Exclusive: Hacked Emails Take Us Inside the Billionaires’ Club Around Vladimir Putin
How a little-known lawyer is at the center of a complex nexus of connections between Western fixers, Russian oligarchs, Vladimir Putin—and even Donald Trump
At first glance, little separates Andrey Pavlov from thousands of other wealthy Russians who do business in the West. The lawyer, who turned 40 last year, travels across Europe’s luxury resorts, stays in five-star hotels, eats in the best restaurants, and hires concierge services to track down exclusive $17,000 Hermès handbags for his wife.
But Pavlov, an unassuming man of middling build and height with short brown hair, may be one of the most influential Russians you’ve never heard of, with a set of unique connections across the elites of Russia and Eastern Europe—not to mention London and Washington, D.C.—which typify the elaborate networks of connections and influence that have come to attract huge media and government attention in the early years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Pavlov has engaged some of the world’s biggest law firms to act on behalf of him and his clients, has encouraged a former U.K. attorney general to lobby on his behalf, and has hired the consultancy firm part-owned by U.K. and Australian election maestro Lynton Crosby.
Yet he’s also embroiled in a huge international row over an alleged $230 million Russian fraud that left a lawyer tortured to death in a Russian prison; is closely tied to the Russian and Kazakh interior ministries; and is even alleged to have acted as a mediator between a Russian whistleblower and an alleged criminal gang, shortly before the whistleblower was found dead—with U.S. intelligence pointing blame for the death directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pavlov’s jetset lifestyle embodies the elaborate network of connections between the Russian state and Western elites that special counsel Robert Mueller is now charged with investigating. Like most people in this world, Pavlov has always been a closed book—until now.
The Daily Beast is able to shed unprecedented light on how Pavlov and those around him operate, thanks to a circumstance all too familiar to Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee, and others: The contents of Pavlov’s emails were leaked and posted online following what he says was a hacking attack to an obscure site used by hackers to dump their finds. (The identity of Pavlov’s hackers is not known, and Pavlov has not publicly speculated on it.)
This rare cache of documents, plus court records from cases across the U.S. and detailed reporting, give a rare insight into the complex nexus of connections in which Pavlov resides—a network that draws in interests connected to Putin and also business connections of President Trump.
They also reveal the way Russia and its oligarchs and outriders work—drawing together those in the Western establishment, its top businesses, and its numerous middlemen into the intrigues of the Russian state, its satellites, and its wealthy power players.
In 2007, according to a complaint filed by U.S. prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, Andrey Pavlov was on a trip to Cyprus. Rather than just a sunny mini-break, the prosecutors allege, Pavlov was meeting with a number of officials from the Russian Interior Ministry and a man called Dmitry Klyuev, whom he had known since 2001. Klyuev, the U.S. prosecutors allege, was the ringleader of a multimillion-dollar fraud concocted on that trip—one that left a man dead in a Russian prison and which has sparked a years-long diplomatic row with an oddly central role in Trump’s rise to power.
It was this alleged fraud—referred to as the Magnitsky case, after a lawyer who died pursuing it—that prompted the meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to discuss “dirt” on Clinton, a meeting Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen now claims the president knew about.
It was also the Magnitsky case that was directly raised by Putin in his summit with Trump in July, as a poor faith quid quo pro for allowing interviews with Russian intelligence officials over email hacking. The lobbying and work around the Magnitsky case—in which Pavlov’s emails show he was central—have had world-shaking consequences.
The row began with an alleged elaborate tax fraud that saw $230 million taken from the coffers of the Russian government through a bogus refund scheme, according to the prosecutors’ complaint. Pavlov is accused by U.S. prosecutors of being a central player in that alleged fraud and its aftermath, and he has lobbied across the world against sanctions being imposed in response to it.
