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By John Helmer, Moscow

Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who is under British and European Union sanctions, is lobbying in Washington for an early peace deal with the Ukraine.

According to a document Abramovich has filed through the New York law firm of Kobre & Kim, Abramovich has told the US Department of Justice (DOJ) he is being “directed” and “supervised” by the Russian government to “interface with government agencies” with the “goal of finding a diplomatic solution to end the armed conflict.”

The lawyers have been meeting US government officials on Abramovich’s “mediation” since July.

On July 5, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) unit of the Justice Department received a filing from Roman Abramovich who gave his address as Ulitsa Lipovaya Alleya (“Linden Alley”), Nemchinovo Village (“Speechless Village”), Odintsovo District, Moscow Region, Russia 143025. This is an elite dacha area thirty kilometres west of the centre of Moscow.

Abramovich describes himself in the file as “a citizen of Russia, Israel and Portugal. He is a recognized businessman and philanthropist and is primarily known as the former owner of the football club Chelsea FC. He is also the Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, and a trustee of the Moscow Jewish Museum. In 2018 Mr Abramovich was recognized with an award by the Federation of Jewish Communities to commend the contribution of over $500 million that he has donated to Jewish causes around the world over the past 15 years. Mr Abramovich’s primary industrial business interest is his shareholding in EVRAZ plc (a Russian steel and mining corporation) (investor); Mr Abramovich is also the owner of Fordstam Ltd. (A UK company, former owner of Chelsea Football Club, which was sold during 2022. All sale proceeds from the sale currently held by Fordstam are due to be donated to charitable foundations, subject to license approvals from appropriate Governments and authorities).”

Under the foreign agents registration statute, non-American individuals, companies and governments are required to register ahead of making contacts with US government officials if their purpose is lobbying. Following registration, which includes terms of payment, the law requires six-monthly reports of how much money has been spent, what officials of the US government or Congress have been contacted, and what related lobbying activities and press promotions have been carried out. The first of Abramovich’s reports isn’t due to be filed and then published until January.

Read the Abramovich file here

Source: https://efile.fara.gov/

The Justice Department requires the foreign principal and the lobbyist he has hired to say what relationship he has with “a foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal.” Abramovich ticked two of the yes boxes indicating his acknowledgement that he is “supervised” and “directed” by a foreign government.  

Source: https://efile.fara.gov/

At the same time, further down the dossier, Abramovich explained what his answers mean. He  claims that by “supervised” and “directed”, he means that “since February 2022, Mr Abramovich is acting as a mediator in the peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, with the goal of finding a diplomatic solution to end the armed conflict. Mr Abramovich is acting in an independent capacity within these negotiations and was approved by both countries to take on the role as a mediator. In addition to his involvement in the negotiations, Mr Abramovich has been heavily involved in advocating for, and coordinating the establishment of humanitarian corridors and other humanitarian rescue missions. Mr Abramovich is not a Government official and he has not held any political office in Russia for more than a decade, with his last official government duty terminating in 2008, where he served as Governor of Chukotka Region, Russia (2000-2008).”

Between “independent capacity” and “approved by both countries” there is state secrecy in the initiation of what Abramovich has been doing, and ambiguity in his process. The story of the Istanbul negotiations of March 29-30 revealed that Abramovich was ranked by the Turkish hosts as higher than the Russian government officials at the negotiating table with the Ukrainians. The outcome, however, was refusal of the terms under discussion by both governments. Read that story here.

Since then Abramovich has told US officials he’s still engaged in his “mediator” role; he isn’t saying in the file whether for his Washington lobbying he is still being “directed” and “supervised” by the Ukrainian government in Kiev – not by the Kremlin.

Source: http://johnhelmer.net/

In Moscow there is discreet but categorical opposition to any role Abramovich claims to be playing on the Russian side from the Stavka  and the General Staff. No comparable disclaimers have been detected from Kiev or Lvov.

The FARA dossier was signed by Brian Murphy.  He is a junior lawyer in the New York office of Kobre & Kim. Murphy is not one of the law firm’s experts on US government lobbying, sanctions, and the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which runs the FARA registration unit.  The experts are Sean Buckley in the New York office of Kobre & Kim and Wade Weems in the Washington, DC, office.

