Russian-US oligarch claimed to be ‘actively involved’ in Trump election strategy

Russian-US oligarch claimed to be ‘actively involved’ in Trump election strategy

Emails revealed by the Guardian include a photo of Jewish oligarch Simon Kukes’s then-girlfriend with Donald Trump and Mike Pence at a private fundraising event for Jewish donors

Yukos Chief Executive Simon Kukes speaks at a news conference in company's headquarters in Moscow, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003.  (AP/Misha Japaridze)
Yukos Chief Executive Simon Kukes speaks at a news conference in company's headquarters in Moscow, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003. (AP/Misha Japaridze)

A Russian-American businessman told a senior former Kremlin official that he was “actively involved” in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign after he made a sizable donation to the election effort, the Guardian reported Friday.

Jewish oligarch Simon Kukes told Vyacheslav Pavlovsky in an email that he was assisting then-candidate Trump with “strategy development,” the newspaper reported, and shared a photo of his 29-year-old Russian then-girlfriend (now wife) with Trump and his running mate, vice president Mike Pence.

With no major history of political donations, Kukes suddenly funneled $273,000 into the Trump election effort — much of it after June 2016, when Russian interest in the possibility of a Trump presidency intensified and weeks after the controversial meeting at Trump Tower in New York between a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort that had been convened to hear dirt on the Republican candidate’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Pavlovsky was a former official in Russia’s foreign ministry who had recently started working as vice-president of Russian Railways, which was previously headed by Vladimir Yakunin, one of President Vladimir Putin’s close KGB allies. Pavlovsky served as Russia’s ambassador to Norway between July 2010 and May 2016.

According to the Guardian, Kukes and Pavlovsky were frequently in contact during this period, with the former telling the latter in a July 2016 that: “I am actively involved in Trump’s election campaign, and am part of the group on strategy development.”

In this photo from July 21, 2016, then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort stands between the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump during a walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Kukes asked Pavlovsky if he wanted to meet in Switzerland around this time, adding that he wished to introduce him to a Moscow oil executive who was a “close friend” and “has just flown in.”

Kukes said they were discussing “very interesting projects for Russia and the US,” before adding: “I hope one of them will materialize.”

Pavlovsky said he was unable to meet them in Switzerland due to work commitments, but signed off his email: “Hugs,” according to the Guardian.

The next month Kukes attended a Hamptons fundraising event for Trump where he met former New York mayor, now the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“I was at a dinner with Donald Trump. I am in New York now. I think his chances are very good,” Kukes wrote to Pavlovsky, attaching a photo of himself and Giuliani: “In the photo is America’s most respected former mayor.”

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible Trump campaign links to Russia, is reportedly investigating financial donations from American citizens with deep ties to Russia, including Kukes, Ukraine-born Len Blavatnik and the US-born Andrew Intrater; together the three are thought to have donated nearly $2 million to Trump-supporting funds.

Intrater is a relative of the oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and oversees the US affiliate of Vekselberg’s Renova group.

In this Jan. 26, 2017 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, poses for a photo with Renova CEO businessman Viktor Vekselberg during an awards ceremony in Moscow’s Kremlin, Russia. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Vekselberg, who is tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, backed a $1.6 million lobbying campaign to aid Russian interests in Washington, and in April the US Treasury Department lodged sanctions against him.

The New York Times reported in May that Vekselberg was questioned by federal agents working for the Mueller investigation earlier this year.

Blavatnik gave more than $6 million in the 2016 election cycle, virtually all to Republicans, after a pattern of relatively modest donations to both political parties. He has stated that all his contributions were made in compliance with the law.

On September 28, 2016, Kukes gave $99,000 to Trump Victory, according to federal filings, a day before he and his then-girlfriend attended a private Jewish fundraising event for Trump held at a Manhattan hotel, at which she was photographed alongside the then-presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Kukes sent the photo to Pavlovsky writing: “At a dinner with Trump I saw Blavatnik. We had a very warm conversation.”

On November 9, 2016, the Guardian reported, just hours after Trump’s victory, Kukes got an email from Pavlovsky, saying: “Hello, dear Semyon. Congratulations!”

Former CIA officer Lindsay Moran told NBC News that the emails seemed suspicious.

“To me this reads like an email exchange between a source and a handler, or a source and headquarters,” she said after examining the emails.

Kukes did not respond to a request for comment on Moran’s statement, the Guardian reported.

Kukes left the Soviet Union in 1977, settling in the Houston area. A chemist, he was for a period an academic, and then worked in the Texas oil industry.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder of Open Russia, speaking on ‘Russia’s Strategic Interest with the West,’ at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, June 17, 2015. (AFP/Jim Watson)

He returned to Russia and became an executive in the post-Soviet oil industry there. In 2003, he became head of the Yukos oil company after another Jewish oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was jailed by Putin for tax evasion and theft — but mostly, most observers think, for funding opposition parties.

Kukes’s emails to Pavlovsky were revealed as part of a joint investigation carried out by the Guardian, NBC News, and the London-based investigative unit Dossier. Dossier receives funding from Khodorkovsky.

The Guardian in 2003 uncovered CIA documents linking Kukes to bribery, charges which he has denied.

Prior to his year-long gig helming Yukos, Kukes was from 1998-2003 the president of TNK, another oil company, whose principal stakeholders were Blavatnik and Vekselberg.

At this time, Kukes was allegedly involved in the armed takeover of a subsidiary belonging to Canadian-owned Norex, the Guardian reports.

In 2002 Norex sued Kukes in litigation which claimed that the Russian owned an apartment in New York’s Trump Parc building. Kukes claimed his then-wife Clara lived there but he stayed in Russia.

In 2012 when he headed the Russian arm of Hess, Forbes reported that Kukes’s former chauffeur, who had risen through the company ranks, was a Russian mafia boss. The man denied the charges, but Kukes pushed him out of the company.

Kukes was also a US-based CEO of Nafta, a consulting firm for investors in Russia’s energy sector. Nafta’s website has since been scrubbed.

Kukes does not have apparent formal ties with the organized Jewish community, although he has told interviewers he left the former Soviet Union because he was Jewish.

In 2015, he bought a 12.5 percent share in Leverate, an Israeli-founded company that develops brokerage software.

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