Although Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is essentially complete, the Trump team is far from out of the woods just yet. Former Trump associate Felix Sater has been hit with a wide-ranging criminal complaint alleging that he assisted Kazakh businessman Ilyas Khrapunov in a global money laundering scheme to hide hundreds of millions of dollars that the businessman’s father-in-law allegedly stole from the Kazakh BTA Bank. One of the floated destinations for the cash was the planned Moscow Trump Tower that has figured so prominently in some of the most recent discussions about the president’s team’s ties to Russia.
Although the Moscow development never actually went up, Sater allegedly helped Khrapunov sink hundreds of millions of stolen money in real estate investments elsewhere, like a Cincinnati shopping mall, a New York mental health facility, and an allegedly sham medical device testing company.
Khrapunov and his father-in-law, former BTA Bank Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov deny wrongdoing. Ablyazov claims the bank has pursued what’s now a years-long, globe-spanning case against him because of his opposition to a former Kazakh president. Altogether, they claim he pulled some $4 billion from the bank over the years — and there’s at least some apparent credibility to the case since a London court put a worldwide freezing order on the money in 2009, which the real estate investments are alleged to have been meant to sidestep.
Sater allegedly “personally arranged meetings” between Trump and Khrapunov to discuss putting some of the money into the never-realized Trump Tower Moscow, although the president is not alleged to have known about the money’s alleged tainted backstory.
He’s worked with Sater on a number of projects over the years, from the failed Trump Tower Moscow project to the Trump SoHo development in Manhattan. Sater initially worked alongside former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen to connect the Trump team with Russian authorities who could help get the planned new Trump Tower off the ground, but Cohen eventually dismissed Sater’s help and pursued leads himself, further into the 2016 election season than he first admitted. Sater had been trying to get Trump to personally travel to Moscow after having taken his adult kids there in years prior.
This week, he had been set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee about his role in that scheme, which some have alleged constitutes a potential avenue for the Russians to pull financial puppet strings behind the president and his team.
Mueller’s final report concluded that there was no evidence that a member of the president’s team had conspired or coordinated with Russian agents in their efforts to tilt the 2016 elections, but lingering issues remain, like those of the president’s financial ties and how much of what he’s doing in office is meant to protect those.
Although his planned hearing was scrapped, Sater is one of the few witnesses concerned House Democrats were actually able to get for questioning in light of what House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has called “unprecedented obstruction” from the White House. They continue to refuse to give any legitimacy to essentially any lines of inquiry.
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