News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Abramoff ties to Russians probed - The Boston Globe

US inquiry widens to energy concerns
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | February 23, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The federal investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff has broadened to examine his dealings with the Russian government and a pair of high-profile Russian energy company executives, according to documents made available to the Globe.

A subpoena in the case, issued this month to an Abramoff associate, says the US government is seeking information on Abramoff-related activities with ''any department, ministry, or office holder or agent of the Russian government." The subpoena, which has not been made public, was given to the Globe by a person who is involved in the case.

Abramoff's work on behalf of Indian tribes has been widely scrutinized, but his work for Russian interests has received far less public notice.

It is legal for foreigners to hire lobbyists, but Abramoff's dealings in this area have come under federal investigation because his fees were so large and because investigators are examining whether he might have bribed members of Congress.

Abramoff pleaded guilty recently to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion in connection with a scheme to direct funds from his Indian clients toward government officials.

The subpoena seeks information about ties between Abramoff-related groups and a Moscow energy giant that is called Naftasib, a major supplier to the Russian military.

Investigators have asked for any information about Abramoff's dealings with two top Naftasib executives, Alexander Koulakovsky and Marina Nevskaya. Senior Naftasib executives helped arrange a trip Abramoff took to Moscow in 1997 with former House majority leader Tom DeLay, a longtime Abramoff friend.

The subpoena specifically requests information about dealings between the Abramoff associate receiving the subpoena and DeLay.

Separately, several former Abramoff lobbying partners have told the Globe that a key connection between Abramoff and Russia is an obscure Dutch firm called Voor Huisen.

Voor Huisen was one of Abramoff's biggest clients, paying $2.1 million in lobbying fees to Abramoff and his partners from 2001 to 2004, according to public records that were filed by Abramoff in the US Senate.

But there has been no explanation as to why the company had paid such large fees, and Abramoff's former partners say they are not aware of work that would justify that level of payment.

Voor Huisen has been shrouded in mystery, and is rarely mentioned in the thousands of articles about Abramoff. A Dutch magazine, Vrij Nederland, reported last month that Voor Huisen was a shell company that had no activity and no assets. Dutch records do not list any shareholders.

However, several of Abramoff's former partners, who also lobbied for Voor Huisen, said in interviews this month that they were told the Dutch company was connected to Naftasib executives.

A private housing link
Abramoff's lobbying records also suggest that the money paid to Abramoff by Voor Huisen was used to promote Russian interests. One lobbying report said Abramoff was hired by Voor Huisen to ''promote private housing in the former Soviet Union and other projects in energy and economics." Other reports that Abramoff filed said he lobbied for Voor Huisen on matters ranging from aviation safety to disaster preparedness to unspecified issues ''pertaining to defense and security."

Since Voor Huisen has no business of its own, the work done by Abramoff's firm, and the high fees he collected, made Abramoff's partners concerned that hidden interests were behind the firm and its payouts.

Ronald Platt, who was registered as a lobbyist with Abramoff on the Voor Huisen account, said in an interview that he was originally told by Abramoff or another colleague -- he doesn't remember which -- that the firm was a Dutch enterprise with an interest in housing, but that he later learned that it had ties to the Russians.

''I was told that they had an interest in developing moderate-priced middle-income housing in Russia," Platt said. ''This would be a good thing to bring stability to Russia.

''The company, in order to pursue this," Platt added, ''was hoping to get funds from the US government because it was theoretically in the interest of the US government. At the time, I said, 'I think this will never happen.' "

Platt said that after he left the firm where he and Abramoff worked, Greenberg Traurig, he was ''made aware that this may have been nothing but a paper corporation and that people who purported to have owned it were either one or two Russians" -- Koulakovsky and Nevskaya.

'Agent of influence'
Two other lobbyists who also worked on the Voor Huisen account with Abramoff said in interviews that they, too, were told by either Abramoff or another colleague that the company was tied to the Russians.

Abramoff's work on Russian affairs began in the mid-1990s, according to J. Michael Waller, the former editor of a Washington-based newsletter, Russia Reform Monitor. Waller said he was contacted by two Abramoff associates in 1997, and was asked to help organize Abramoff's trip with DeLay to Russia.

''I was told by two of Abramoff's colleagues that he wanted to represent the Russian government," Waller said. He said Abramoff's colleagues explained that Abramoff was working for Naftasib, the Russian energy company, and that ''if he performed well on Naftasib then the Russian government would retain him."

That made Waller uncomfortable, he added, because he had read Russian documents that said Naftasib supplied oil to the Russian military, so he declined to help Abramoff plan the trip.

''I was concerned that Abramoff was going to become an agent of influence for the Russian government and that he would mask that relationship," Waller said.

Confirmations in e-mails
E-mails released in the course of a Senate investigation into Abramoff confirm that he had Russian clients. In one, he mentions receiving payments from unnamed Russians. In another, he wrote that he was surprised that unnamed Russians often came to the United States and visited his luxury suite at FedExField, the Washington Redskins' stadium.

''The Russians, oddly, came quite a bit," Abramoff wrote. ''Weird."

One reason may be that the Russians helped pay for the suite through a now-defunct Abramoff-related nonprofit group called the US Family Network.

That group, established by an Abramoff colleague, was supposed to provide money to evangelical Christian charities.

But much of its money went to other Abramoff's friends, and some of it went to pay for Abramoff's luxury suite at FedExField, according to the group's former president, a church pastor in Frederick, Md., named Christopher Geeslin.

Geeslin said he was told by the group's founder that Russian investors gave $1 million to US Family Network, a link first reported by The Washington Post last year.

At first, Geeslin said, he could not believe the Russians would want to donate $1 million. Then, he said, he learned that Abramoff was escorting them to Capitol Hill.

''The Russians came over and Abramoff was ushering them around town," Geeslin said. ''I said: 'Man, this is true. It is just incredible.' "

'A shell operation'
Geeslin, who said Abramoff personally thanked him for paying for the FedExField suite, said he now feels ''duped" into heading the US Family Network.

''We had no idea it was just a shell operation for Abramoff," Geeslin said, referring to himself and other volunteer board members. He said he thought the money would be used for evangelical purposes.

''We were stupid enough to believe everything," he said.

The Russians, Koulakovsky and Nevskaya, did not reply to a request for comment. Ellen Levinson, who is registered to lobby for Naftasib in Washington, declined to comment.

The subpoena indicates that investigators want to establish what the Russians were trying to accomplish through Abramoff.

It asks for records relating to Naftasib's interest in legislation, tax policy, and the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF, which is financed partly by the US government, has provided billions of dollars in loans and loan guarantees to the Russian government.

Geeslin said he had been told that the money was aimed at influencing the vote of DeLay, the former House majority leader, on legislation that shored up the IMF's financing for Russia.

A DeLay spokesman, Michael Connolly, said: ''Congressman DeLay votes based on his deeply held principles and his determination about what is best for his constituents and his country."

Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy, said: ''We haven't heard about the subpoena, so we don't know anything about links between Mr. Abramoff and any Russian entity."

In addition to being a lobbyist, Abramoff registered in 1999 as a foreign agent.

This means he represents a foreign government, according to government documents. He did not specify a country.

Abramoff resigned from Greenberg Traurig in March 2004. Within days, Voor Huisen was dissolved, according to Dutch records.

A spokesman for Abramoff's attorney declined to comment.

Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to answer questions on the latest Abramoff matter.

''We can't comment on the issuance of subpoenas," Sierra said.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Intoxination has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Intoxination endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)