rela­tion­ship with Sater end­ed almost a decade ago. But ear­li­er this year, Sater re-entered Trump’s orbit when he and Michael D. Cohen, one of Trump’s per­son­al lawyers, were involved with a Ukraine-Russia peace pro­pos­al that was pre­sent­ed to Michael Flynn, then Trump’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advisor.

Sater, whose LinkedIn pro­file lists him as a senior advis­er to Trump in 2010 and 2011, also gave more than $10,000 to Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and a joint Trump-Republican National Committee fund in 2016, and at least $6,000 this year, accord­ing to Federal Election Commission records.

The web connecting the Trump administration to Russia

From Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to for­mer cam­paign direc­tor Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s allies have busi­ness and per­son­al con­nec­tions to Russia. As Congress and the FBI look into Russia’s involve­ment with the 2016 elec­tion, those con­nec­tions are increas­ing­ly under a microscope.

Natalie Fertig and Patrick Gleason — McClatchy

This as Bloomberg report­ed Thursday that Trump Soho in New York, where the Khrapunovs invest­ed, were among sev­er­al Trump busi­ness­es being looked at by for­mer FBI Director Robert Mueller in his probe of pos­si­ble col­lu­sion between Russia and the Trump cam­paign in 2016.

Do not know,” said John M. Dowd, an out­side lawyer for Trump, said of the report in response to ques­tions from McClatchy.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/886541955311816705

Several key peo­ple in Trump’s orbit did busi­ness with the Kazakh clan, includ­ing the law firm of Trump cam­paign sur­ro­gate Rudy Giuliani and the Bayrock Group, which devel­oped Trump-brand­ed projects in New York, Florida and Arizona and was found­ed by Tevik Arif, a polit­i­cal­ly-con­nect­ed for­mer Soviet offi­cial from Kazakhstan.

Lincoln Mitchell, a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant who spe­cial­izes in Russia and its neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, said vir­tu­al­ly any invest­ment from Kazakhstan war­rants scrutiny.

It would be hard to imag­ine get­ting Kazakh invest­ment that was­n’t close to the rul­ing fam­i­ly,” Mitchell said in a tele­phone inter­view from the for­mer Soviet repub­lic of Georgia.

Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled resources-rich Kazakhstan since 1989, plac­ing his chil­dren and their spous­es in top gov­ern­ment posts. Some of his fam­i­ly assets have been frozen in Switzerland, and a U.S. Justice Department set­tle­ment in 2015 spot­light­ed how bribes paid to senior Kazakh offi­cials end­ed up in off­shore accounts belong­ing to the Kazakh government.

Both Sater and Ridloff had worked for Bayrock before join­ing the Trump Organization, Sater being one of its man­ag­ing part­ners. Later, the two men facil­i­tat­ed the pur­chase in 2013 of three con­dos in the Trump SoHo for $3.1 mil­lion by com­pa­nies tied to the Khrapunov chil­dren, Ilyas Khrapunov and Elvira Kudryashova.

In 2012 and 2013 alone, Sater and Ridloff worked with the Khrapunovs on more than $40 mil­lion in real estate and invest­ment deals. All came after Kazakhstan added Viktor to the Interpol want­ed list in February 2012.

Later, the for­mer Trump asso­ciates and their Kazakh investors appeared to have a falling out, becom­ing mired in acri­mo­nious law­suits that end­ed in secret sealed set­tle­ments. Yet their busi­ness rela­tion­ship appears to have con­tin­ued after the set­tle­ments, and they con­tin­ue to main­tain a friend­ship via social media.

Viktor Khrapunov’s wife, Leila, would be added to the Interpol want­ed list lat­er in 2012, and step­son Ilyas was added in May 2014.

Ilyas Khrapunov, shown in a pho­to from an Interpol notice, faces civ­il law­suits alleg­ing that he and his father, Viktor, a for­mer ener­gy min­is­ter and may­or in Kazakhstan, laun­dered stolen mon­ey through prop­er­ty in the United States and elsewhere

The Khrapunovs – who declined to answer detailed ques­tions from McClatchy — main­tain that they are the vic­tims of polit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion by the despot­ic Nazarbayev, who once offered Viktor the post of prime min­is­ter before their falling out.

This is about a dic­ta­tor try­ing to silence his polit­i­cal oppo­nents,” Marc Comina, a Khrapunov fam­i­ly spokesman in Switzerland, said in an emailed state­ment. “Kazakhstan is using the legal sys­tems of Western coun­tries to harass, wear down and destroy polit­i­cal opponents.”

From Almaty to the Big Apple

On the sur­face, a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar invest­ment by the Khrapunovs in a New York-based health tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny would appear to make lit­tle sense.

