A mysterious trip from Moscow to South Florida by a private jet used by the CEO of the Kremlin's largest bank suddenly came to an end early Sunday morning. After just 21 hours and 34 minutes on the ground at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), the Gulfstream G650 operated by Jet Air Group with the tail number RA-10204 took off and flew back to Russia.
In a statement via Twitter, the Russian state-run Sberbank claimed that the trip was unconnected to the institution's "business activities."
According to online flight data, the plane that is used regularly by Sberbank CEO German Gref (pictured above) landed at FLL at 2:31 a.m. EST on Saturday morning.
At 12:23 a.m. on Sunday, it took off again. The private jet landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Alexander S. Pushkin International Airport (SVO) at 6:17 p.m. local time. That would be 10:17 a.m. EST, a nine-hour, 54 minute flight.
FLL airport sits less than 50 miles from the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, owned by Donald Trump — where Trump has been spending his holiday vacation, which is not scheduled to end until late Sunday afternoon.
Whether Gref was on the plane, and why the jet made the quick round-trip between Moscow and South Florida, remains unclear. Between Friday and Sunday, the Sberbank-owned jet spent 22 hours and 16 minutes in the air. But the plane was on the ground in Florida for only 21 hours, 52 minutes.
In Sberbank's tweet, the bank appeared to imply that Gref was not on the plane — but did not deny his possible presence outright, saying only that "While Mr. Gref is on vacation, Sberbank leases its corporate jet for commercial purposes."
The bank then said that the unexplained rapid round trip to South Florida was "commercial and had no connection to Sberbank's business activities."
The bank did not identify the "commercial" client who allegedly leased the plane, nor gave any clue as to the nature or purpose of the highly compressed trip. But the plane made the same trip in 2019 — on the same dates of January 3 until January 5. On the 2019 trip, the plane spent 30 hours and 11 minutes on the ground in Fort Lauderdale.
Gref and Sberbank have connections to Trump going back at least to 2013, according to the tech magazine Fast Company. During Trump's trip to Moscow that year for the Miss Universe beauty pageant, which he owned, it was Gref who arranged meetings for Trump with Russian business leaders, the magazine reported. Sberbank also served as a co-sponsor of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Sberbank remains under United States economic sanctions, which have been in place since 2014. In 2016 alone, the bank spent $450,000 lobbying Congress to remove the sanctions, according to an Atlantic magazine report.