By John Helmer, Moscow
A donation of $2,500 to the “Obama Victory Fund”, the US president’s election campaign fund, was made on October 12, 2012, by an American lobbyist engaged by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. This is according to a filing last month by the US agent acting for Lavrov named Adam Waldman. He reported the payment to the Foreign Agents Registration Act Unit, a branch of the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice on December 19. Direct or indirect political donations by foreign nationals are illegal under US election financing law and its regulations.
The money trail which linked Lavrov to Barack Obama’s campaign treasury goes through a company registered on the Channel Island of Jersey. That in turn conceals secret shareholders of United Company Rusal, the Russian aluminium monopoly controlled by Oleg Deripaska. At least one of those shareholders may be another Russian government official of higher rank than Lavrov’s.
For conviction of illegal political campaign donations, the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) says it usually imposes fines. “Knowing and willful violations”, of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), “can lead to imprisonment.” The Chinese government was exposed between 1997 and 2001 for having tried to channel more than $5 million in donations to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Twenty-two go-betweens and bagmen were convicted; the Beijing government denied its involvement. Fines and sentences to community service and detention at home were imposed.
Since then FEC files reveal a handful of cases of violations by foreign nationals involving other Chinese, Cubans and others. The amounts of the donations investigated have been as small as $250. The last investigation in the official record of Sect 441e (foreign national) violations dates from October 2008 and involves Hillary Clinton’s presidential primary campaign and alleged Chinese violations. The case was dismissed.
Lavrov’s front man Waldman, a lawyer, used to call his company the Endeavor Group; now it’s called Endeavor Law Firm. Waldman’s Russian activities, for which he is being paid $40,000 per month plus expenses, have been documented since May 2009.
The Endeavor firm’s website is shy in referring to its work for Deripaska, but keen to be recognized as holding his exclusive mandate in the US: “One of the world’s leading industrialists is interested in both protecting and expanding his global business empire, which extends across Russia, Asia, Africa and North America. Endeavor was engaged to provide general counsel across a range of strategic, legal, regulatory, philanthropic and communications issues, and to facilitate investments, capital raising and merger & acquisition activities across borders. Endeavor acts as a core member of its Client’s holding company executive team, and is the sole representative of its Client’s myriad interests before the U.S. government.”
Endeavor, according to its website, represents the Haiti government in Washington. It omits any mention of the Russian foreign minister.
Originally employed by Deripaska to find a way to overturn or evade the ban on Deripaska’s visa entry to the US by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other US government agencies, Waldman has been engaged in parallel by Foreign Minister Lavrov since September 2010. According to the US records on file, Lavrov has been engaging Waldman to represent him, but the fee for this service appears to have been paid by a company connected to Rusal shareholders, including Deripaska.
In last month’s dossier, Waldman claims he “acted as counsel in Washington, DC, for Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov…on political and legal matters.” What exactly Lavrov asked Waldman to do is not disclosed in the dossier.
On September 15, 2010, Lavrov wrote Waldman a letter in which he instructed him to “contribute to the ongoing efforts aimed at achieving a successful resolution of this problem”. The problem was the US refusal to grant Deripaska normal visa entry. Waldman was also told by Lavrov to “engag[e] the legal instruments and mechanisms available under U.S. law…[and] periodically provide us with updates on the progress of your work.”
Lavrov and Foreign Ministry officials are refusing to answer questions from Russian media about his relationship with Waldman. Lavrov has used a threat of retaliation to try to pressure the US government into giving Deripaska a visa for the US. At the end of his September 2010 letter, Lavrov warned “the findings of your [Waldman’s] enquiry will be taken into consideration in our dialogue with the U.S. Government in this regard.”
According to the December 2012 dossier, Deripaska paid $285 for Waldman to receive a visa to enter Russia last summer from the Russian Embassy in Washington. Expenses for the visit are included in the Justice Department dossier amounting to $9,383.94. It is not known if Waldman met Lavrov at the time. Lavrov, according to the same document, paid $305 for Waldman to file the document with the Justice Department identifying himself as Lavrov’s agent.
