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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Amid national outrage over school shootings, the torrent of media coverage that has engulfed the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party routinely omits this crucial fact: The FBI is currently investigating the NRA’s suspicious connections with Alexander Torshin — a top banker, alleged organized crime boss, and former Russian parliamentary leader with very close ties to Vladimir Putin.

Specifically, McClatchy News Service reported last month that U.S. law enforcement officials are interested in possible financial support for the 2016 Trump campaign from Russian sources such as Torshin, a lifetime NRA member whose relationships with gun lobby’s leader and major donors are well established. McClatchy also reported that three congressional committees probing Russia’s electoral interventions have also been examining Torshin since last fall.

As the McClatchy report indicates, Torshin has spent several years (as well as an undetermined amount of money) developing his extensive relationship with NRA leaders – and with the Trump family. In 2011, he met with NRA chairman David Keene, who followed up with a fawning handwritten letter. Since then Torshin has hosted NRA leaders in Russia and, at one of several annual NRA conventions he attended in the United States, met with Donald Trump, Jr. He also claims to have met with Donald Trump himself.

Whether skilled or not with firearms, Torshin appears to be highly accomplished in the art of money laundering, according to law enforcement authorities in Spain. Two years ago, Bloomberg News reported on findings of the Spanish Civil Guard, which is at the forefront of European efforts to curb Russian organized crime, which began to look at Torshin when he showed up repeatedly in surveillance of Alexander Romanov, a convicted gangster:

Alexander Torshin instructed members of the Moscow-based Taganskaya crime syndicate how to launder ill-gotten gains through banks and properties in Spain while he was a deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, the Spanish Civil Guard said in a confidential report, seen by Bloomberg, on a three-year probe that ended in 2013. Torshin denies any wrongdoing and said his ties to the alleged Taganskaya leader in Spain, Alexander Romanov, are purely social. Torshin hasn’t been charged or summoned in relation to the report.
“Within the hierarchical structure of the organization, it’s known that Russian politician Alexander Porfirievich Torshin stands above Romanov, who calls him ‘godfather’ or ‘boss”’ and conducts “activities and investments” on his behalf, investigators concluded in the report. Romanov was sentenced to almost four years in a Spanish prison in May, after pleading guilty to illegal transactions totaling 1.65 million euros ($1.83 million) and $50,000.

Last month, we reprinted an expansive ProPublica report on Spain’s investigation of Torshin:

By the summer of 2013, prosecutors concluded they had enough evidence to arrest Torshin, according to Grinda and other investigators. Investigators learned that the Russian senator planned to fly to Mallorca to celebrate Romanov’s birthday in August, officials said. Police planned to deploy officers at the airport and the hotel to arrest him upon arrival.
But for reasons that remain unclear, Torshin canceled his visit just two days before the flight, investigators said. Officials believe that a dispute in Spanish law enforcement about the decision to make such a diplomatically sensitive arrest may have led to a leak that reached Torshin. Torshin would have been the most powerful figure arrested in Spanish cases that have targeted Russian Cabinet ministers, elected officials, security chiefs and oligarchs.

As the debate over gun control erupts anew in this country, the Russians are intervening again – now promoting conspiratorial and political slurs against the young activists from Parkland, Florida who are challenging the NRA. Just how much support the “patriotic” gun lobby is receiving from a hostile foreign power remains to be fully revealed.

IMAGE: Donald Trump addresses members of the National Rifle Association during their NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during at their annual meeting in Louisville, KY, May 20, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II

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