Russian oligarch with ties to former Trump campaign manager seeks immunity to testify to Congress

The offer by Mr  Oleg Deripaska (left) comes amid increased attention to his ties to President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort (right).
The offer by Mr Oleg Deripaska (left) comes amid increased attention to his ties to President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort (right).PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A Russian oligarch once close to President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort has offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers are unwilling to accept his conditions, according to congressional officials.

The offer by Oleg V. Deripaska comes amid increased attention to his ties to Manafort, who is one of several Trump associates under FBI scrutiny for possible collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign.

The two men did business together in the mid-2000s, when Manafort, a Republican operative, was also providing campaign advice to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine. Their relationship subsequently soured and devolved into a lawsuit.

Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is a member of the inner circle of the Russian president Vladimir Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for a grant of full immunity, according to three congressional officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the issue publicly.

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But the Senate and House panels turned him down because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators, the officials said.

 

Deripaska, who lives in Moscow, has long had difficulty travelling to the United States. The State Department has refused to issue him a business visa because of concerns over allegations that he was connected to organised crime, according to a former US government official, which Deripaska has denied.

But he was able to enter the country in another way during that period, according to previously undisclosed court documents.

Deripaska came to the US eight times between 2011 and 2014 with government permission as a Russian diplomat, according to affidavits he gave in a lawsuit in a Manhattan court. Deripaska said in the court papers that his visits were brief and made in connection with meetings of the G-20 and the United Nations, not to conduct business.

The court documents and public records show that Deripaska, whose companies have long had offices in New York, has expanded his American holdings over the past 10 years, buying high-priced Manhattan town houses and a major stake in a Russian-language newspaper in New York.

The lawsuit was brought by Alexander Gliklad, a Russian-born businessman, who charged that Deripaska had used his diplomatic status as a cover to do business, which the oligarch denied. Gliklad claims he is entitled to collect funds that Deripaska had agreed to pay to settle a lawsuit with a man who owed Gliklad money from a court judgment. Last month, a New York state Supreme Court justice rejected Gliklad's argument that the Manhattan court had jurisdiction over Deripaska.

As Manafort's dealings with Russia-friendly Ukrainian politicians, business activities and loans have come under examination in recent months, his former client has gotten caught up in the media scrutiny. The two men were partners in an offshore fund set up in 2007 to buy telecommunications and cable television assets in Ukraine, where Manafort had advised then-President Viktor F. Yanukovych. That deal fell apart, winding up in litigation in the Cayman Islands.

In March, Deripaska took out newspaper ads stating that he was willing to participate in hearings before Congress after The Associated Press published a report alleging that Manafort had provided him with a plan in 2005 outlining steps to "greatly benefit the Putin government," by influencing politics and news coverage in the United States. Deripaska has denied ever entering into such an arrangement and sued the AP for libel last month. The news organisation has said it stands by its article. Manafort has denied that his work for the oligarch was aimed at aiding the Russian government.

There are no indications thus far that the FBI is seeking to interview Deripaska as part of the continuing investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.

Michael J. Gottlieb, a lawyer at the firm representing Deripaska in the libel action, did not respond to a request for comment about his offer to cooperate with congressional investigators. Adam Waldman, a Washington lobbyist representing Deripaska, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The timing of Deripaska's diplomatic visits to the US are notable because they began after the FBI withdrew from a secret deal that allowed him into the country.

In 2008, the FBI, over State Department objections, arranged for him to receive a special visa after he agreed to help the bureau find a retired agent, Robert Levinson, who had disappeared in Iran the year before.

FBI officials ended the deal in 2009 after concluding that the arrangement was not fruitful, according to former officials at the bureau. He sought to get a visa in 2015 to testify in the Manhattan court case, according to court filings, but the State Department refused to issue him one.