Bill Clinton sought State Department approval to invite a powerful, Putin-backed Russian oligarch with an expansive history of corruption to the Clinton Global Initiative’s 2012 meeting while Clinton’s wife was secretary of state, according to an e-mail newly obtained by National Review.
The June 4, 2012 message was sent by Amitabh Desai, Bill Clinton’s foreign-policy director at the Clinton Foundation and the same man who later asked the State Department’s permission for Clinton to give paid speeches in North Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Would [the U.S. government] have any concerns about CGI inviting Viktor Vekselberg, President of Renova Group, to attend CGI Annual Meeting in NYC in September?” Desai asks Clinton confidantes Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Michael Fuchs under the subject line “Russia/Viktor Vekselberg?”
Valued at around $18 billion and described as the “oligarch’s oligarch,” Vekselberg is perhaps the richest man in Russia. Russian dissidents describe him as a key component of Putin’s economic regime, a man who has helped consolidate Russian industry under businesses friendly to the Kremlin in exchange for sweetheart deals and kickbacks. Vekselberg’s Renova Group, which contributed between $25,000 and $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation, seems to have tendrils in virtually every aspect of the Russian economy, from precious metals to oil to high-tech industry.
After the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent shadow invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian forces, Secretary of State John Kerry considered placing Vekselberg on the list of individuals sanctioned by the U.S. government. Though relations between the U.S. and Russian governments hadn’t reached their post-Ukraine nadir when the Clinton Foundation asked to bring Vekselberg to New York in 2012, Putin’s increasing authoritarianism and involvement in the Syrian civil war was already straining the much-vaunted 2009 “reset” between the two nations. Just eight days after the former president’s request, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton accused Putin of lying about delivering attacking helicopters to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Desai’s e-mail appears to have gone unanswered by the State Department aides tasked with screening Clinton Foundation requests for conflicts of interest. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from NR, but Vekselberg’s name is not listed on the 2012 confab’s extensive guest list, a sign the State Department may have scuttled the move amid rapidly souring U.S./Russian relations.
#share#It would make sense for the State Department to be reticent about Vekselberg. He has long been dogged by corruption allegations — the 2001 armed takeover of a competing petroleum company’s office was purportedly undertaken on his orders, facilitating the theft of a $500 million oil field and touching off a twelve-year international legal battle. But the pace of the alleged misdeeds accelerated dramatically after he earned the backing of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.
In 2004, he bought nine Fabergé eggs once owned by the Russian czar for more than $100 million, and returned them to Russia from their previous home in New York. The sale was praised by Putin, who is keen to rekindle national pride through the repatriation of Russian art. Vekselberg said the strongman personally thanked him, and local press intimated that the move brought him into Putin’s good graces. Depositors at First City Bank later accused him of siphoning off $40 million in their savings to help finance the eggs’ purchase.
‘This latest email uncovered by Citizens United is just another example of how the Clintons will take money from any source, good, bad, or ugly.’
In 2006, Vekselberg became the owner of the world’s largest aluminum company after negotiating the merger of two Russian firms with Glencore, a Swiss commodity-trading giant founded by Marc Rich, the billionaire fugitive infamously pardoned by President Clinton during his last days in office. The same year, Vekselberg and fellow Clinton Foundation donor Victor Pinchuk reportedly engaged in the “large-scale bribery” of Ukrainian officials and the “looting” of hundreds of millions in profits from a Ukrainian ferroalloy plant.
In 2009, acting on the request of the Kremlin, he bought a Moscow office building from the Hungarian government for $21.5 million before selling it to the Russian government at $125 million — a transaction that caused the arrest of three Hungarian officials but only a belated, ineffectual investigation on the Russian side. Swiss authorities accused Vekselberg of violating financialdisclosure rules in 2010, an investigation the oligarch paid $10 million to settle. And in 2013, Vekselberg was accused of funneling money allocated by the Russian government to build a high-tech industrial park into his own bank accounts.
RELATED: The Clinton Foundation’s Stingy Ways
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the Vekselberg e-mail, but Hillary Clinton has been pilloried for the Clinton Foundation’s reliance on unscrupulous governments and corrupt businessmen. The foundation took large sums from elites in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, despite their countries’ abysmal human-rights records. And people such as former foundation trustee Vinod Gupta — charged with fraud by the SEC — and Gilbert Chagoury — a $1 billion donor to the Clinton Foundation convicted of money laundering in a Swiss court and suspected of illegally funneling more than $4 billion from Nigeria — make up some of the most important executives and contributors behind the Clinton family’s flagship charity.
David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, which uncovered the Vekselberg e-mail in a public-records lawsuit, says it further underlines the Clinton family’s willingness to do business with corrupt individuals tied to unsavory regimes. “This latest email uncovered by Citizens United,” he says, “is just another example of how the Clintons will take money from any source, good, bad, or ugly.”
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.