The prosecutors alleged that a Russian criminal gang had managed to re-register companies belonging to a hedge fund based in the U.S. and U.K.—Hermitage Capital—to themselves, before orchestrating sham lawsuits that awarded massive damages against them. This meant the companies were then eligible for huge tax refunds, owing to their lawsuit-induced losses, which were then siphoned into numerous offshore accounts belonging to the conspirators.
The U.S. prosecution document is laced with details that tie Pavlov to the alleged fraud from its very inception—claims he has consistently denied.
Russian Interior Ministry officials helped organize raids on Hermitage Capital in which materials, including the company’s documents and official seals, were taken—allowing, the prosecutors allege, for documents and contracts to be forged to enable the tax fraud.
When the “sham” lawsuits came to court, the U.S. contends, Pavlov was among the lawyers representing the “stolen” companies in cases they say “were orchestrated… for the purpose of fraudulently obtaining large money judgements,” appearing in different cases to be purportedly acting both for and against the stolen companies.
The scheme worked, and the companies obtained around $230 million in fraudulent tax refunds—at which point the Russian state swiftly moved against the companies’ original owner, Hermitage Capital Management, which was left trying to defend itself against a fraud it claimed to be totally unaware of.
To help it unpack what had happened, and defend itself, Hermitage engaged its own lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who quickly began filing criminal complaints against Klyuev and other alleged co-conspirators in the fraud.
By October 2008, Magnitsky had publicly testified on multiple occasions against Klyuev and Russian Interior Ministry officials he alleged were behind the fraud—only to see one such official, Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov, be placed in charge of the investigation.
Magnitsky was arrested within a month. He was held in pre-trial detention for almost a year before being found dead in his cell in November 2009. A human rights report found he had been “denied necessary medical care in custody,” had been “beaten by eight guards with rubber batons on the last day of his life,” and when found on the brink of death in his cell, “the ambulance crew that was called to treat him as he was dying was deliberately kept outside of his cell for one hour and 18 minutes until he was dead.”
Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital, worked relentlessly to publicize the case as part of an international “Justice for Magnitsky” campaign, which garnered huge international press coverage before coming to the attention of lawmakers in the U.S. and the EU. There it quickly came to spell trouble for Pavlov and his associates, as the West contemplated instituting sanctions against the people alleged to bear responsibility for the fraud, and directly or indirectly for Magnitsky’s death in a Russian jail. Separately, U.S. prosecutors began pursuing civil recovery of U.S. assets they believed may have been obtained as proceeds of the fraud.
It was here that the documents show Pavlov began to take action to attempt to protect his name against the allegations he and others faced—and he wasn’t short of influential Western firms to turn to for advice.
There has been extensive coverage of the connections between Trump’s businesses and Russian interests, but ties between Russia and Western political fixers, former government ministers, and big businesses are becoming business as usual—as Pavlov’s email cache detailing his lobbying efforts show.
He began in October 2013 by contacting the Washington, D.C., law firm Akin Gump—one of the world’s biggest—for assistance. The firm in turn suggested Pavlov could turn to FTI Consulting, a multinational “business advisory” firm, to help tackle the New York prosecutor’s report.
After a meeting with Pavlov, FTI offered a proposal of $200,000 for an initial piece of work investigating the case.
“We think we are in a very strong position to assist you in this matter,” the proposal stated. “The primary goal of the investigation will be to rigorously scrutinize the claims made by those alleging a conspiracy. A secondary goal, which we would pursue to the extent possible, will be to develop an alternate narrative documenting what really happened.”
FTI then offered Pavlov two ways in which the work could be carried out—depending how much control he wanted over what it looked into.
“Sometimes, in cases like this one, clients ask us to conduct a fully independent investigation… the value proposition is you could present our work product as the result of an investigation that you did not direct,” it stated. “The other approach would be more collaborative… we would seek your guidance on how to handle various issues.”
In this instance, Pavlov appears not to have pursued FTI’s offer of an investigation, whether independent or directed by him. Though the U.S. Congress did pass sanctions against a number of individuals alleged to have been involved in the fraud, Pavlov was not at the time considered for this list—only to be added to it under significant political pressure in December 2017.
