Viktor Vekselberg – the sanctioned Russian oligarch who may have funneled money to Michael Cohen through an American company tied to his own – is the president of a foundation the FBI warned U.S. companies to steer clear of back in 2014.
FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Lucia Ziobro wrote an unusual column in the Boston Business Journal in April of 2014 to warn that a foundation controlled by Russian energy baron Viktor Vekselberg might be part of a Moscow spying campaign that sought to siphon up American science and technology.
"The foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation's sensitive or classified research, development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial applications," Ziobro wrote. "This analysis is supported by reports coming out of Russia itself."
The U.S. subsidiary of the company that Vekselberg controls has acknowledged making payments to Cohen, but it denied that it served as a pass-through for Vekselberg or anyone else outside the United States trying to funnel money to him.
FBI investigators reportedly stopped Vekselberg on his way into the United States earlier this year to question him. The 2014 column written by Ziobro suggests that Vekselberg has been of interest to U.S. intelligence officials for some time — well before the counterintelligence investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election.
One U.S. official who had a front row seat to the Skolkovo Foundation's work from its inception is Michael Carpenter, who served as the deputy director of the State Department's Office of Russian Affairs, then later as the Director for Russia at the National Security Council in 2013 and 2014.
"Skolkovo was one of the projects that was launched under the auspices of the reset," Carpenter said. "In particular it appeared to me to be an effort to gain intellectual property from U.S. firms and gain advantages ... that could come back to hurt us. That was my intuition."
"Vekselberg is a Kremlin money-man and has long been engaged with U.S. elites, whether from Harvard, private companies or trying to get access to the White House or State Department," Carpenter told NPR. "So when I found out about Mueller's questioning of him, and his role of potentially channeling funds to Michael Cohen, I took note."
FBI's Boston office warns businesses of venture capital scams (Boston Business Journal)