April 7, 2017

Memo to FBI: If team Trump and Putin colluded, any money trail likely involves oil

"Another key development since the election: Putin pulled off the Rosneft sale in December. When Fortune reported on this deal, they pointed out that it was “confounding expectations that the Kremlin’s standoff with the West would scare off major investors.” But this deal “pointed to a possible reassessment by foreign investors of the risks of dealing with Russia, at a time when the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president has heightened expectations of a thaw between Moscow and Washington.” Significantly, the $11 billion raised by the sale went to the Kremlin, not Rosneft. No wonder “Russian officials were jubilant that Rosneft had pulled off a deal which will deliver a large chunk of the cash they need to fill gaps in the state budget caused by an economic slowdown and sanctions,” as Reuters reported. Kleptocracy — and possibly meddling with a foreign election — looks like it pays very well for team Putin. As for the buyers, Sergey Aleksashenko, a former deputy head of Russia’s central bank, wrote in a blog post earlier this year, “the main question in relation to this transaction, as ever, still sounds like this: Who is the real buyer of a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft?” Reuters notes that “important facts about the deal either have not been disclosed, cannot be determined solely from public records, or appear to contradict the straightforward official account of the stake being split 50/50” between Swiss oil trading firm Glencore and the Qataris. The funding sources for almost a quarter of the deal “have not been disclosed by any of the parties.” This deal “uses a structure of shell companies owning shell companies, commonly referred to in Russia as a ‘matryoshka,’ after the wooden nesting dolls that open to reveal a smaller doll inside.” For instance, “public records show the ownership structure of the stake ultimately includes a Cayman Islands company whose beneficial owners cannot be traced"."