On Sunday, December 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed a phone call to Donald Trump, as Trump vacationed at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Six days later, a private jet reportedly used by German Gref (pictured above), the CEO of Russia’s biggest Kremlin-run bank, landed in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, less than an hour’s drive from Mar-a-Lago.
The White House did not initially release details of the phone call placed by Putin to Trump, but the Kremlin provided a “readout” shortly after the call was completed on Sunday. According to the readout posted by Putin’s office, Putin and Trump discussed “mutual interests,” including “bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism.”
Also on Sunday, according to a report by The Daily Beast, Trump began boasting to “close associates and club-goers” that he was planning a “big” action of some sort against the ruling regime in Iran.
Four days later, on Trump’s orders, a United States drone attack killed Iran’s top military leader, General Qassem Soleimani, who was widely believed to be the mastermind behind numerous acts of terror throughout the Middle East over the past two decades.
The possible flight by Russia’s most powerful banker was noted by Scott Stedman, founder of the independent journalism site Forensic News, on his Twitter account. Data from the flight-tracking site FlightAware.com confirmed that a Gulfstream G650 aircraft operated by Jet Air Group, with a tail registration number of RA-10204, landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Broward County in the middle of the night — 2:31 a.m. — on Saturday, January 4.
The plane took off 12 hours and 23 minutes earlier from Sheremetyevo Alexander S. Pushkin International Airport in Moscow, on a direct route to Fort Lauderdale. FLL, as the facility’s name is abbreviated, is the nearest major international airport to the Mar-a-Lago Club, where Trump remains on his holiday vacation.
According to the Russian news site Laivsmi.ru, Sberbank provided Gref with the $70 million Gulfstream jet identified by tail number RA-10204. Gref is believed to have used the jet to fly to the Maldives islands for a two-day getaway on the weekend before Christmas, according to the Russian news site, citing flight records available online.
There is no confirmed connection between Putin’s phone call on Sunday, Trump’s subsequent boasts of “big” action against Iran starting that same day, and the killing of Soleimani four days later. Whether Gref was actually aboard the Gulfstream jet that landed just 50 miles south of Mar-a-Lago in the early morning hours on Saturday is also unconfirmed.
But on Friday, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that the killing of Soleimani was designed to stop an “imminent” attack against “American lives,” even though South Carolina senator and frequent Trump golf partner Lindsey Graham said that he had been briefed on the coming attack while visiting Trump at the Florida resort as previously as Tuesday.