A member of President Donald Trump’s transition team was named as a board member of a company owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska the day after the Trump administration lifted sanctions against Deripaska’s companies.
The administration eliminated the penalties Sunday, despite strong opposition from Democrats, who challenged the move as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The Treasury Department imposed the sanctions against three companies owned by Deripaska almost 10 months ago because of Russia’s “malign activity around the globe.” Deripaska was also personally sanctioned because the U.S. accused him of threatening rivals’ lives, bribing government officials and having links to organized crime — all of which Deripaska has denied.
As part of the deal to lift the sanctions in what was stated to be an effort to dilute Deripaska’s control, EN+, the parent of his aluminum company Rusal, announced seven new directors, four of them American or British. They include former Deutsche Bank executive Christopher Bancroft Burnham, who served on Trump’s State Department transition team.
Deripaska and Trump have both been clients of Deutsche Bank. The bank has paid billions of dollars in fines for money-laundering, interest rate manipulation and toxic mortgage assets.
Deripaska was also once a client of Trump campaign manager and convicted felon Paul Manafort.
Burnham also served as undersecretary general for management of the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration when John Bolton — now Trump’s national security adviser — was the U.N. ambassador.
Deripaska hailed the administration’s move on the sanctions, even as it was condemned by Democrats, who called it a capitulation to the Kremlin and to an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A majority of House Republicans voted with Democrats to maintain the sanctions against Deripaska’s three companies. But by then the measure had already failed in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a longtime critic of lifting the sanctions, called it a “sordid deal” on Twitter, adding that the Trump administration works seven days a week on “favoritism for Russia.” He also accused the president of being more concerned about helping Russian businesses than paying U.S. federal workers amid the newly ended government shutdown.
Deripaska’s companies, including energy firm JSC EuroSibEnergo, financed a months-long lobbying battle against the sanctions, arguing that the penalties would harm the international aluminum market and U.S. companies.
The Treasury Department insisted that the sanctions deal involved a restructuring to “sever” Deripaska’s control of the companies. But The New York Times reported that a confidential document revealed that Deripaska and his allies (including a foundation founded and funded by Deripaska and relatives) will retain majority ownership of EN+.
Treasury issued a statement insisting that the “majority of directors on the En+ and Rusal boards will be independent directors [with] no business, professional or family ties to Deripaska.”
Doggett has described the deal as a “shell game.”
The binding agreement obtained by the Times also included sanction relief provisions that could potentially free Deripaska from “hundreds of millions of dollars in debt,” the newspaper reported.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s party affiliation as Republican.