Opinion: Russian Money Insidiously Warping the American System

Published February 5th, 2018 - 09:24 GMT
Russia and America
Russia and America

The flow of funds from Russia into the United States has been discreet but protracted and has taken unpredictable guises, such as the controversial TNK-BP mega deal in 2013. The transaction took a contentious route to completion since it was first signed in 2003 by Britain’s then-prime minister Tony Blair and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Despite the acrimony spanning a decade, it appears the Kremlin exploited the arrangement to curry favor. Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “surreal”, the explanation in hindsight appears to be that along with the large flow of funds, favor also liberally flowed from the Kremlin into the United States halls of power.

The Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR) consortium, BP’s Russian partner in the TNK-BP joint venture, consisted of four powerful oligarchs: Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Leonard Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg. Shares in the venture were split 50-50 between BP and AAR. According to the New York Times, A BP investment of just under $8 billion in 2003 has yielded $19 billion in dividends. This is apart from the lucrative payout to BP by selling its 50% stake in TNK-BP to Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft. The value of the payout - a mix of cash and Rosneft shares - was about $26.7 billion, based on the price of the firm's shares at the time. In total, that means BP has received a 472% return on its investment over a roughly 10-year period. 

The book “The New Underworld Order:Triumph of Criminalism”, written by Christopher Story singled out the “Corrupt 1997 TNK Privatization” that included bribery, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, illegal transactions in monetary instruments, and violations of the Travel Act in regard to the Corrupt 1999 TNK Privatization effected by the partners (page 729).

The deal became a convenient mechanism to curry favor. Who were the people who received the money? Ultimately, it trickled down to American politicians through political donations, museums, universities.

Much of the money flowed through the Soviet-born British-American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. Sir Leonard "Len" Blavatnik. Blavatnik earned billions when he, Vekselberg and Fridman sold their stake in the oil company TNK-BP to Rosneft, a Kremlin-controlled oil company. Is Blavatnik is using Russian sourced money to corrupt the system?

A source close to Robert S. Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, said that investigation against Blavatnik is continuing, “since Blavatnik is American citizen we cannot add him to the sanctions list. It is clear that Blavatnik is not the classical philanthropist whose image he is cultivating. He is someone who made his money under Kremlin consent and is a Kremlin puppet. However, we cannot let him using his American citizenship to corrupt our system”. So while the partners of Blavatnik such as Vekselberg are on the sanction list, Blavatnik himself is to a certain extent immune and exploiting his American citizenship.

Connie Bruck in The New Yorker mentioned that During the cut-throat era of Russian privatization, Len Blavatnik “wasn’t as brash or ruthless as the other combatants”, but he had an invaluable asset: US citizenship. Within Russia, “emigrés are offered a mantle of legitimacy, along with Western capital connections”.

Blavatnik is a respected member both of Neyanyahu and Trump billionaires club. Recently in a corruption investigation into the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu a few months ago he reportedly confirmed to the Israeli Police that he only purchased shares in Israeli Channel 10 after PM Netanyahu intervened.

Blavatnik is of immense value to his Kremlin supported business partners. Along with his American business associates, he made many political contributions, courted congressmen, and lobbied the Export-Import Bank.

This explains how Blavatnik, who make his fortune under Kremlin support, and is close to the halls of power in Russia appears on a legal defense fund list uncovered by the Wall St. Journal. The fund exists to counter the allegation that Russian interest intervened in the presidential election campaign. The Wall Street Journal added that Rosneft is led by Igor Sechin who is considered a top ally of Vladimir Putin.

The donation to President Trump's legal defense fund was not the only donation made by Blavatnik. He contributed funds to the legal account of the Republican National Committee, and to other party accounts.

Blavatnik also donated seventy five million pounds to Oxford university. In a letter to the Guardian, the signatories mentioned Blavatnik and “other Oligarch’s” role in the “state-sponsored campaign of harassment against BP in Russia”. The signatories said “Oxford should stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates”.

Journalists and public figures all over the United States are asking how law enforcement agencies are turning a blind eye to this charade. It is clear to all that Blavatnik is cynically exploiting his position as a US / UK citizen with a knighthood to undermine democracy in the United States.

As of now there is no firm proof, and circumstantial evidence is not enough to indict someone in the American legal system. Herein lies the vulnerability that the Kremlin is exploiting. And it is doing so slowly but surely.

Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba. 

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