Kushner meeting head of sanctioned Russian bank could have alarming consequences


Jared Kushner
Jared Kushner.
Shawn
Thew-Pool/Getty Images


The FBI is examining whether Russian
officials suggested to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law,
Jared Kushner, that Russian banks could finance Trump associates’
business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed,
Reuters reported on
Friday, citing a current US law enforcement official.

The possibility first came under scrutiny after Kushner met
with the CEO of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank in
December 2016. T
he meeting came on the heels of Kushner’s
meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at
Trump Tower, in which he reportedly floated the
possibility
 of setting up a secure
line of communication between the Trump transition team and
Russia.

Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in
the US to communicate, which would essentially conceal the Trump
team’s interactions with Russian officials from US government
scrutiny, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Kislyak reportedly orchestrated the meeting between Kushner and
Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey N. Gorkov, The New York Times
reported earlier this year. Gorkov was appointed by Russian
President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a
restructuring of the bank’s management team, Bloomberg reported
last year.

Between 2012 and 2014, Vnesheconombank was used as cover for
Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov as he attempted to recruit New York
City residents as intelligence sources for Moscow, according to
the
Department of Justice.
 Before that, Buryakov used
Vnesheconombank as a cover to spy and recruit assets in South
Africa.

Gorkov would have had good reason to push for
the US to lift sanctions:
Vnesheconombank had huge success between
2007 and 2014, but came crashing down when oil prices tanked and
President Barack Obama levied sanctions on Kremlin officials and
entities over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

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By February 2016, the bank — whose stated official mission is to
“take efforts to make the Russian economy more competitive,
diversify it, and foster investment” — was struggling to find
enough cash to stay afloat. Its bailout needs had increased to
$16 billion between 2016 and 2020, Reuters reported.

Kushner’s meeting with Gorkov, the struggling bank’s CEO,
came as Kushner was trying to find investors for a Fifth Avenue
office building in Manhattan that is set to be heavily financed
by Anbang Insurance Group, a firm with ties to the Chinese
government.

That deal ultimately fell through, but the Kremlin and the
White House have provided conflicting
explanations
for why Kushner met privately with Gorkov
in the first place.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has told reporters that
Kushner’s meeting with Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey Gorkov in late
December “was ordinary business,” echoing the bank’s previous
claim that it had met with Kushner in his capacity as “the head
of Kushner companies.”

“As part of the preparation of the new strategy, executives of
Vnesheconombank met with representatives of leading financial
institutes in Europe, Asia, and America multiple times during
2016,” the bank told
Reuters
 in March.

“During the talks, the existing practices of foreign development
banks and promising trends were discussed,” it added. It also
said the meetings took place “with a number of representatives of
the largest banks and business establishments of the United
States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.”

That appears to conflict with the White House’s version of events
— that Kushner met with Gorkov as a representative of Trump’s
transition team.

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“Jared attended the meeting in his capacity as a transition
official,” a senior White House official told Business Insider in
late March. “Nothing of substance was discussed. There was no
follow-up.”

The official added that Kushner took the meetings as part of his
role as “the official primary point of contact with foreign
governments and officials.”

“Given this role, [Kushner] has volunteered to speak with
Chairman Burr’s committee but has not yet received confirmation,”
the official added, referring to Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of
the Senate Intelligence Committee.  

The seemingly conflicting characterizations of the meeting
— which was not disclosed publicly until The New York Times
reported on it at the end of March — raise more questions
about what kind of contact Trump’s associates had with Russian
officials through the latter half of 2016, as Russia was
attempting to sway the outcome of the election in Trump’s
favor.

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