With sanctions lifted, Trump transition member gets board position on Russian oligarch's company

Oleg Deripaska's company hires former Trump transition official as soon as Treasury sanctions are lifted

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published January 30, 2019 6:00AM (EST)

Oleg Deripaska (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Oleg Deripaska (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A member of President Trump’s transition team was announced as a new board member of a company owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska as soon as the Treasury Department lifted sanctions on Deripaska’s companies Sunday.

On Sunday, the Treasury Department lifted the sanctions on three companies owned by Deripaska 10 months after it imposed them, citing Russia’s “malign activity around the globe.” Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was also personally sanctioned because the government accused him of threats to rivals, bribing government officials and links to organized crime.

As part of the deal to have the sanctions lifted, Deripaska agreed to dilute his control of EN+, the parent company of the Russian aluminum giant Rusal.

Democrats strongly opposed the deal and voted in the House to keep the sanctions but the measure was defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Treasury Department claimed that the deal required Deripaska to “sever” his control of the companies but The New York Times reported that leaked documents revealed a scheme that allowed Deripaska to retain majority ownership of EN+. The Times added that the deal could possible free Deripaska from “hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.”

On Monday, EN+ announced seven new board directors, including Christopher Burnham, who served on Trump’s State Department transition team and previously worked as an executive at Deutsche Bank. Burnham also previously worked as undersecretary general for management of the United Nations under George W. Bush, when Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton was the UN ambassador. A news release from EN+ cited his work in the Bush administration and at Deutsche Bank but did not mention his role on the Trump team.

Bloomberg News previously reported that Deutsche Bank loaned Trump around $300 million when American banks refused to do business with him because of his extensive outstanding debt. The bank has also loaned billions to Deripaska.

Deutsche Bank is now the subject of a joint investigation by the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees over its dealings with Trump, Politico reported. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who now heads the Financial Services panel, has vowed to pursue the “Trump money trail” and Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., agreed that Deutsche Bank is “one obvious place to start.”

"The interesting thing about Deutsche Bank is they seem to be pretty much the only entity out there willing to lend to The Trump Organization," Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who sits on both committees, told Politico.

Deripaska has also been closely linked to former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, who was $10 million in debt to the Russian oligarch at the time he agreed to work for free on the Trump campaign, according to a court filing in Robert Mueller's investigation. Manafort then promised Deripaska private briefings on the Trump campaign, according to The Washington Post.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, told Quartz that Deripaska’s “sordid deal” shows that “the Trump Administration is working seven days a week with favoritism for Russia.”

“This represents just one more step in undermining the sanctions law, which President Trump has obstructed at every opportunity, while Russian aggression remains unabated,” he said, adding that the deal amounts to little more than “a shell game [that] only encourages Putin to pursue his destabilizing activities around the world.”

Doggett also slammed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Twitter for refusing to testify to Congress about the deal.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, is now looking at whether Mnuchin may have had his own ties to Deripaska.

Speier sent a letter to Mnuchin last week asking about a 2017 deal he made to divest from a Hollywood film company he co-owned with Ukrainian billionaire Leonid Blavatnik, BuzzFeed News reported. According to the letter, Blavatnik also co-owns Sual Partners with sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The company is a “major shareholder” in Rusal, the letter said. Blavatnik served on Rusal’s board and one of his companies donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund.

“Blavatnik had a clear financial interest in the outcome of the Treasury action,” Speier wrote, adding that Mnuchin’s relationship with the billionaire and his involvement in the lifting of sanctions “is clearly a conflict of interest.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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