In the EU, things were going less well, as the EU parliament was on the verge of signing a resolution stating the “EU should deny visas to and freeze the EU assets of 32 Russian officials involved in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.” Though this would have no legal force, it could serve to encourage action from EU governments or its counsel and would serve to implicate all those named in the resolution in connection with the fraud and its consequences.
Pavlov turned this time to the law firm Debovoise & Plimpton to see what it could do, seeking out Lord Peter Goldsmith, the former U.K. attorney general who wrote the legal advice enabling Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, to “add value” to his case on the international stage.
Goldsmith acted for both Pavlov and another person named on the European parliament’s list, Konstantin Ponomarev, to challenge the sanctions recommendation. Ponomarev urged Debevoise & Plimpton, where Goldsmith is a partner, to use the peer’s name on a letter to be sent to EU officials of the pair’s behalf.“Pls ask Lord Goldsmith to sign it,” he wrote in an email also sent to Pavlov. “His signature on this letter adds value to my positions not only in the EU but also in the RF [Russian Federation].”
Ponomarev was keen for this letter to be made public to put the receiving official “in a stupid position if she does not respond.” Goldsmith billed at £960 an hour for his work toward the case.
Pavlov also engaged a PR firm owned in part by Lynton Crosby, the election guru behind the ruling Conservative Party’s 2015 and 2017 campaigns in the U.K., as well as Australian election campaigns, to act in the Magnitsky case—though Crosby himself did not make representations in these cases.
In the correspondence, Pavlov’s lawyers describe Crosby’s firm, CTF Partners, to him as “the lobbying firm.” CTF is not registered as an outside lobbyist on either the U.K. or the EU registers of lobbyists. CTF said the project it undertook for Pavlov was a matter of background research and unrelated to lobbying.
However, Pavlov’s efforts proved futile: both he and Ponomarev were named on the final resolution, which passed the EU’s parliament in 2014.
This was the backdrop of the meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016—in the midst of the presidential campaign—between Trump Jr. and the Kremlin-connected lawyer Veselnitskaya, who was involved in lobbying against Magnitsky-related sanctions, during which she apparently offered “dirt” on Clinton.
Unlike Pavlov, there are no allegations Veselnitskaya was involved in the original fraud behind the Magnitsky case, but she has worked as a campaigner against the ensuing sanctions since and is a known associate of Pavlov. The two were photographed together attending a screening of a film against the Magnitsky sanctions in the EU parliament and are Facebook friends.
U.S. prosecutors are also eager to explore the level of connection between Veselnitskaya and Pavlov, having served the latter with a subpoena for his correspondence with her and others when he made a short trip to the U.S. in 2016, a time before he was affected by U.S. sanctions.
There is one more twist in Pavlov’s alleged role in the Magnitsky saga: a U.K. coroner’s court has heard allegations he was involved in a second death connected to it, a charge he has resolutely denied.
In November 2012, Alexander Perepilichnyy—a one-time alleged conspirator in the case, who had turned whistleblower and was living in exile in Britain—died while jogging, in a case initially judged to be a natural death.
Authorities have been accused of missing numerous pieces of evidence around Perepilichnyy’s death, which is on a list of possible Russian assassinations on U.K. soil kept by U.S. intelligence officials, which was uncovered by BuzzFeed News.
Pavlov met Perepilichnyy in the months before the latter’s death. Perepilichnyy reportedly referred to Pavlov as a Russian Interior Ministry official with whom he was seeking rapprochement. In the inquest into Perepilichnyy’s death—which is still ongoing nearly six years later—the court heard Pavlov was in the country at the time of the whistleblower’s demise, left the day after, and was “certainly in any view a candidate for the killing of Mr Perepilichnyy,” according to a lawyer working for the firm providing Perepilichinyy’s life insurance.”
