Investigators are focused on two bursts of banking activity — one shortly after the June 2016 meeting, the other immediately after the presidential election.
The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has become one of the most famous gatherings in American political history: a flashpoint for allegations of collusion, the subject of shifting explanations by the president and his son, countless hair-on-fire tweets, and boundless speculation by the press.
But secret documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News reveal a previously undisclosed aspect of the meeting: a complex web of financial transactions among some of the planners and participants who moved money from Russia and Switzerland to the British Virgin Islands, Bangkok, and a small office park in New Jersey.
The documents show Aras Agalarov, a billionaire real estate developer close to both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, at the center of this vast network and how he used accounts overseas to filter money to himself, his son, and at least two people who attended the Trump Tower meeting. The records also offer new insight into the murky financial world inhabited by many of Trump’s associates, who use shell companies and secret bank accounts to quickly and quietly move money across the globe.
Now, four federal law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News, investigators are focused on two bursts of transactions that bank examiners deemed suspicious: one a short time after the meeting and another immediately after the November 2016 presidential election.
The first set came just 11 days after the June 9 meeting, when an offshore company controlled by Agalarov wired more than $19.5 million to his account at a bank in New York.
The second flurry began shortly after Trump was elected. The Agalarov family started sending what would amount to $1.2 million from their bank in Russia to an account in New Jersey controlled by the billionaire’s son, pop singer Emin Agalarov, and two of his friends. The account had been virtually dormant since the summer of 2015, according to records reviewed by BuzzFeed News, and bankers found it strange that activity in Emin Agalarov’s checking account surged after Trump’s victory.
After the election, that New Jersey account sent money to a company controlled by Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a longtime business associate of the Agalarovs and their representative at the Trump Tower meeting. Kaveladze’s company, meanwhile, had long funded a music business set up by the person who first proposed the meeting to the Trump camp, Emin Agalarov’s brash British publicist, Rob Goldstone.
Scott Balber, an attorney representing the Agalarovs and Kaveladze, said their transactions were wholly above board. “I’m actually perplexed why anybody is interested in this or why anybody in their right mind would treat this as suspicious,” he said. “These are all transactions either between one of Mr. Agalarov’s accounts and another of Mr. Agalarov’s accounts or one of Mr. Agalarov’s accounts and an account in the name of one of his employees.”
Goldstone’s spokesperson, David Wilson, dismissed the notion that his client’s transactions were suspicious as “ridiculous.” Prosecutors have not charged the Agalarovs, Kaveladze, or Goldstone with any wrongdoing.
The transactions came to light after law enforcement officials instructed financial institutions in mid-2017 to go back through their records to look for suspicious behavior by people connected to the broader Trump-Russia investigation. The bankers filed “suspicious activity reports” to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which in turn shared them with the FBI, the IRS, congressional committees investigating Russian interference, and members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Suspicious activity reports are not evidence of wrongdoing, but they can provide clues to investigators looking into possible money laundering, tax evasion, or other misconduct. In the case of the Agalarovs and their associates, bankers raised red flags about the transactions but were unable to definitively say how the funds were used.
Federal prosecutors have used suspicious activity reports not only to investigate possible election interference and collusion, but also to charge people, such as Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, with financial and other white-collar crimes. Manafort was convicted last month of bank and tax fraud, and Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia.
Over the past nine months, BuzzFeed News has reported on the financial behavior of Manafort, former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, accused foreign agent Maria Butina, GOP operative Peter W. Smith, and others.
In the case of the Agalarovs and their associates, the documents show funds moving quickly between accounts across the globe, often, bankers said, with no clear reason and with no clear purpose for how the money was supposed to be used. By collecting such detailed banking records, US law enforcement officials are trying to figure out how Russia’s interference campaign was financed — but in doing so, they are also pulling back the curtain on an opaque financial system controlled by the world’s wealthiest people. Continue: Suspicious Transactions Followed The Trump Tower Meeting