Natasha Bertrand [businessinsider.com]
A Russian state-owned bank under US sanctions, whose CEO met with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law in December, helped financed the construction of the president’s 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto, according to a new report.
The bank, Vnesheconombank, or VEB, bought $850 million of stock in a Ukrainian steelmaker from the billionaire Russian-Canadian developer Alexander Shnaider, who was constructing the hotel at the time, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Shnaider initially purchased the stock via his company, Midland Resources Holding, for about $70 million after the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to The Journal.
The money from the sale of that stock to VEB — which The Journal said went through while Russian President Vladimir Putin was chairman of VEB’s supervisory board — was used to help finance the construction of the Toronto hotel “at a key moment for the project.”
From the Journal:
“After Mr. Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the steelmaker, Mr. Shnaider injected more money into the Trump Toronto project, which was financially troubled. Mr. Shnaider’s lawyer, Symon Zucker, said in an April interview that about $15 million from the asset sale went into the Trump Toronto project. A day later, he wrote in an email: ‘I am not able to confirm that any funds’ from the deal ‘went into the Toronto project.'”
Zucker did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. But he told The Journal that Midland Resources “has never had any relationship with VEB” and “does not dictate where their purchasers borrow funds.”
The Trump Organization has distanced itself from the Toronto project, which faced financial difficulties last year. The organization “merely licensed its brand and manages the hotel and residences,” it told The Journal in a statement.
The project was initially a joint venture between Trump and Shnaider, who approached Trump in 2004 asking to license the Trump name for the 65-story tower. Trump said at the time that he would “manage the hotel’s operations,” according to The Journal, while Shnaider and his business partner, Val Levitan, would focus on the development.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, met with the Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey Gorkov in December, The New York Times reported in late March. Putin appointed Gorkov in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team, according to Bloomberg.
At the time, Kushner was trying to find investors for an office building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, told The Times that Gorkov and Kushner didn’t discuss the Kushner Tower project, and a White House official said in a statement that Kushner met with Gorkov as part of his role as “the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials.”
But the meeting was reportedly orchestrated by Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, who also met with Kushner in December, and itcaught the eye of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has invited Kushner to testify about his meetings with Gorkov and Kislyak. The committee is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether any members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared to signal during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that the intelligence community was scrutinizing Trump’s business ties to Russia.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terror, asked Clapper if he ever found “a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia” gave him “concern.”
“Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence community’s assessment,” Clapper said.
Graham pressed Clapper on whether he had ever come across such a situation, to which Clapper replied, “I can’t comment on that because that impacts an investigation.”
As Trump praised and defended Putin along the campaign trail, many questioned whether the real-estate mogul had any financial incentives — including business ties or outstanding debt — to seek better relations with Moscow.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.