The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
Russian linked to Trump lawyer has Conn. ties
WESTON — All was quiet Wednesday afternoon at Viktor Vekselberg’s estate on Good Hill Road, along a wooded and busy road just off Route 57 in Weston. There was no answer at the intercom near the compound’s gate.
Vekselberg built his fortune, currently estimated by Forbes at $14.6 billion, by investing in the aluminum and oil industries. More recently, he expanded his assets to include industrial equipment and high technology.
This week he’s making headlines for connections to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who represents Stormy Daniels, says a company associated with Vekselberg paid $500,000 to Cohen. That money, Avenatti contends, was transferred within months of Cohen paying hush money to Daniels, the porn star who claims a long-ago affair with Trump.
Vekselberg’s Weston home, on 4.6 acres of land, was reportedly purchased for $5 million in 2001. Google maps shows the 7,791square-foot main house and a heated swimming pool sited far back from the roadway, along the Saugatuck River.
At the start of the driveway sits a chestnut-colored wooden gate that connects to a rock wall. Beside the gate is the intercom, and beyond it is a tennis court and what appears to be a guest house.
Property records show the average cost of other homes on the road hover in the $1 million range. Many of the homes on Good Hill Road and nearby connecting roads had similar lavish layouts with swimming pools and tennis or basketball courts.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, and a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said he had seen reports Vekselberg owns property in Weston but said he had not verified the information.
The senator, who said he has never met Vekselberg, said the payments to Cohen are rightfully being investigated by the Special Counsel, and pointed out that Vekselberg was placed under sanctions regarding his business dealings and property in April.
“He is clearly close to Putin and has performed various activities that serve Putin,” Blumenthal said. “He should be under investigation. There are ties to Cohen and possibly Trump.”
The 61-year-old Russian billionaire also reportedly also owns a pied-a-terre in Midtown Manhattan.
Avenatti said that aside from the payments from the Vekselberg-affiliated company, hundreds of thousands of dollars streamed into Cohen’s account from companies with U.S. government business interests — including pharmaceutical giant Novartis, AT&T and Korea Aerospace. Those three companies have confirmed the connection.
Avenatti isn’t disclosing the source of his information or releasing documentation. But in a sevenpage memo, he details what he says were wire transfers into and out of the account Cohen used to pay Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 to stay silent about her alleged tryst with Trump in 2006. Trump denies having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Financial documents reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press appeared to back up Avenatti’s report.
The memo says Vekselberg and his cousin “routed” eight payments totaling about $500,000 to Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, between January and August 2017. The reason for the payments was not immediately known.
Avenatti’s memo says the deposits into the account controlled by Cohen were made by Columbus Nova, an American investment company headed by Vekselberg’s cousin, Andrew Intrater, and affiliated with the Renova Group, which Vekselberg controls.
Andrey Shtorkh, a spokesman for Vekselberg and the Renova Group, said in a statement that “neither Victor Vekselberg nor Renova has ever had any contractual relationship” with Cohen or Essential Consultants.
Columbus Nova’s lawyer, Richard Owens, said in a statement the company is “solely owned and controlled by Americans.” He said that after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the company hired Cohen as a business consultant “regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” but that it had nothing to do with Vekselberg.
“Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else, other than Columbus Nova’s owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement,” he said. Cohen and his lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York but hasn’t been charged.
At the time of the payments, there was an FBI counterintelligence investigation, which Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over last May, into Russian election interference and any possible coordination with Trump associates. Vekselberg was targeted for U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration last month.
Eric Althoff, a spokesman for Novartis, said it entered into a one-year agreement with Essential Consultants in February 2017 to focus on health care policy.
He said in an emailed statement Wednesday that Novartis hired Cohen for $100,000 a month, but determined after a single meeting with Cohen that he wouldn’t be of use. Novartis still paid out the $1.2 million contract. “The decision was taken not to engage further,” he said, but the contract could not be terminated, so the payments continued.
AT&T said in a statement that Essential Consultants was one of several firms it “engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration.”