It was flattering when Felix Sater reached out to me to see if I would follow up on my idea to write a screenplay based on his life, but I’m really not very interested in getting mixed up in his business. The idea was actually a joke, but Sater took it seriously. In truth, I don’t think I’d be up to the challenge of trying to unravel his life for the big screen.
Sater is in the news again because of his central role in brokering a deal between IC Expert CEO Andrey Rozov and the Trump Organization to build a skyscraper in Moscow that would have been the tallest building in Europe. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed News published the detailed plans for that tower. I now have reason to believe that there’s a connection between the Moscow Tower deal, which was formalized in a letter of intent signed on October 28, 2015, and the infamous Trump Tower meeting that occurred on June 9, 2016. But fully explaining the link is not possible in a blog-length post. Instead, I will just point you in the right direction.
Back in October 2018, independent journalist Wendy Siegelman did some sleuthing and discovered that in December 2015 Felix Sater and Andrey Rozov had teamed up to sell a Manhattan property located at 22 West 38th Street. It’s not that surprising that Sater and Rozov were working on two distinct real estate deals at the same time, but the New York-based accountant, Ilya Bykov, who was involved in the West 38th Street transaction is the same accountant who helped Azerbaijani oligarch Aras Agalarov create a shell company in Delaware just prior to the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Agalarov, you will remember, was responsible for bringing Donald Trump’s beauty contest to Moscow in 2013, and it was his son Emil who reached out to Donald Trump Jr. to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The shell company, called Silver Valley Consulting, has attracted the attention of investigators because eleven days before the June 9 meeting, Mr. Agalarov moved “$19.5 million from an offshore investment vehicle to a US bank account” for the newly established corporation.
A Russian billionaire who orchestrated the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting formed a new American shell company a month beforehand with an accountant who has had clients accused of money laundering and embezzlement.
The billionaire, Aras Agalarov, created the US company anonymously while preparing to move almost $20m into the country during the time of the presidential election campaign, according to interviews and corporate filings.
The company was set up for him in May 2016 by his Russian-born accountant, who has also managed the US finances of compatriots accused of mishandling millions of dollars. One of those clients has its own connection to the Trump Tower meeting.
As independent investigator Scott Stedman put it, “The intersection of Rozov, Sater, Bykov, Agalarov and the shell company that purchased 22 West 38th Street, resulting in an $8M profit for Rozov in the midst of negotiating Trump Tower Moscow will surely pique the interest of congressional and federal authorities.”
The reason these connections cannot be concisely explained in a blog post is because they sprawl into many different areas of interest. Much of this can be explored in Siegelman’s article from last October. The Cliff Notes version that I will give you here is that it centers around the Russians’ efforts to fight back against the Magnitsky Act. All the work that Natalia Veselnitskaya was doing in the United States centered around that effort, very much including her agenda in the Trump Tower meeting. In fact, the simplest way of understanding the Trump Tower meeting is that it was a proposed deal to provide the campaign with dirt on Clinton in exchange for a commitment to roll back the Magnitsky Act if Trump were elected.
Up until now, there has been no suggestion that there was a similar connection between the Moscow Tower proposal and the Magnitsky Act, but some of same players are emerging as having been involved in both of these negotiations. For example, the accountant Ilya Bykov connects both with Sater and Rozov’s real estate deal and with Agalarov’s shell company. In the latter case, the suspicion is that Agalarov was moving $20 million into an American account for some purpose related to the Trump Tower meeting.
Some of the best reporting on the Russia investigation has been done by independent journalists. Scott Stedman has been doing excellent work tracking down the financial shenanigans involved, and he reported in December that the Trump Organization had not done much due diligence before partnering with the IC Expert to build their Moscow skyscraper.
Andrey Rozov, the IC Expert Chairman and Trump LOI signatory, founded the company in 2005. The company’s first project was awarded in 2011 for a residential development project called Novokosino-2 in the city of Reutov, a suburb of Moscow. Sberbank appears to have provided the initial financing for the project, as well.
That same year, Rozov was involved in a fatal boating accident in the harbor of Crocus City. Rozov was charged with negligent homicide, yet the case stalled and it is unclear what became of the charges.
By the end of 2014, IC Expert had become mired in scandal over its failure to construct thousands of apartment units paid for by home buyers. The Novokosino project has required ongoing intervention by local and regional government officials to address the growing protests of co-investors. Even under this supposed government supervision, many of the buildings — first promised in July 2015 and then December 2015 — still remain under construction. Yet in 2015, Rozov’s scandal-plagued IC Expert was looking to expand into the luxury skyscrapers sector in Moscow City. The licensing deal with Trump was predicated on the firm’s ability to secure financing, land, and government permission. It included an initial $4 million dollar ‘upfront’ payment to ‘Trump Acquisition LLC and/or one or more of its affiliates’. It is unclear whether such a payment was ever made.
The project was deemed so “important” to Cohen that in January 2016, he reached out to Putin’s spokesperson Peskov for help. In that email, Cohen wrote, “without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled.”
Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, is the lead defense counsel for Sberbank in a Manhattan case. During Trump’s trip to Moscow in 2013, he met with the Sberbank CEO Herman Gref. “There was a good feeling from the meeting,” Gref said in an interview. “He’s a sensible person, very lively in his responses, with a positive energy and a good attitude toward Russia.”
The deal signed by Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen offers no signs that they properly vetted IC Expert. Neither mystery offshore owners nor a homicide appears to have deterred them from signing the Letter of Intent. Doing business deals with shady characters in foreign countries open political candidates up to potentially being compromised. This material can be held against the political figure in order to ensure loyalty.
In that piece, Stedman does not mention Felix Sater. But, of course, it was Sater who took the lead in making these connections on Michael Cohen’s behalf. Whether by design or by accident, Sater could have compromised Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, leaving them vulnerable to exposure and blackmail. As with everything else in his life, it’s very hard to understand here who Sater was working for and what kind of game he was playing. In some ways, I’d enjoy writing a screenplay about his life, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand all of this well enough to do him justice.
As for the implications for the Russia investigation, there is clear evidence here that the Trump Organization was looking for ways to ingratiate itself with Vladimir Putin in furtherance of getting a deal to build a tower in Moscow. The Russians dangled a deal, got Trump to sign on the dotted line, and then held that over him as they attempted to get him to make commitments should he actually become president. The Magnitsky Act was one of their main targets, but so was undermining the European Union, breaking up NATO, getting America to leave Syria, getting a recognition of their right to Crimea, and sanctions relief. Trump has pursued all of these things and more since becoming president.