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Trump-Russia collusion investigations

Trump lawyer Cohen is accused of receiving US$500,000 from a Russian oligarch linked to election meddling

A lawyer for Stormy Daniels and CNN both claim Cohen was paid hundreds of thousands by Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman now under US sanctions for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US election 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 9:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 12:01am

The lawyer for adult-film star Stormy Daniels on Tuesday claimed that Michael Cohen, the long-time lawyer for US President Donald Trump, received US$500,000 from a Russian billionaire in the months after the 2016 US election.

In a tweet and a report released on Tuesday, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti said a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, sent the payment to Cohen.

CNN separately reported on Tuesday that Vekselberg, who has been hit with US sanctions for suspected meddling in the 2016 presidential election, has been questioned by FBI agents over hundreds of thousands of dollars his company’s US affiliate paid to Cohen.

CNN said Renova Group chairman Vekselberg was questioned along with his cousin Andrew Intrater, who heads the firm’s US affiliate Columbus Nova, by agents investigating Russian interference in the election.

The payments were made after the election but while Cohen was still Trump’s personal lawyer.

The claims by Avenatti could not be independently confirmed and it was not clear how he would have knowledge of any payment from Vekselberg to Cohen.

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Cohen and Avenatti did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Avenatti said Vekselberg and Intrater made eight transfers to Cohen between January and August 2017 through Columbus Nova for a total of US$500,000. 

“Mr Cohen inexplicably accepted these payments while he was the personal attorney to the president,” Avenatti’s report said.

Columbus Nova is a US investment arm of Renova Group, a conglomerate controlled by Vekselberg. Both Vekselberg and Renova were subjected last month to sanctions for suspected election meddling and other alleged “malign activity”.

Vekselberg and Intrater could not be immediately reached for comment. An executive at Columbus Nova did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported last week that Vekselberg was also questioned by agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year, as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the elections.

Avenatti also said he discovered four payments of just under US$100,000 each by drug maker Novartis to Essential Consultants, the same company used by Cohen to make US$130,000 in payments to Daniels, to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Novartis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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AT&T Inc confirmed another series of payments disclosed by Avenatti, who said the telecommunications giant made four payments of US$50,000 each to Essential Consultants.

“Essential Consultants was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T said in a statement.

Vekselberg was among seven Kremlin-linked oligarchs the Trump administration slapped with sanctions in April.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse