One of President Donald Trump’s personal attorneys was just named a lead attorney to defend Russia’s largest state-run bank against claims that it helped a granite-mining company raid and kill off its main competitor in the Russian market.
Marc E. Kasowitz is representing OJSC Sberbank of Russia, which is accused in US federal court of conspiring with granite company executives — including Russia’s former minister of economy and trade — in what the plaintiffs say amounts to a “textbook case of Russian corporate raiding.”
Kasowitz has served as an attorney for Trump for more than 15 years. He did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
In 2001, Kasowitz’s firm represented the Trump Organization during a bond restructuring for his Atlantic City casinos. In 2006, he filed a $5 billion defamation lawsuit against the author of a book about Trump. And twice last year, Kasowitz threatened the New York Times after it published three pages of tax returns and a story about women who claim the president sexually assaulted them.
In December, Trump named another partner at Kasowitz’s firm, David Friedman, to serve as the ambassador to Israel. In a contentious vote earlier this month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination, which now awaits a full vote in the Senate.
The Sberbank lawsuit was filed in late November in the Southern District of New York and unsealed in January. The complaint claims that a Russian company, P-Granit, was the subject of a hostile takeover by its rivals starting in 2009. By using a series of shell companies and “straw men,” the rivals allegedly began to take control of P-Granit shares and “trapped” the firm’s owner as it tried to refinance loans with Sberbank.
Sometimes, the lawsuit says, the defendants “identified” companies that would win an auction “days before they had even conducted the auction.”
The scheme was engineered, the suit claims, by Yuriy Zhukov and other granite company executives. Zhukov met with Herman Gref, the head of OJSC Sberbank and a former federal minister for President Vladimir Putin, to manipulate the process, according to the court filing. The lawsuit claims that Gref used his influence with the government to shield the takeover from scrutiny by Russian federal investigators.
“The cover-up and crimes,” the complaint says, “were of sufficient enormity and sensitivity that Defendants Gref and Zhukov were compelled to mislead President Putin’s advisor, Mr. [Andrey] Belousov, who was asked specifically to investigate the situation with the P-Granit/Sberbank Russia debt.”
An attorney for one of the defendants, Aleksey Vladimirovich Bazarnov, denied the charges in the lawsuit and said in a court filing that P-Granit’s owner has for five years “doggedly initiated litigation proceedings to prevent his creditors from exercising their lawful rights.”
Lawyers for P-Granit did not immediately return a phone call.
In the complaint, lawyers for P-Granit claim that Russian courts are “compromised, corrupt” and that the company cannot get a fair trial there, which led to its decision to file the lawsuit in America.
Anthony Cormier is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. While working for the Tampa Bay Times, Cormier won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.
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