Pavlov has firmly denied the allegation, telling The Atlantic he had only been in England for a matter of hours, and had only learned of Perepilichnyy’s death days after. The inquest has yet to rule.
The Magnitsky case is not the only international controversy in which Pavlov has a hand, though—nor the only one with connections to those in Trump’s orbit. And while Perepilichnyy may have overstated things if he suggested Pavlov worked for the Russian Interior Ministry, Pavlov’s emails reveal a very close working relationship with it—as the case of the row between a billionaire in exile, the Kazakh government, and a female lawyer caught in the middle of it shows.
In April 2014, Olena Tyshchenko—a Ukranian lawyer, mother of four, and key witness in the U.K.’s biggest ever fraud case—emailed a senior partner at the London office of one of the world’s largest law firms, Hogan Lovells.
Her email detailed a string of allegations against the firm and one of its clients, a preeminent Kazakh bank. Her accusations were grave: that she had been arrested in Russia on false pretenses, visited in isolation cells by lawyers acting against her to give “false evidence,” kept in illegal custody, and forcefully taken to Kazakhstan.
“I was released only after I signed the agreement [to cooperate as a witness] written by Hogan Lovells,” she wrote in the furious email. “This you all understand looks bad and illegal.”
The email, and all of the serious allegations of witness intimidation and contamination, arrived soon afterward after being forwarded through a middleman into the inbox of Pavlov, one of the people present in the cell—according to a transcript produced by Kazakh authorities and emailed to Pavlov—where Tyshchenko claims she was interrogated, without a lawyer, under armed guard.
The case in question was that of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh banker and political rival of the country’s president. Ablyazov was accused of a multibillion-pound fraud against BTA Bank (in which he was once the largest shareholder, but which was subsequently nationalized) but had protested that his prosecution was politically motivated. After the bank was nationalized in 2009, Ablyazov fled Kazakhstan and later received political asylum in the U.K. Multiple human-rights groups had spoken out against his attempted extradition.
Ablyazov’s legal case, aspects of which are still ongoing, has involved dozens of hearings in U.K. and French courts, and is one of the largest and most lucrative ever seen in Western Europe, with the Financial Times reporting that more than 50 solicitors and 32 barristers—including eight queen’s counsels or prominent lawyers—have worked on the case since 2012.
BTA alleges Ablyazov misappropriated up to $6 billion in bank funds and assets, and the bank has spent over five years pursuing him in the U.K. courts through numerous sets of high-stakes proceedings.
Ablyazov was granted political asylum in the U.K. but fled the country in 2012 to France after being held in of contempt of court related to seizure of funds and disclosing information relating to the case. Civil proceedings relating to seizing his assets continued in his absence.
One such High Court hearing, in July 2013, was attended by Olena Tyshchenko, a confidante and legal adviser to Ablyazov. As she left the U.K. court, she was photographed by private investigators working for Diligence, a security firm founded by former MI5 and CIA staff, hired by Hogan Lovells—photos that were then passed to and published by the U.K. press.
The investigators managed to follow Tyshchenko across London and into France, as she visited Ablyazov in his “hideaway”—a villa near Cannes. He was arrested by French authorities in connection to his alleged bank fraud in an armed raid soon afterward, and the story of how he was tracked down—along with some of the surveillance photos—leaked to the press.
Ablyazov, though, was not the only one to be arrested. Tyshchenko herself was arrested by Russian authorities and kept in custody for four months, until she agreed to be a cooperative witness for BTA as well as for Russian and Kazakh authorities.
The emails of Pavlov shed light on months of correspondence between Kazakh authorities, Pavlov, and one of the world’s most respected law firms—from which Trump later hired his own lawyer Ty Cobb, who was not directly involved in this case.
The cache shows the peril faced by people, like Tyshchenko, who get caught in the wheels in battles between oligarchs and autocrats, even when they are ostensibly being fought through Western courts. Documents in the email cache show Pavlov was present during an extended interrogation of an obviously traumatized Tyshchenko by both Russian and Kazakh Interior Ministry officials in prison in Moscow during November 2013.
