Washington (AFP) – A recently sanctioned Russian oligarch used his company to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, deposited into an account used to pay off a pornographic film actress, US media reported Tuesday.
CNN said Renova Group chairman Viktor 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 2016 American presidential election.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, released a dossier alleging that Vekselberg and his cousin transferred “approximately $500,000” to Cohen in eight payments.
“Mr Cohen inexplicably accepted these payments while he was the personal attorney to the president,” the document said.
The New York Times and NBC News said they had reviewed financial documents that corroborated Avenatti’s claims.
Vekselberg was among seven Kremlin-linked oligarchs the Trump administration slapped with sanctions in April.
Daniels, born as Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Cohen as part of a non-disclosure agreement just before the 2016 presidential election, over an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier.
Several other corporations paid hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to the company Cohen used to pay Clifford, The New York Times reported.
Among those payments were $200,000 from AT&T, whose proposed merger with Time Warner is currently before the courts after the Justice Department sued to block the sale.
“Essential Consultants was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” AT&T said in a statement, referring to what media reports said was a shell company set up by Cohen.
“They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”
– Large corporate payments –
In all, transactions totaling at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants from shortly before Trump won the presidential election until January 2018, according to the Times.
It said Novartis Investments S.A.R.L., a subsidiary of Switzerland-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis, made four payments of $99,980 each to Cohen’s company between October and January.
Aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries paid the company $150,000 in November, the Times added.
Clifford is suing Trump for defamation, and has also sought to be released from the non-disclosure agreement. Cohen insists Clifford has repeatedly violated the accord, but she argues it is invalid because Trump did not sign the document.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators is probing whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, and whether he illegally tried to obstruct the investigation.