Just one day before fired FBI Director James Comey testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the Trump-Russia scandal, Donald Trump announced his choice to replace Comey at the FBI. But in a shocking move, Trump picked Christopher Wray, a lawyer whose firm is directly connected not merely to Russia, but in particular to the state-owned Russian oil giant Rosneft — a company which could play a key role in the FBI’s investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In fact, the international law firm King and Spalding, where the 50-year-old Wray is currently a partner, not only represents Rosneft, but also the Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom as well as another Russian oil company, one that King and Spalding do not identify on the firm’s website, that operates in Kazakhstan, according to a report by Bloomberg News.
A possible connection between Rosneft and Trump first appeared in the “Steele Dossier,” a privately compiled intelligence document researched and written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, detailing alleged ties between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and various Russia government and business interests. Some of the key claims in the dossier have been independently verified by United States investigators.
According to allegations in the dossier, the Russian government offered Trump adviser Carter Page a sizable commission on Russia’s sale of 19 percent of Rosneft shares to private investors — if Trump could guarantee that as president he would lift economic sanctions against Russia.
In December, Russia did, in fact, sell a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft — a sale valued at $11 billion — in a complex and shadowy deal involving an investment fund owned by the government of Qatar. But the Qatari fund kicked in just 3 percent of the total sale price, according to a Reuters report. Other investors included a group based in the Caribbean tax haven of the Cayman Islands. Due to the lax regulations governing financial transactions in the Caymans, the identity of those buyers has never been determined.
With Page’s alleged involvement in the massive deal — allegations that Page has denied — the Rosneft deal is likely to become part of the FBI’s current investigation into the Trump-Russia connections, which would put Wray in charge of an investigation involving one of his firm’s top clients.
Rosneft is also under economic sanctions by the United States and European Union stemming from Russia’s 2014 annexation of neighboring Crimea. The sanctions themselves may be reason why the Cayman Islands buyers of the Rosneft shares remain anonymous — as they would need to if their purchase violated the sanctions.
For more details on Rosneft, see the links in the “More Coverage” box, below.
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On Wednesday, a Marketwatch report revealed that Russia planned to buy back the Rosneft shares sold as part of the deal, because even though Russian President Vladimir Putin had lauded the deal as an indicator of Russia’s economic power, in fact, “it functioned as an emergency loan to help Moscow through a budget squeeze,” Marketwatch reported.
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