World Health Networks was formed from the ash­es of a failed firm that had cre­at­ed health mon­i­tor­ing kiosks placed in phar­ma­cies. The new com­pa­ny aimed to put sim­i­lar devices in air­ports across the world, but first it need­ed capital.

Enter Sater. He was rep­re­sent­ing the Khrapunovs, who were look­ing for US invest­ments, and was intro­duced to exec­u­tives of World Health Networks through an inter­me­di­ary who attend­ed the same syn­a­gogue on Long Island, accord­ing to a per­son with inti­mate knowl­edge of the deal.

Company exec­u­tives made a pitch to the Khrapunovs in April 2012, accord­ing to doc­u­ments reviewed by McClatchy, and court doc­u­ments show that the mon­ey start­ed flow­ing into the New York firm soon after.

World Health Network’s busi­ness mod­el evolved over the course of its short exis­tence, from an ear­ly plan to attract spon­sor­ships from health insur­ance com­pa­nies to a lat­er plan to sell adver­tis­ing space on the machines.

It was def­i­nite­ly a real com­pa­ny,” said Ken Williams, who helped devel­op the firm and sat on its board.

Sater installed Ridloff as the company’s chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees who demand­ed anonymi­ty because of sev­er­al ongo­ing lawsuits.

Silence and Denials

McClatchy reporters knocked on Sater’s door in wealthy New York sub­urb of Sands Point on July 17. He declined com­ment when asked about World Health Networks and oth­er deal­ings with the Khrapunovs, say­ing he was late for a golf out­ing. McClatchy returned lat­er in the day, prompt­ing Sater to email that he’d call police if reporters came back again.

His attor­ney, Robert S. Wolf, declined to meet with McClatchy a day lat­er when reporters went to his office in Manhattan’s Chrysler Building seek­ing comment.

A Port Washington address Sater has list­ed mul­ti­ple times as his place of busi­ness turned out to be a UPS store.

He comes in here once in a blue moon,” said Nagasar Lachman, own­er of the store.

This much is known: Ridloff sub­mit­ted three visa appli­ca­tions for high­ly skilled work­ers on the company’s behalf between March 2013 and March 2014, all seek­ing to hire for­eign bud­get analysts.

Stopped on the street as he left his Manhattan office, Ridloff con­firmed to McClatchy that the invest­ment by the Khrapunovs – ulti­mate­ly $6 mil­lion, accord­ing to court records — was aimed at secur­ing Kudryashova, Viktor’s step­daugh­ter, legal res­i­dence in the United States.

The com­pa­ny part­nered with the Swiss-based World Heart Federation and man­aged to place its machines in sev­er­al air­ports, includ­ing Detroit, San Jose and Sacramento, Calif. But for­mer employ­ees con­firmed its rev­enue couldn’t keep pace with expenses.

The com­pa­ny spent lib­er­al­ly on inter­na­tion­al trav­el and a bloat­ed pay­roll, they said, and it fold­ed soon after fund­ing from the Khrapunovs dried up in late 2014.

It’s unclear the visas were ever issued, or whether the Khrapunovs obtained legal U.S. res­i­dence through any oth­er means. The State Department and Homeland Security did not imme­di­ate­ly pro­vide doc­u­ments request­ed under the Freedom of Information Act about World Health Networks’ visa applications.

Elvira Kudryashova list­ed a Newport Beach, Calif., address on a 2016 incor­po­ra­tion doc­u­ment for an upscale toy store she owned called Anthill shopNplay. The prop­er­ty in Newport Beach was sold lat­er the same year.

Mall Brawl

Sater and Ridloff also worked with the Khrapunovs on near­ly $35 mil­lion in U.S. real estate pur­chas­es dur­ing the same time period.

They start­ed with sev­er­al acqui­si­tions in N.Y., includ­ing the three con­dos in the Trump SoHo for which they spent $3.1 million.

Then in June 2013, Sater and Ridloff helped a Khrapunov-linked com­pa­ny pur­chase the debt on the Tri-County Mall in the Cincinnati sub­urbs for $30 mil­lion. A month lat­er, they sold their inter­est in the mall for $45 mil­lion to a U.S. com­pa­ny whose web­site lists Neil Bush, son of for­mer President George H. W. Bush, on its board of directors.

Sater and Ridloff were owed a $1.6 mil­lion com­mis­sion for their work arrang­ing the Ohio deal, but a law­suit filed in December 2013 alleged that they took near­ly the entire $45 payment.

The law­suit was set­tled, remark­ably, in one day’s time, on Dec. 20, 2013, and the terms are secret. That might have been expect­ed to be the end of the busi­ness rela­tion­ship between the Khrapunovs and Sater.

But doc­u­ments and social media sug­gest a seem­ing­ly ami­ca­ble alliance extend­ing beyond the 2013 lawsuit.

