An Israeli man allegedly played a key role in obtaining and distributing forged documents that appeared to show that Rex Tillerson bribed US President Donald Trump in order to secure his appointment as secretary of state.
According to a report by Buzzfeed Wednesday, Yoni Ariel, an Israeli man originally from South Africa, purchased from an Italian businessman in January doctored copies of a wire transfer purporting to show that Exxon Mobil — of which Tillerson was CEO at the time — sent $1.6 billion to the state-owned Chinese company MCC Holdings last June, which then transferred $1.575 billion to the Trump Organization the next day.
Ariel, who was reportedly made aware of the documents’ existence by former Democrats Abroad Israel spokesman and legal counsel Sheldon Schorer, subsequently reached out along with a number of US political activists to numerous media outlets, including Buzzfeed, to gauge their interest in the documents.
However, due to a large number of errors and inconsistencies in the documents, Buzzfeed — reportedly along with a number of other news organizations such as Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Washington Post — declined to publish them.
Ariel, who said he got involved in the matter in order to expose what he believes was Russian involvement in favor of Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, continued to insist that the documents were “more likely true than false” despite the red flags raised concerning their authenticity, until finally conceding to Buzzfeed last week that there are “too many question marks.”
Ariel insisted to the Hebrew-language Ynet news site in a report published Wednesday that he “did not distribute anything” and that he only became involved in the affair at the behest of US political operatives.
He said that as soon as he learned that the documents were fake he decided to back off from the story. He also accused Buzzfeed of “taking him for a ride” by trying to make him part of a “juicy story about the counterfeit industry.”
Gideon Meir, who served as the Israeli ambassador to Italy from 2006 to 2012, was named by Buzzfeed as the source that informed Ariel and Schorer of the documents’ existence. He told Ynet that he was never in possession of the documents and that the story was “bizarre” and “was not checked according to accepted journalistic standards.”
Ariel told the Haaretz daily that while the documents may have been doctored as part of a “financial scam,” they may also have been part of “a disinformation campaign to paralyze and subvert the American political system.” He added that in light of the current political situation, “both possibilities are equally plausible.”