A transcript of the interrogation was sent to Pavlov by the Kazakhstan prosecutor’s office and has been professionally translated and reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The documents confirm the close involvement of Kazakh authorities in Ablyazov’s case—which Amnesty International has repeatedly warned would suggest political motivation for the extradition request.
Early in the transcript, the Kazakh prosecutor explains to Tyshchenko he will not interview her with her lawyer present. “The lawyers will be [here] shortly, you will consult with them whether you wish to or not,” he says. “I will explain why I will not be interrogating you in their presence.”
Soon afterward, he tells Tyshchenko, “They [Kazakhstan] don’t want there to be any kinds of false rumours about your being pressured or any kind of illegal activities.”
She interrupts: “When there are three armed men with me and I’m handcuffed?”
He responds: “This is only common procedure which is not dictated by us, it’s dictated by the law. Because we have you here and you consider yourself a law-abiding citizen. But there are some people who do not share this opinion. Sometimes they will attempt to escape.”
During the lengthy exchanges, Tyshchenko speaks of her anguish at her situation, especially at being separated from her children, with little opportunity to speak to them.
“There’s going to be a dead body in the isolation cell, don’t you understand? I can’t take it anymore,” she tells her captors.
Soon afterward, in December 2013, Tyshchenko agreed to sign an agreement drafted by Hogan Lovells to cooperate with BTA Bank in its actions against Ablyazov, including turning over evidence in the U.K. and France, and ceasing all association with Ablyazov, documentation in the email cache shows.
The agreement included a promise to “waive any entitlement to claim legal professional privilege.” In exchange, Tyshchenko herself would be freed from the threat of prosecution.
The final deal, signed by Tyshchenko, was sent by Pavlov to Hogan Lovells on Dec. 20. It was accompanied by a handwritten note from Tyshchenko to Hogan Lovells partner Chris Hardman.
“I fully understand the meaning of the said agreement and its statements and consequences of its signing,” she states, also confirming she had enough time to “receive relevant professional advice” before signing.
Within days of its signing, Hardman was flying to Moscow to meet with Tyshchenko, discussing the meeting with Pavlov and inviting him to sit in. “If not, do you have any thoughts on how to get the best out of her?” he asks.
Hardman’s professional profile at Hogan Lovells prominently advertises his role in the BTA case.
“His work on the BTA Bank matter, for instance, has been universally lauded and has been described as ‘extraordinary litigation on a large scale’ and ‘the most ground-breaking recent case by common consensus,’” it states.
Tyshchenko’s cooperation with authorities secured her release from detention and resulted in a large handover of documents and evidence to BTA, its lawyers, and Russian and Kazakh authorities.
But by April 2014—just a few months later—all was not well. Pavlov received an email from Pavel Prosyankin, a senior BTA executive, using the alias “Peter Pan,” of action points from a coordination meeting between BTA, Russian, and Kazakh authorities, including recommending coordinating responses between “state security agencies.”
One point on the list was “Annulling O. Yu. Tyshchenko’s amnesty and working with her moving forwards.” Her deal had provided “a great deal of evidence” and “laid the foundations for questioning new persons of interest,” they stated, but they complained she “is currently avoiding travel to the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.” As a result, the document states, the Russian Federation’s prosecutor’s office had annulled her agreement.
This provoked Tyshchenko’s furious and panicked emails to Michael Roberts, another Hogan Lovells partner working on the BTA case, about the circumstances of her cooperation.
Speaking about the canceled amnesty, Tyshchenko stated, “I am preparing the statement to withdraw all my evidence as given under duress.”
She made a bulleted list of allegations against Prosyankin, Pavlov, and Hardman.
