Investigators are following the money — and the trail is leading them right to the doorstep of the Trump campaign.
Federal investigators are reportedly scrutinizing a series of suspicious money transfers involving several of the planners and participants in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between senior Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising to deliver "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
Buzzfeed News reported Wednesday that it had reviewed secret documents and uncovered a previously undisclosed web of financial transactions among some of the people involved in the 2016 meeting.
Some of these transactions — which show money from Russia and Switzerland being transferred to banks in the British Virgin Islands, Bangkok, and New Jersey — caught the eye of bank examiners, who found the transactions to be suspicious.
Four federal law enforcement officials told Buzzfeed that investigators are now focusing on two bursts of banking activity, one of which took place immediately after the June 9, 2016 meeting and another that took place right after the 2016 presidential election.
Both of the suspicious bursts of activity involve billionaire Aras Agalarov, a real estate developer with close ties to Trump and Vladimir Putin.
The first set of transactions came just 11 days after the Trump Tower meeting. In that incident, an offshore company run by Agalarov wired $19.5 million to his personal account at a bank in New York.
The second burst of suspicious activity started on on Nov. 21, 2016, when Agalarov transferred $1.2 million from the Agalarov family bank in Russia to a New Jersey checking account belonging to the billionaire's son, Emin Agalarov.
The New Jersey account was opened in 2012 but had been dormant since the summer of 2015. According to Buzzfeed, bank examiners found it suspicious that the account suddenly became active and started to grow after Trump's election.
In total, the Agalarov family bank account in Russia made 19 separate wire transfers to the New Jersey checking account between November 2016 and July 2017.
The New Jersey account also reportedly transferred money to a company owned by Irakly Kaveladze, a longtime associate of the Agalarov family who represented them at the Trump Tower meeting.
Kaveladze has previously been investigated for money laundering and also has close business ties to Emin Agalarov’s British publicist Rob Goldstone, who first raised the idea of the meeting with Trump’s campaign.
According to Buzzfeed, the suspicious transactions were uncovered after federal law enforcement officials asked financial institutions to look through records of people connected to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
After discovering the transactions, bank examiners filed a series of suspicious activity reports and turned them over to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which then shared them with "the FBI, the IRS, congressional committees investigating Russian interference, and members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team."
As Buzzfeed noted, suspicious activity reports are not necessarily evidence of criminal activity, but they can yield important clues for investigators "looking into possible money laundering, tax evasion, or other misconduct."
Furthermore, federal prosecutors have already used these reports to bring charges against people including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on multiple counts of bank and tax fraud in August.
While it remains unclear whether the newly uncovered financial transactions and subsequent investigations will lead to criminal charges, one thing is crystal clear: Investigators are following the money, and the trail is leading them right to the doorstep of the Trump campaign.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.