13:38 GMT08 March 2021
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    The New York Times reported Saturday that the FBI and US Justice Department tried to “flip” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to become an informant. Deripaska rejected their offers, but as he’s failed to cooperate before, they’re refusing to do him favors now, a political analyst told Sputnik.

    Between 2014 and 2016, the DOJ tried twice to turn Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who made enormous sums of money by investing in aluminum firms following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, into one of their informants, the NYT reported September 1. The first time was an attempt to get information on Russian organized crime, and the second was part of the early phase of the Russiagate investigation, the suggestion that collusion between the Russian government and the 2016 presidential election campaign of Donald Trump helped turn the election in Trump's favor.

    But then, when Deripaska was pressed by media accusations into offering to testify before Congress about Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, without the promise of immunity but also without talking about so-called Russian collusion, US officials were no longer interested, and instead enacted sanctions against Deripaska's companies and dubiously suggested he was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest associates.

    Significantly, the Justice Department official responsible for contacting Deripaska was Bruce Ohr, who it was recently revealed had a close connection with the formation and ultimate delivery of the dossier assembled on Trump by former MI6 spy-turned-businessman Christopher Steele. Ukrainian political consultant Andrii Telizhenko told Sputnik last week that sources in Kiev had had told him that Steele paid them to research and compose bogus salacious stories to put in the dossier.

    Steele reportedly told the researchers, "[W]e want something off the top of your head, something interesting, so that we can put it into a bigger document that we can use in the future," Telizhenko told Fault Lines host Lee Stranahan in a recorded interview.

    At the first meeting between the FBI and Deripaska in September 2015, the NYT article says, the Americans pressed him on connections between Russian organized crime and the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska reportedly rejected their insinuations, castigating them for their poor understanding of "how things worked in Russia."

    Given that, despite proof in their own article to the contrary, the New York Times repeatedly refers to Deripaska as "Putin's oligarch," it would seem they didn't heed Deripaska's advice, either.

    The second time Deripaska met with US authorities, in September 2016, happened when FBI officials showed up unannounced at the door of Deripaska's New York house. They had questions about Manafort. Manafort, the first person actually brought to trial for Russiagate-related charges, was recently found guilty of eight of the 18 charges leveled against him — a litany of financial crimes, none of which have anything to do with the so-called "Russian collusion" that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is tasked with uncovering.

    Deripaska thought little of the idea in 2016, too, reportedly telling the FBI agents that "while he had no love for Mr. Manafort, with whom he was in a bitter business dispute, he found their theories about his role in the campaign ‘preposterous,'" the New York Times said. He further disputed the idea of any connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    "He wouldn't sing," Peter Lavelle, host of "CrossTalk" on RT, told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear Tuesday. "And that was quite maddening for them."

    ​Lavelle told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that the beauty of the story was that the Russiagate proponents "have their Russian," and need not focus on the precarious prospect of prosecuting Maria Butina, a Russian citizen and gun rights activist who was detained in July on charges of conspiring and acting as a foreign agent. Lavelle found that strange, since rather than vindicate their hopes of finding proof of collusion with Manafort, Deripaska disproved them, as the two were bitter rivals.

    Deripaska isn't a friend of Putin's, either, and Lavelle noted the Russian president "keeps them all equidistant," referring to other Russian billionaires, a group of people sometimes referred to as "oligarchs," although the era of oligarchical domination of the Russian government is long since passed — thanks in no small part to Putin's efforts.

    As a result, "Deripaska is about as squeaky-clean as you can get," Lavelle said. "He knows he has to have transparency… because he has business interests" abroad in the United States and elsewhere.

    "One question this Deripaska story brings to the fore is that if all of this was going on, what did the Obama administration do to counter it, if they certainly believed that there was some sort of maniacal influence on the United States, particularly the elections and the public sphere… We know that the FBI was deeply involved in it, but what did they do as a reaction if all of these claims are true?"

    The FBI tried one last time to contact Deripaska: in 2017, Ohr sent a message through an intermediary urging him to "give up Manafort." Further, after AP published a report in March 2017 stating that Manafort and Deripaska had collaborated in the mid-2000s on a project to "greatly benefit the Putin government," the businessman decided to try and clear his name, posting ads in US newspapers indicating his willingness to testify in any Congressional hearings about his work with Manafort and suing AP for libel.

    By April 2018, Deripaska was being sanctioned by the US Treasury for supposedly engaging in extortion, racketeering and bribery; having links to organized crime; and ordering the murder of a rival businessman, charges he maintained were punishment for his refusal to cooperate with the FBI.

    The final act of this drama could be seen as either comedy or tragedy. The ads got the attention of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who contacted Deripaska via his Washington, DC-based lawyer at the time, Adam Waldman, the NYT reported. While the story that has emerged from the government's side is that Deripaska demanded immunity and a US visa in exchange for appearing before the committees, Waldman maintains, "We specifically told them that we did not want immunity."

    Waldman said Deripaska would be willing to talk about Manafort, information which one would assume the US government would have great interest in, given they sought it from him at one time in the past, but he wouldn't talk to them about Russian collusion with the Trump campaign because "he doesn't know anything about that theory and actually doesn't believe it occurred."

    "He wants to clear his name, because his name has been smeared by innuendos — not by facts," Lavelle told Sputnik. "And so he isn't given the courtesy, after his name has been smeared in public — of course he's Russian, so that must mean he's a bad guy."

    "This is what you get… if you trust the criminal justice system in the United States. If you don't tell them what they want, they'll make trouble for you."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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