President Donald Trump's businesses have ties to 10 Russian oligarchs believed to be linked with criminal organizations and money laundering, USA Today reported.
The newspaper cited court cases, legal and government documents, and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.
Neither Trump himself, nor any of the companies under his umbrella, are believed to be involved in wrongdoing regarding the business relationships, but the ties bring into question Trump's assertions during the campaign and afterward he has no connections to Russia.
"I have no dealings with Russia," Trump said in February. "I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia. I have no loans with Russia at all."
But, USA Today reported, Trump said differently in 2013, telling Real Estate Weekly, "I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room" when he met with potential investors in Moscow.
In 2008, his son Donald Trump Jr. told the Russian media, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets," including in Dubai and Trump SoHo, as well as other New York locations.
Trump's business ties to Russian businessmen goes back decades and involve him seeking investments for real estate developments.
Democrats have charged Trump at the very least will make decisions as president that would favor his business partners. Worse, they fear, members of Trump's campaign might have colluded with the Russian government to swing the election in his favor.
The White House and Trump himself have denied any such collusion, but FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress last week his agency is probing whether any such connections took place.
But even if Trump and his companies are in the clear, money from Russian oligarchs is often tainted by corruption, and some seek to launder it by investing in American companies.
"Anybody who is an oligarch or is in any position of power in Russia got it because (President) Vladimir Putin or somebody in power saw some reason to give that person that job," former CIA chief of Russian operations Steven Hall told USA Today. "All the organized crime figures I've ever heard of (in Russia) all have deep connections and are tied in with people in government."
But Ariel Cohen of the Atlantic Council think tank said that is not true off all rich Russians.
"There are oligarchs who are FOPs (friends of Putin) and there are those who lost their assets due to corruption, abuse of power, a crummy legal system and the lack of property rights," he told the paper. "Many of these people moved abroad, to London, New York, and Florida. They are refugees from the corporate raiding Russian-style practiced for the last couple of decades."
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