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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against international lobbyist and Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, and pleading by Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos, cast long shadows over other top Trump administration officials, starting with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose previous financial deals involved the European money-laundering hub of Cyprus.

The banking sector of that small island nation in the Mediterranean appears to be a crossroads where top Trump campaign associates, such as Manafort and Papadopoulos, and senior administration officials like Commerce Secretary Ross, crossed paths and had layered financial and political dealings with Kremlin-tied Russian oligarchs.

The Manafort indictment, apart from its detailing of how he spent millions of untaxed overseas earnings for luxury properties in the U.S. that the government wants to seize, listed more than half a dozen pages of overseas wire transfersadding up to $12 million. Almost all of them originated in Cyprus.

Papadopoulos, whose pleading noted that his overseas contacts had told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” and noted that he tried to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump’s campaign, also had Cyprus connections. Papadopoulos, who lived in London, had been advising the country’s government about joining NATO, a source who interviewed the ex-U.S. ambassador to Cyprus, told AlterNet.

Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, was vice-chair and leading investor in the Bank of Cyprus, the island’s largest bank, which was “one of the key offshore havens for illicit Russian finance,” according to an extensive investigative report by financial journalist James Henry of DCReport.org. “Ross has been Vice Chairman of this bank and a major investor in it since 2014. His fellow bank co-chair evidently was appointed by none other than Vladimir Putin.”

“Ross’ involvement in the Bank of Cyprus raises many questions about his judgment, but also about the Trump Administration’s seemingly endless direct and indirect connections with friends and associates of Vladimir Putin, who all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies say conspired to interfere in the November 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump,” Henry continued. “Whether or not these connections involve any criminality, these are the kind of relationships that most American business people would not tolerate for 30 seconds.”

“After all, as discussed below, since the 1990s Cyprus has served as one the top three offshore destinations for Russian and former Soviet Union flight capital, most of it motivated by tax dodging, kleptocracy, and money laundering,” Henry said, giving multiple citations. “As of 2013, just before the banking crisis, Russian depositsaccounted for at least a third of all bank deposits in Cyprus. As one leading newspaper put it, ‘Russian money is in fact at the heart of the island’s economy.’ Nor is Ross’ Bank of Cyprus in particular—now probably at least half owned by Russians any stranger to money laundering, tax dodging, or odious finance. With a market share of 30 percent, Bank of Cyprus has long been the market leader in Cypriot financial chicanery.”

Russian oligarchs and expatriots have invested millions in Trump properties, as journalist Craig Unger documented for the New Republic this past summer. His report was titled, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat: How to use Trump Tower and other luxury highrises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House.”

While there is much still to unfold in the wake of Mueller’s indictments, some baseline conclusions can be drawn.

First is that the special counsel is looking at both financial entanglements and political relationships, and how these differing areas of law overlap in Trump’s orbit. The role of Cyprus as a nexus of illicit money laundering—for Manafort and the Russians—has been confirmed by the indictment and documented by independent investigative reporters. The next questions will be determining the deeper roles played by Trump associates in this mix: from the campaign, from those holding White House posts and from past business deals.

Trump’s personal lawyer may be saying the president has nothing to worry about. But Mueller’s probe seems aimed not just at the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, but to the money-laundering world of the investors that seems destined to touch Trump properties and the recent past of top aides like Secretary Ross.

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

 

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9 responses to “Could Wilbur Ross Be The Next Trump Official Targeted In The Mueller Probe?”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    Let’s not forget that the recent indictments were made early, at the end of the beginning of the Mueller investigation, to avoid being hampered by the statute of limitations concerning some of Manafort’s and Gates’, alleged, crimes. Ross is going to be one of many in the Trump administration affected by the investigation into money laundering, and questionable dealings with the Russians. Transactions via banks in the Seychelles are also being investigated as part of the network used by members of the Trump administration to launder money and avoid paying U.S. taxes. Money laundering is likely to be just one of many facets of the Mueller investigation. Others include collusion leading to Russian interference in the 2016 election, hidden foreign investments in former Soviet Republics and now in Russia, Putin’s overseas holdings, and the worst of all, obstruction of Justice. Some of these charges will most likely not become public until the middle or latter part of next year. The big question is how is Trump going to react to what is happening? Is he going to fire Mueller, and unleash a constitutional crisis the likes of which the USA has never faced? Will Republicans in Congress support Mueller in his investigation, if Trump fires him, or will they choose to go down with the ship?

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    • CrankyToo says:

      Prescient commentary indeed, Mr. Vila.

      As to your latter question, the despicable Republicans in Congress don’t appear to have an “abandon ship” option. They’ve been chained to their oarlocks by their puppet masters, pending passage of tax “reform” legislation (designed to benefit primarily themselves, of course). Ergo, McConnell, Ryan and their motley crews have no choice but to keep rowing and start bailing for their lives (while simultaneously kissing Trump’s butt).

      My fondest dream involves the ship going down with all of them aboard.

      • Dominick Vila says:

        The so called “tax reform” is nothing more or less than a huge transfer of wealth from the Treasury, at the expense of social programs and loss of deductibles critical to the well being of the middle class, to the top 1%. It is welfare on steroid to people and corporations that don’t need public help to enjoy everything that money can buy. The worst part of this farce is that the corporations that pay taxes (many don’t), only pay 10% to 12%. That’s the effective rate that Trump and his gang don’t want to talk about when they claim that we have the highest corporate tax rates in the world.

        • CrankyToo says:

          Well you’re right, of course. Why do they even talk about lowering the corporate rate to 20% (let alone their dream objective of 15%), when by and large, they’re paying effective tax rates already below those numbers?

          The real pisser is, they’re so damned FLAGRANT about it! The Republican Party is a disgrace. Top to bottom.

          • Dominick Vila says:

            The real pisser for me is that the Democratic party is incapable of exposing their malfeasance. If it wasn’t for Bernie Sanders, nobody would hear a counter argument to what is being proposed.

          • CrankyToo says:

            If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Democrats, by and large, are cowardly and inept. From 2008 to 2010, they controlled a united government with a newly elected Barack Obama at its head. What could go wrong, right?

            Well, during that period, they allowed a minority Republican caucus to stymie 150 or so presidential appointments and hold in abeyance or defeat some 400 pieces of legislation. The Dems’ inability to govern effectively during that period bred the T (as in Turd) Party, and allowed Republicans to sweep Congress and many state legislatures with a new broom in 2010. The upshot of the Dems’ political malpractice was extreme gerrymandering of congressional districts following the 2010 Census and, by extension, a consolidation of power in the hands of the Greedy Old Pricks which continues to this day.

  2. How long is Trump’s dirty laundry list? It would seem that he has cultivated ties with every mobster-minded individual in the Western Hemisphere and Eurasia. And Trump bleating “No Collusion” sounds more absurd and unbelievable each time he opens his mouth.
    So much for subtlety.

  3. Hurry up, Mueller. Trump is trying to wear us out with exasperation over his antics and these sordid revelations.

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