“You should understand that
“- the fact that I was arrested on the basis of false evidence given by Messrs Prosiankin and Pavlov as well as statement of Mr Hardman, who mentioned in his statement he was saying what the Client had told him but nevertheless he then told me it depended on him whom to arrest, which means he is seriously involved in illegal influence on the investigators;
“- numerous visits of Mr Pavlov and Mr Prosiankin to the isolator where I was kept and pressure they applied on me to give evidence including false evidence …
“- that I was released only after I signed the agreement written by Hogan Lovels; [sic]
“- that when I was released I was forcefully taken to Kazakhstan by KNB [Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency];
“and numerous other breaches of law - together constitute serious crime and corruption under the Russian law and not only.”
Tyshchenko further noted that some of the Russian lawyers and investigators involved in the case—including Pavlov—were accused of involvement in the Magnitsky case.
“Two out of three investigators in the group are from Magnitsky list and you, being American company, are cooperating with them till now,” she stated. “This all as you understand [sic] looks bad and illegal.”
A few days later Tyshchenko sent a calmer email, repeating the allegations that she had received threats from a BTA staffer and that BTA was involved in reopening the criminal case against her in Russia, but pledged to “assist as agreed” if her case could be “closed once and for all.”
Both emails were forwarded by Prosyankin—using his “Peter Pan” alias—to Pavlov within days of being received by Hogan Lovells.
The Daily Beast sent Hogan Lovells a detailed series of inquiries based on the extensive email correspondence. A spokeswoman for the firm said it would “not be appropriate” for it to respond in detail but sent a statement from Hardman, the partner in the firm who worked on the case.
“Hogan Lovells, of course, denies any involvement in witness intimidation,” he said. Its role in the investigation into Tyshchenko in Russia, he claimed, was limited to one of its partners giving evidence to the authorities about Tyshchenko’s involvement with Ablyazov, when requested to do so.
“Mrs. Tyshchenko’s allegations in this regard were withdrawn shortly after they were made and she cooperated with BTA Bank in its efforts to recover its losses caused by the frauds perpetrated by Mr. Ablyazov and his associates.”
Tyshchenko, who was later appointed as an anti-corruption investigator for the Ukrainian government, still insists her detention was politically motivated.
It is not illegal, nor even necessarily immoral, for any Western citizen or business to have dealings with Russia or its satellites—as billions of dollars of Russian investment into London property and American lawyers signals, it’s become a key component in Western economies.
But as Pavlov’s email cache highlights, nor is it simple. Working out where businesses, alleged criminals, governments, and state agencies end and begin is all but impossible, and often comes with considerable moral ambiguity—especially as so many Russian stories, from alleged assassinations, to frauds, to business deals, to lobbying, intertwine and interconnect.
These interconnections have now taken center stage in American politics, thanks to the U.S. president’s years-long dealings with Russia: Trump and his family have their own connections with almost every entity involved in this story.
Trump hired his former lawyer Cobb from Hogan Lovells. Trump contemplated a hotel project in Georgia with ties to Ablyazov and BTA Bank. Trump associates contemplated a Trump Tower in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, after Ablyazov’s fall. Trump Jr. met with Veselnitskaya, Pavlov’s “friend,” in Trump Tower to discuss the Magnitsky sanctions during the 2016 election campaign.
In the strange whorl of the Russian orbit, where everything is connected, Trump and his team pop up at each point. Perhaps most infamously of all, as Mueller detailed in an indictment published just days before Trump met Putin, Russian intelligence interfered to hack the emails of Clinton associates and published online by WikiLeaks, an act that came to dominate U.S. election coverage for weeks—in a bid to help Trump win the 2016 election.
And yet on the flip side, Pavlov found himself in the same position as those in the DNC. Unknown hackers targeted his emails, which were for a time available online (The Daily Beast was passed a link to them by another journalist), before being removed from the torrent site upon which they were shared.
When asked about the publication of his emails and his comment on their contents, Pavlov responded by email. The cache posted online was, he wrote, “hacked and stolen emails” and the information within was privileged, adding, “your findings are factually wrong and highly defamatory,” though he did not provide any specific details.