On Feb. 19, 2014 – two months after the law­suit was filed – Ridloff sub­mit­ted the third, final visa appli­ca­tion on behalf of World Health Networks.

Ridloff incor­po­rat­ed World Health Networks in Kansas in March 2014, 10 days before the com­pa­ny was approved to enter into a con­tract with the Kansas City Airport in Missouri.

A Khrapunov-linked com­pa­ny made pay­ments of at least $250,000 to World Health Networks in 2014, accord­ing to court records in a U.S. civ­il law­suit brought against the fam­i­ly, with a pay­ment of $80,000 made in September of 2014.

And Ridloff’s Facebook page shows that he is cur­rent­ly “friends” with Ilyas Khrapunov – years after the law­suit alleg­ing Sater helped orches­trate a mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar heist from a Khrapunov-con­nect­ed company.

Bayrock Origins

Sater first began work­ing with Trump while the Russian emi­gre was at Bayrock, which devel­oped projects with Trump in Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale in addi­tion to the Trump SoHo in New York.

Trump had giv­en Bayrock exclu­sive rights in 2005 to devel­op a Trump International Hotel and Tower in Moscow. Court doc­u­ments show Sater claims to have led a scout­ing trip in Russia with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump in 2006.

Sater and Ridloff appear to have first become acquaint­ed with the Khrapunovs dur­ing their time at Bayrock; in 2007 and 2008, com­pa­nies tied to the Kazakh fam­i­ly entered into sev­er­al deals with Bayrock, includ­ing a joint ener­gy extrac­tion ven­ture in Kazakhstan called Kazbay and the devel­op­ment of a lux­u­ry build­ing in Switzerland over­look­ing Lake Geneva.

Bracewell & Giuliani, the law-firm co-found­ed by for­mer New York City Mayor and Trump sur­ro­gate Rudolph Giuliani, was retained to han­dle legal mat­ters for the joint Bayrock-Khrapunov ener­gy ven­ture, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by Dutch broad­caster Zembla. Giuliani left the part­ner­ship in 2016 and Bracewell offi­cials did not respond to numer­ous calls.

The Giuliani law firm’s Kazakh office was also behind the place­ment of more than $1 bil­lion in cor­po­rate debt for Bank Turanalem, or BTA. Its top share­hold­er was Mukhtar Ablyazov, anoth­er fugi­tive Kazakh, whose daugh­ter is mar­ried to Ilyas Khrapunov.

Kazakhstan’s pres­i­dent ordered BTA seized in 2009 and soon after accused Ablyazov of abscond­ing with bil­lions. Lawsuits in Los Angeles, New York and across the globe accuse of the Khrapunovs of co-min­gling funds with Ablyazov and laun­der­ing the mon­ey, which is also the basis for the Interpol request by Kazakhstan. Lawyers for both the Khrapunovs and Ablyazovs deny this.

The Kazbay deal would ulti­mate­ly fail and the Bayrock Group implod­ed soon after, in part as rev­e­la­tions emerged about Sater’s past. He had done prison time in the mid-1990s after being con­vict­ed of stab­bing a man in the face with a bro­ken mar­gari­ta glass dur­ing a bar brawl. Later, Sater plead­ed guilty to rack­e­teer­ing in a secu­ri­ties fraud case but avoid­ed prison by becom­ing a U.S. gov­ern­ment informant.

Those rev­e­la­tions didn’t end Sater’s rela­tion­ship with Trump – he and Ridloff both worked as advis­ers to the Trump Organization in 2010.

While Sater has said he was scout­ing poten­tial Russia projects for the Trump Organization as late as 2015, Trump has played down their relationship.

If he were sit­ting in the room right now, I real­ly wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump said in a Florida depo­si­tion in 2013.

Correction: This sto­ry has been updat­ed to cor­rect the coun­try of ori­gin for broad­cast­er Zembla.

This Facebook screen­shot shows that for­mer Trump Organization asso­ciate Daniel Ridloff main­tains a social-media con­nec­tion with Ilyas Khrapunov, son of the for­mer Kazakh ener­gy min­is­ter accused in civ­il law­suits of largescale theft of gov­ern­ment funds. Both Ilyas and his father Viktor are sub­ject to Interpol deten­tion requests sought by Kazakhstan. WBU, User4

 

This UPS Store in Port Washington, N.Y., is list­ed by some­time Donald Trump asso­ciate Felix Sater as his place of busi­ness. The store is a few miles from his lux­u­ry home in Sands Point. Kevin G. Hall

By Ben Wieder, Gabrielle Paluch and Kevin G. Hal

Kevin G. Hall: 202–383-6038, @KevinGHall
Ben Wieder: 202–383-6125, @benbwieder

Original Article: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article162789803.html

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