As they explain themselves, both have worked for the Justice Department in the past. Buckley has “an extensive background in national security law, Mr. Buckley also advocates for clients affected by sanctions issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and handles other issues relating to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.  Before joining Kobre & Kim, Mr. Buckley served as a DOJ prosecutor, most recently as co-chief of the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. In that capacity, he was responsible for overseeing complex international and cross-border investigations relating to international terrorism and terrorism financing across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, as well as economic espionage, U.S. sanctions and violations of anti-money laundering laws.”   Next week in New York, Buckley will be lecturing on sanctions.  

Left: Sean Buckley; centre, Wade Weems; right, Steven Kobre, the firm’s co-founder.  In the record of client engagements and case outcomes, the law firm does not indicate past involvement with Russian or Ukrainian clients.  

Weems is a China specialist. After leaving the Justice Department his initial appointment at Kobre & Kim was in the firm’s Shanghai office “subject to approval by the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China.” That was in mid-2018.  It is not known if Weems was permitted to work in China. He is currently listed by his firm in the Washington office where he has been reporting on Chinese counter-sanctions.   According to Weems, he was “a prosecutor and trial lawyer with the DOJ in the National Security Division in the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.”  

Another US federal court lawyer who has dealt with Kobre & Kim in the past says “it is the modus operandi of the firm to hire former prosecutors. They were federal prosecutors who formed a firm to do bank collection work relating to international fraud and became successful.  All they do is litigation to my knowledge, a lot of it offshore and in England.”

The firm’s contract with Abramovich, which has been revealed in the Justice Department filing,  explicitly rules out any litigation or court work. “For the avoidance of doubt, this engagement does not include conducting court litigation or the Firm being on the court record, which may be the subject of a further agreed engagement letter and budget.”  The contract says the lawyers will be charging up to $1,900 per hour.

Another US attorney source says Kobre & Kim isn’t known as a lobbyist in Washington. The FARA unit files reveals, however, that in 2021 the firm was retained by the EN+ aluminium group controlled by Oleg Deripaska.  

 For the time being Abramovich has not been sanctioned by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC):

Source: https://sanctionssearch.ofac.treas.gov/ 

He is sanctioned by the British Government, which announced its measure on March 10, when Elizabeth Truss was Foreign Secretary.  Two of his co-shareholders in the Evraz steelmaking group were added to the UK sanctions list on November 2.   The European Union (EU) followed London by sanctioning Abramovich on March 15; he then issued a law suit challenging this in the European Court at the end of May.   His partner, Alexander Abramov, is suing in an Australian court to lift his sanction in that country.  

Kobre & Kim reported that after its contract went to Abramovich on June 15 “we are legally required to obtain a license from the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation and other government authorities before we can receive any fees or disbursements for the Covered Services, or receive any on account payment. We shall therefore be making license applications to those authorities, and in the form we deem necessary.”

By July 5, when the firm filed its registration in Washington, it is unclear whether it had received its permit from London and started receiving Abramovich’s money.

A Washington lawyer believes that with Buckley’s and Weems’s experience in sanctions, “that fits with Roman Abramovich’s needs.” This implies lobbying to persuade OFAC not to follow the British and EU lead in attacking Abramovich or his assets in the US.  According to the July 5 document, Abramovich has hired the lawyers to give him “government relations strategy” and “interface with other government agencies”. This wording is vague enough to cover US government sanctions decisions as well as those of the governments in London, Brussels, and Lisbon.       

Source:  https://efile.fara.gov/

Abramovich has considerable assets in the US, including personal residences in New York and Colorado, and through his stake in Evraz, steel and pipemaking assets in Delaware, Colorado, Oregon, and two Canadian provinces. One of the Russian-owned US steelmills produces steel plate for US tanks. The US assets were the target of special US government investigation in 2006 before Evraz was permitted to acquire them.  Follow Abramovich’s US establishment here.   When that article was being prepared in January 2015, Abramovich was asked through his spokesman: “In the present war does Mr Abramovich indicate which side he prefers his assets to be on?” The spokesman replied: “Last I checked, Russia was not at war!”

Since August of this year, Abramovich and his partners in Evraz have been trying to sell their North American assets.  In 2015 they sold the Claymont steelmill in Delaware.

For the record that Abramovich has been stripping Evraz’s Russian steel assets of revenue and capital to support his lossmaking offshore operations, click to read.

The Abramovich file’s emphasis on his role as a government-approved mediator between Russia and the Ukraine, in “finding a diplomatic solution to end the armed conflict”, and “advocating for, and coordinating the establishment of humanitarian corridors and other humanitarian rescue missions” represents his lobbying pitch to government officials. “Perhaps the package”, one source speculates, “is that Roman helps resolve the war and avoids sanctions in the US. Good luck on that first one.”

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