An accused money launderer representing a Kremlin-friendly oligarch has been reportedly identified as the eighth person at a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. last June.
Irakly Kaveladze was a guest of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya when she visited Trump and other campaign members in Trump Tower last year, Trump’s lawyer told CNN. The meeting was proposed by billionaire Russian real-estate developer Aras Agalarov. The billionaire is friendly with President Donald Trump, having hosted his Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow and discussed real-estate deals with Trump.
The June 9, 2016 meeting was originally characterized by Trump Jr. as "primarily... about the adoption of Russian children." It was then revealed to have also been about Agalarov providing “damaging information” on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin. Joining Trump in the meeting were his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The eight visitors included Rob Goldstone, the manager of Agalarov’s pop-star son who reached out to Trump; Veselnitskaya, the lawyer with ties to Russian officials who lobbied the U.S. on behalf of Kremlin interests; her translator, Anatoli Samochornov; Veselnitskaya’s D.C.-based lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, who was once accused of an international hacking conspiracy; and Kaveladze.
Kaveladze is an executive of Crocus Group, Agalarov’s Russian-based development company. Kaveladze’s LinkedIn page says he began working for Crocus Group in 2004, but a Russian webpage for the Economic Chronicle says he started in 1992 as Crocus’ U.S. associate. Kaveladze immigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 1991.
Federal investigators say Kaveladze immediately began laundering money for Russians.
Kaveladze was the president of International Business Creations, a Delaware corporation. Between 1991 and 2000, IBC and sister corporation Euro-American moved $1.4 billion from Eastern Europe through U.S. banks and back to Europe, the Government Accountability Office found in 2000. Kaveladze was not named in the report, but he was reportedly identified as its accused figure. “What I see here is another Russian witch hunt in the United States,'' Kaveladze told the New York Times in 2000 about the allegations.
IBC and Euro-American “created corporations for Russian brokers and established bank accounts for those corporations,” GAO said. The bank accounts were opened at Citibank and the Bank of New York.
Approximately 2,000 corporations were formed for Russian brokers, GAO found, and 236 bank accounts were opened at Citi and BONY. An employee of Euro-American told GAO the firm created about 10 corporations at a time for Russian brokers, sometimes making up names for the companies. (Euro-American charged a fee of $350 for each company it incorporated.)
“The president of IBC told us that the bank accounts were formed to move money out of Russia,” the GAO report reads, apparently referring to Kaveladze. It adds that he confirmed he’d misled the banks about the due dilligence he’d done in investigating the banks.
“He also told us that Euro-American is currently being liquidated due in part to concerns about money-laundering issues that were raised in 1999 when the media reported allegations that Russian organized crime had laundered billions of dollars through the Bank of New York,” the report said.
The report concluded that it is “relatively easy” for foreigners to hide identities and funnel money to the U.S., due in part to the failure of Citi and BONY’s failure to implement “know your customer” policies.
Kaveladze denied any wrongdoing. He later said he was the victim of an anti-Russian campaign, according to the Economic Press Review. (Attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.)
Robert Hast, then the managing director of the GAO, told The Daily Beast that at the time there were thousands of companies set up for money laundering. “And Delaware makes it easy,” he said.
“It was Russian organized crime that was mixed in with former KGB,” Hast added. “This wasn’t too long after the breakup of the USSR, and a lot of these people were out of work.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, recently hired Andrew Weissmann, the former head of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud unit, who is an expert on fraud, foreign bribery, and organized crime. Scott Balber, an attorney for the Agalarovs and Kaveladze, said his clients are cooperating with the investigation.
Scott Olson, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, told The Daily Beast that the meeting’s size and attendees would not make much sense as a Russian intelligence operation. “If you’re gonna have a covert meeting, it’s gonna be two people,” Olson said. “If you have more than two people, it becomes exponentially more difficult to keep the meeting confidential, and the content of the meeting confidential.”
And the people at the meeting, from Veselnitskaya to Ahkmetshin to Kaveladze, are not the sort of operatives intelligence agencies usually recruit.
“They’re not reliable, they’re too difficult to train,” Olson said. “I’m really seeing people who are trying to curry favor so they can leverage it into a political or business connection.”
Two months before the meeting in Trump Tower, Kaveladze joked on Facebook about meeting Donald Trump.
A colleague named Yuriy asked Kaveladze when he was returning to the U.S. and then told him they were Trump fans.
“The other candidates are opaque, who knows what to expect from them,” Yuriy added. “So pass that along to him.”
“I told him that I would try to pass it along, although I knew it was unlikely,” Kaveladze said.