Report: Mueller Probing Russian Payments to US Residents, Firms

Russia special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are examining payments from Moscow diplomatic accounts to people or companies in the U.S., including $120,000 paid to former Ambassador Sergey Kislyak 10 days after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election.

BuzzFeed News — citing “a U.S. official with knowledge of the inquiry” — reported Wednesday the data showed “years of Russian financial activity within the U.S. that bankers and federal law enforcement officials deemed suspicious, raising concerns about how the Kremlin’s diplomats operated here long before the 2016 election.”

The records being examined included the Kislyak transaction as”bankers flagged it to the U.S. government as suspicious in part because the transaction, marked payroll, didn’t fit prior pay patterns,” BuzzFeed reported.

In addition, five days after President Trump’s inauguration last year, “someone attempted to withdraw $150,000 cash” from the Moscow embassy’s account — “but the embassy’s bank blocked it.

“Bank employees reported the attempted transaction to the U.S. government because it was abnormal activity for that account,” according to the report.

Mueller’s investigators recently obtained the records after the Treasury Department provided the suspicious activity reports to the FBI.

The agency had asked for records that might relate to the investigation into the election, BuzzFeed reported, citing “three federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of the matter.”

FBI officials did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Further, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own Moscow probe, “requested suspicious activity reports” on Kislyak as far back as August, though “it is unclear whether senators have received those documents yet.”

Top committee officials also declined to comment to BuzzFeed.

“All the transactions which have been carried out through the American financial system fully comply with the legislation of the United States,” Nikolay Lakhonin, a spokesperson for the Russian Embassy, told the website.

“We are not going to comment on any concrete names and figures mentioned in BuzzFeed articles.

“We see such leaks by US authorities as another attempt to discredit Russian official missions,” he said.

Kislyak, who left the U.S. last year and is now a member of the legislature of the Republic of Mordovia, which is part of Russia, declined to comment through a spokesman.

According to BuzzFeed, some of the transactions being scrutinized by Mueller’s team also include:

  • Thirty checks flagged by bankers between March 8 and April 7, 2014, totaling about $370,000, to Moscow embassy employees. They cashed the checks as soon as they received them, making it virtually impossible to track the funds. Bank officials noted the employees had not received similar payments in the past, BuzzFeed reported.
  • The Russian Cultural Centre, a branch of the government based in Washington that sponsors classes and performances, sent $325,000 in checks over five years that banking officials flagged as suspicious. The amounts were not consistent with normal payroll checks, while some of the transactions fell below the $10,000 threshold that causes a notice to the U.S. government.
  • The Russian Embassy in Washington sent more than $2.4 million to several small home-improvement companies controlled by a Russian immigrant living near the embassy. His identity was not disclosed by BuzzFeed. The contractor’s companies received about 600 payments, earmarked for construction jobs at Russian diplomatic compounds between 2013 and March 2017.

Bankers, however, told Treasury officials they did not believe the transactions were related to the election but flagged them because the businesses seemed too small to have completed major work on the embassy and because the checks were cashed quickly or wired to other accounts.

The contractor told BuzzFeed that all the payments he received were valid for legitimate work.

But on all of the financial transactions, each one generated a “suspicious activity report” that was sent to the Treasury’s financial crimes unit by Citibank, which services the Russian Embassy’s accounts, according to BuzzFeed.

A Citibank representative said the company would not comment because the transactions are confidential.

“Consistent with our commitment to protect the integrity of the financial system,” Jennifer Lowney told BuzzFeed in an email.

“Citi is diligent in filing suspicious activity reports with the U.S. Treasury Department when appropriate.”

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