US regulations prohibit go-betweens arranging political campaign gifts from foreigners. “It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment.”
Did senior State Department official, Dan Russell, suspect Waldman was being paid by his Russian principals to prepare an illegal campaign donation — does he know now? The latest Justice Department record shows Russell received an email and a telephone call from Waldman on July 6. The Obama campaign donation was dated October 12. Russell, a deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, has been identified already on the receiving end of a spate of calls and emails on the same subject from Waldman on behalf of Lavrov and Deripaska in 2011. Between March and May of this year, Russell was contacted by telephone or email 13 times in Waldman’s lobbying for Deripaska’s visa.
The outcome was that instead of the “parole”, or temporary waiver of the visa ban, which Deripaska used to enter the US in 2010, Russell, Evan Ryan, an assistant to Vice President Joe Biden, and others came up with a scheme to grant Deripaska the entry visa usually reserved for Russian government officials. They qualify for A visas, but these too are temporary – good only for as long as the official government business lasts. The A-visa regulations require that Deripaska’s travel to the US is “to engage solely in official activities for that [Russian] government.”
The Obama administration appears unwilling to drop the formal visa ban on Deripaska; but it is winking at the fig-leaf visa he continues to use after the conclusion of government missions to which he was accredited. Waldman is claiming to the Justice Department that Deripaska continues to play a “role as an economic advisor to the President”. Russian government and Kremlin spokesmen were asked to confirm such an appointment. They did not.
Deripaska’s spokesman, Alexei Sadykov, was asked if Deripaska is an official appointee of the Kremlin as an economic advisor to the President. Sadykov replied: “we don’t comment on this topic.”
Flight records for an aircraft used by Deripaska indicate that on October 2 last he flew into New York; that was ten days before the Obama election campaign fund got its cash from Waldman. Was Deripaska allowed off the plane, and if so, for what Russian government business? US government officials do not comment on the visa status of individuals.
But in the latest filing, it is made clear that it isn’t Deripaska who is paying Lavrov’s tab, nor his own. In the first filings by Waldman’s group, the lobbyist was paid by a company called Taviner Ltd. For the year 2009, Taviner paid Waldman $282,537.67. Starting in 2010, the bill was transferred to RTI Ltd. According to the documentation submitted to the Justice Department, a total of $252,539.12 was paid by RTI to the lobbyist between June 21 and November 7, 2012.
Taviner appears to be a Cyprus registered company. Investigation suggests it has been used by Deripaska to pay for private aircraft flights and other purposes.
RTI purports to be one of Rusal’s trading companies, and it is registered in the Channel Island of Jersey. In fact, according to evidence revealed in the UK High Court litigation against Deripaska by Michael Cherney (Chernoy), and in US federal court cases, RTI is a front for secret shareholder interests in Rusal, who are behind the control shareholding attributed by Rusal to Deripaska’s holding, EN+. The secret shareholders were involved in the recent deal for reviving dividend payments from Norilsk Nickel to Rusal.
An examination of the money conduit between the lobbyist in Washington, Lavrov, Deripaska, and RTI Ltd in Jersey raises the question whether Endeavor’s lobbying operation and Obama’s campaign were on the receiving end of funds which may have been laundered under Russian law. In Washington, the FEC confirms it is holding a record of the Waldman donation to the Obama campaign, dated October 24. The FEC has yet to investigate its legality, an agency source indicated, but will do so if a formal complaint goes to one of the FEC’s commissioners. They may refer cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
Waldman was requested to clarify the legality of the donation to the Obama Victory Fund, and to substantiate what services he is performing for Lavrov, if separate from Deripaska’s visa. Following emails and telephone contact with his office in Washington, Waldman and his associates refused to respond.