A Russian billionaire with ties to the Kremlin has recently been questioned by FBI agents about hundreds of thousands of dollars his company's U.S. affiliate allegedly paid to President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney, media report.
CNN, citing a source "familiar with the matter," reported on May 8 that Renova Group Chairman Viktor Vekselberg was questioned along with his cousin Andrew Intrater, who heads the firm's U.S. affiliate, Columbus Nova, by agents investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The New York Times previously reported that Vekselberg was questioned by agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether Russia meddled in the election as well as ties between Russia and Trump's campaign.
According to media reports, the Russian businessmen allegedly transferred some $500,000 to former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen's company Essential Consultants in a series of payments after the November 2016 election.
Vekselberg later attended Trump's inauguration ceremony in January 2017 as a guest.
CNN said U.S. investigators also asked Intrater and Vekselberg, who was stopped by FBI agents earlier this year after his private jet landed in New York, about $300,000 in political donations Intrater made to Trump's inaugural fund and campaign funds.
Intrater donated $250,000 to the Trump inauguration fund, $35,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, and $29,600 to the Republican National Committee in June 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks U.S. campaign donations.
While it is illegal for foreigners to donate to U.S. politicians, Intrater is an American citizen.
Richard Owens, a lawyer for Columbus Nova, denied that the Renova affliate had been used to make payments on behalf of Vekselberg.
"Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false," he said.
"The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved in or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue."
Cohen's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vekselberg was among seven Kremlin-linked oligarchs the Trump administration targeted with sanctions last month. He built his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $14.6 billion, by investing in Russia's aluminum and oil industries.
The claim that Vekselberg and Intrater funneled the payment of some $500,000 to Trump's attorney after the presidential election was also made on May 8 by Michael Avenatti, an attorney representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges she was paid hush money by Cohen to keep a sexual encounter with Trump quiet.
Avenatti did not provide evidence to support the claim and it was not clear how he would have knowledge of any payment from Vekselberg to Cohen.
Avenatti claimed Vekselberg's money was used to repay Cohen for a $130,000 payment the lawyer allegedly made to the actress on Trump's behalf as part of a nondisclosure agreement.
"Cohen inexplicably accepted these payments while he was the personal attorney to the president," Avenatti said in a seven-page memo detailing the alleged transactions.
Daniels, born Stephanie Clifford, is suing Trump for defamation, and has also sought to be released from the nondisclosure agreement.