Oligarchs quizzed by Mueller

 Oligarchs quizzed by Mueller
The special counsel office has reportedly questioned a few Russian oligarchs in connection with the ongoing probe regarding alleged Russian interference into US..

The special counsel office has reportedly questioned a few Russian oligarchs in connection with the ongoing probe regarding alleged Russian interference into US Presidential elections.

The team is also investigating whether there was collusion between Russia and members of the Trump presidency. 

Background

In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russian interference and related matters. He is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.

In the past few months, the special counsel has brought charges against multiple people within the Trump campaign. Former Chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates have been indicted on 12 counts - including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, false statements.  Gates has pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought forward by the Muller special council investigation. Over the course of the investigation, Mueller has also indicted 13 Russians.

In addition, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about meetings with Russia's ambassador right before Donald Trump became president.

US President Donald Trump has often criticized the investigation and has maintained that there has been no wrong doing from his part. He has also repeatedly noted that the investigation would end soon. It was reported in January 2018, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was interviewed by the special counsel.

Oligarchy in Russia

Russian oligarchs are business entrepreneurs who emerged under Mikhail Gorbachev (General Secretary 1985–1991) during his period of market liberalization. The genesis of the word ‘oligarch’ can be traced back to Greek origins. It roughly means – ‘rule of the few’.  The rise of oligarchy system in Russia has its roots at the end of the Soviet era. When the Soviet Union split up, during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, many Russian businessmen became extremely wealthy by either importing or smuggling goods such as personal computers and jeans into the country and sold them, often on the black market, for a hefty profit.

Analysis

According a news report from the CNN, the special counsel team headed by Mueller has questioned some Russian oligarchs with regards to the investigation. They are trying to decipher whether funds were illegally funneled from Russia into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The report states that an oligarch has already been searched and his electronic devices scanned. He had been searched when his private jet had landed in New York. Another was stopped in the middle of a US trip – however it is not clear whether he was searched in the process.  

A report by CNN notes, “Another source added that Mueller's investigators have asked about a handful of American citizens who were born in former Soviet states, who maintain ties with those countries. This person said the inquiry appeared focused on Republican fundraising and how money flows into US politics.”

It should be noted that foreign nationals are prohibited under US campaign finance laws to donate towards American political campaigns. Experts have claimed that investigations such as the one headed by Mueller depend on the element of surprise to get to the truth. "Prosecutors and investigators like the element of surprise when you can get more instinctive (and often truthful) responses," said Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor, in a text.

Counterpoint

The Russian government has long maintained that it had nothing to do with the 2016 US  Pesidential elections. However, governments across the world including the UK have accused the Kremlin of interfering in other foreign elections as well.

Assessment

Our assessment is that it has become clear that Mueller is following the money trail in his search for possible links between the Presidential campaign and Russian players. We believe that it is a clever tactic by Mueller. Russian oligarchs are some of the wealthiest and most powerful players in Europe and even the world. Many have deep ties with the Kremlin. If one of them yields information linking the Kremlin definitively to the US elections, it will prove an act of foreign aggression. Meanwhile, it is possible Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner might be implicated next.

Read more: UK takes on Russian oligarchs

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