A day after the Atlantic revealed that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages with somebody (possibly Julian Assange) running Wikileaks’ Twitter account, Buzzfeed has published another ostensibly tantalizing piece of news that, like yesterday’s Trump Jr. non-story, fails to deliver on its headline’s lofty promise.
According to Buzzfeed, on Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final months, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained the memo line: “To finance election campaign of 2016.”
As it turns out, that transfer was one of 60 sent to Russian embassies around the world. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry. And at least one of the transactions that made its way into the US originated with Kremlin-owned VTB Bank, which has been under US sanctions since 2014.
After discovering the $30,000 transfer to the embassy in Washington, Citibank launched a review of other transfers by the Russian foreign ministry. It unearthed dozens of other transactions with similar memo lines. Compliance officers in Citibank’s Global Intelligence Unit flagged them as suspicious, noting that it was unable to determine the financial, business, or legal purpose of the transactions. It soon unearthed dozens of other similar transactions.
All financial institutions are required to tell FinCEN about any transactions they deem suspicious. However, such “suspicious activity reports” do not necessarily prove or even indicate wrongdoing. Federal law also requires financial institutions to file reports on any cash transactions of more than $10,000 in a single day, even if those transactions are legitimate. Banks must also file the reports whenever they suspect money laundering or other financial crimes.
Records of the transactions were turned over to Congressional investigators by Citibank, part of materials including more than 650 suspicious transactions between November 2013 and March 2017 totaling about $2.9 million. That money was sent to four Russian accounts operating in the US: the embassy; the Office of Defense, Military, Air and Naval Attaches; and Russian cultural centers in Washington and New York City.
The FBI was first made aware of the suspicious transactions at the end of September. One FBI special agent told Buzzfeed that even if there is a logical explanation for the suspicious wire transactions, the FBI still has to investigate what the money was used for.
“We had an election and the intelligence community concluded Russia interfered in it,” said the FBI agent.
“How could we not investigate a suspicious financial transaction that contained a memo that said, ‘finance election campaign 2016?’ Given the climate and what was in that memo line it would be very irresponsible for us not to investigate. It’s a good lead.”
Thanks for clearing that up…
Two FBI sources said that FBI legal attaches in other countries are now investigating whether the money may have been used for the US presidential election and, if so, how.
However, there’s no conclusive evidence that this money was used to run interference in the US election.
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