Sater Had Laundering Plans for Moscow Trump Tower, Bank Says

Standing beside Felix Sater, businessman Donald Trump talks on his cellphone after speaking at the Bixpo 2005 business convention at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.(Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via AP)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Two days shy of his anticipated congressional testimony, Russian-mafia tied businessman Felix Sater has been hit with a lawsuit accusing him of trying to launder looted money through the aborted Trump Tower deal in Moscow.

Filed Monday afternoon in Manhattan, the federal complaint is part of a series of global litigation that grew out of the systematic looting of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank in 2009. 

Since that time, courtroom battles against Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov; his son, Ilyas Khrapunov; and BTA’s former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, soon cropped up in London, Paris, Los Angeles and here in New York.

Lurking in the wings of these court battles has been Sater, a former senior adviser to the Trump Organization expected to testify before Congress Wednesday and the central figure in a lawsuit filed today by BTA Bank and Kazakhstan’s largest city of Almaty.

“Sater helped Ablyazov, Khrapunov, and others launder tens of millions of dollars in those stolen funds into the United States, where they were invested in real estate and used to procure immigration status for Khrapunov’s sister,” the 61-page complaint states. “Sater also tried to help them stash some of the stolen money overseas, including in real estate in Moscow.”

In a statement, Sater’s attorney Robert Wolf called the lawsuit “cheap and desperate retaliation” by BTA and Almaty.

“Mr. Sater’s asset recovery company, Litco, sued them last October for failing to pay $10 million owed for assistance recovering over $50 million in assets,” Wolf said. “Their concealment from the court of that lawsuit against them and their concealment of the prior agreement with Litco will result in a prompt dismissal of this case.” 

The lawsuit does not accuse President Donald Trump of any impropriety over the deal.

Represented by Boies Schiller, BTA alleges that this Moscow real estate was the proposed Trump skyscraper that Sater and the president’s former fixer Michael Cohen pursued over the course of the 2016 election.

“Among other proposed investments, Sater conspired with Ilyas to invest the stolen funds to develop a Trump Tower project in Russia, which Sater has claimed would have been a ‘high-rise, high-end development that could make a significant amount of money,’” the complaint states.

Citing Sater’s interview with BuzzFeed News, BTA notes that the project included a sweetener for Russia’s president.

“My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units,” Sater told the outlet. “All of the oligarchs would line up to live there.”

Cohen’s role in plans for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow had been a major focus of his prosecution by special counsel Robert Mueller. With a signed letter of intent, negotiations for the tower stretched deep into the 2016 presidential campaign, possibly up until Election Day, as Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has said repeatedly.

Though that deal fizzled out, Trump Tower Moscow was not the only real estate tied to the president that the lawsuit describes as a conduit for illicit money. BTA says Sater laundered more than $3 million in stolen money from the Almaty mayor’s son to Trump SoHo, whose developer Bayrock Group had the Russian emigre as a managing director.

“In or about April 2013, Ilyas transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from his sister’s account to the escrow account of Jajan PLLC, a New York real estate law firm which reportedly handled the majority of purchases in the Trump SoHo development and worked closely with Sater and Bayrock LLC,” the complaint states. “This transfer represented the down payment on three units in the Trump SoHo development.”

Founded by developer Tevrik Arif, Bayrock Group counted itself a frequent Trump partner on projects in New York, Arizona and Florida. The company had been involved in a deal for another Moscow high-rise in 2005, another deal that ultimately went south.

“Shortly afterwards, the conspirators transferred close to $3 million from Kudryashova’s account to the same escrow account of Jajan PLLC, representing full payment on the Trump SoHo units,” the complaint states.

BTA has been investigating Trump SoHo’s ties to the Kazakh scheme for years.

Last year, their attorney sought to compel Wells Fargo bank to produce documents detailing the Khrapunovs’ investments in its condos.

UPDATE: Hours after news of the complaint broke, the House Intelligence Committee indefinitely postponed Sater’s testimony to focus on questioning officials related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

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