(Bloomberg) -- As the Trump Organization pursued a licensing deal for the planned Trump Tower Moscow, former Donald Trump associate Felix Sater pushed in December 2015 to organize a visit to Russia to advance the project.
Sater told Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen he had the ear of Russia’s second-biggest bank, state-owned VTB Group, to discuss financing the potentially $1 billion deal. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report shows that instead he was talking with Genbank, a lender operating in Crimea after Russia annexed it from Ukraine. The bank was owned by Yevgeny Dvoskin, who in 2000 was deported from the U.S. after being convicted of tax fraud and remained under indictment in the U.S. for stock fraud. The Mueller report cites phone records as showing Sater spoke to Dvoskin by phone about the deal.
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Within a week of Sater’s Dec. 19 email, Genbank was slapped with sanctions from the U.S. Treasury for operating in the territory that had been seized from Ukraine the previous year. Yet even sanctions against Genbank did not halt the Trump Organization’s relationship with the lender. Weeks later, Sater would send Cohen a draft invitation needed for a Russian visa purportedly from the bank as well as a financing letter, according to the Mueller report.
The Trump Tower Moscow, a hastily planned project backed by a letter of intent signed by candidate Trump in the fourth quarter of 2015, led to a guilty plea by Cohen for lying to Congress. He falsely claimed that Trump Organization stopped pursuing the deal early in 2016 when the efforts actually continued well into that election year before dropping it.
Genbank would ultimately run afoul of the Russian authorities. After a 1.4 billion ruble ($22 million) central bank bailout, in 2017 it was taken over by a subsidiary of Bank Rossiya, another sanctioned lender owned in part by a long-time friend of Vladimir Putin, Yury Kovalchuk.
“VTB never held any negotiations on any matter relating to the construction of the Trump Tower,” VTB said in a statement. “We’d like to stress that no VTB Group subsidiary ever had any dealings with Mr. Trump, his representatives or any companies affiliated with him.”
--With assistance from Evgenia Pismennaya.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jake Rudnitsky in Moscow at firstname.lastname@example.org;Irina Reznik in Moscow at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Torrey Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org, Gregory L. White
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