The night before the Mueller Report comes out seems an appropriate time to summarize discoveries made during a decidedly unofficial investigation into RussiaGate.
RussiaGate happened on a Gangster Planet… with all that entails. It’s not like they haven’t been hiding it in plain sight.
The transnational criminal network exposed by the scandal is deeply rooted in the U.S., going back at least thirty years, and probably longer; the first major industry to reap the benefits of globalization was organized crime.
While Robert Mueller was FBI Director in 2011, he gave a speech in New York explaining how globalization and modern technology had changed the nature of organized crime, morphing it into a fluid and sophisticated transnational network with no clear hierarchical structure whose operators play for stakes in the multi-billion-dollar range.
They were working to corner global markets in basic commodities like oil, gas, and precious metals, Mueller said.
Today, the biggest market is the illicit drug trade. Globally, the most basic commodity is drugs. Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.
American, Saudi network ‘associates’
Some co-conspirators gained fame during Iran Contra. Yes, they’re that old.
Backstory: Barry Seal (deceased) was a longtime pilot for the CIA, as well as the biggest American drug smuggler in history. Some called him “the Henry Ford of the drug trade,” because he brought military logistics to bear on the problem of transporting cocaine from the mountains of South America to the noses of Americans.
In the unlikely event you or someone you know did more than one line of coke during the cocaine-fueled 1980’s, one of them had undoubtedly been flown in by his organization.
Adnan Khashoggi needs no introduction. Known as an international arms dealer and once reputed to be the world’s richest man, before he died last year he’d been in the middle of every major American scandal since the Lockheed bribery scandal in the 1970’s.
Arab arms dealer Rahman Al Assir, who first introduced Paul Manafort to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, worked for Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was one of Donald Trump’s Palm Beach Homies. The men had a decades-long business and social relationship, went to each other’s weddings, lived within blocks of each other in New York, and frequented the same parties each winter in Palm Beach. Khashoggi’s yacht passed through Trump’s hands.
Khashoggi was a world-class financial fraudster. An earner.
Adnan Khashoggi was the CIA’s utility infielder. Example: He was enmeshed in the Bank for Credit and Commerce International, the BCCI scandal, a massive washing machine for dirty dollars from drug cartels and shady arms deals.
Note in passing: A declassified DIA report from 1991, which fingers Khashoggi as one of Colombia’s biggest drug traffickers.
‘OG’ from the Swiss hood
Then there’s Ramy El-Batrawi, a dual citizen of Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, who was Adnan Khashoggi’s chief lieutenant.
CIA pilot and drug smuggler Barry Seal was assassinated in February of 1986. One year later, in April 1987, Barry Seal’s former in-house lawyer and consigliere in Baton Rouge, Michael Roy Fugler, incorporated a company in Florida that soon changed its name to Nationwide Vans for Ramy El Batrawi.
The men were presumably acquainted through Iran Contra operations.
During what became the Iran Contra scandal, El Batrawi ran a Khashoggi-owned airline in Miami called Jetborne International, which was later revealed in the Tower Commission Report to be a CIA subsidiary.
Ironic note: Jetborne was eventually placed on the State Department’s list of “unsavory “companies and barred from doing business with any agency of the U.S. Government.
Khashoggi & El Batrawis’ Jetborne International flew U.S. TOW missiles to Iran for then-Lt. Col. Oliver North. Iran had slaughtered 287 Marines in Beirut several years earlier. Briefly, money from the missile sales funded the Nicaraguan contras, while flying weapons and material served as cover for importing tons of cocaine into the U.S.
It was not one of America’s brightest hours.
Russian spam; Americans infomercials
Twelve years later, Barry Seal’s old attorney incorporates for Ramy El-Batrawi a company whose ‘psy-war’-like marketing efforts will provide the American answer to the wizardly-brilliant math-driven Russian hackers, the world’s best.
The Russians had counterfeit Viagra and Hillary’s emails. Fortunes were being made.
But Americans, working with Saudi principal Khashoggi’s Genesis Intermedia, had perfected the infomercial.
“Fed up with knives that just won’t cut? Disturbed by what it takes just to prepare the evening meal?”
Genesis Intermedia had you covered.
Also: Icy Hot Sleeve, Glass Wizard, 6 Second Abs, Ionic Breezes, Ab Scissors, Bowflex, Slim in 6, Bun & Thigh Roller, The Magic Bullet.
But the company’s biggest success was in putting over on the American book-buying public a man named ‘Dr.’ John Gray. More on his fascinating story later.
TOW missiles, hyena packs, ‘Yayyo’
Khashoggi’s main skill was leading what business writers call a “hyena pack,” a network of grifters disguised as corporate officers who pulled off truly massive financial fraud.
CIA subsidiary Jetborne International, for example, will be forced into involuntary bankruptcy on December 10, 1991, one of hundreds of small and micro-cap companies which willl suffer the same fate at the hands of Khashoggi’s transnational criminal network.
El Batrawi and Khashoggi ‘s biggest scam, called StockGate, netted several hundred million dollars.
Ironic note: It is fair to say that El Batrawi is not un-acquainted with the drug trade. Yet even with his repeated business “failures,” he was recently shamelessly raising money to take public his latest failed venture, a ride-sharing app called “Yayyo.”
According to the Urban Dictionary, “Yayyo” is a slang word for cocaine that was invented by gangster Tony Montana in the movie Scarface.
Cute. But using a slang term for cocaine as his new company’s name is also a big ‘fuck you’ to the notion of sovereign authority and impartial law enforcement.
Curshen’s variety of interests
A Sarasota grifter named Jonathon Curshen—who will become an increasingly-important cog in the transnational criminal network—attempted a last minute save of Russian Mob Boss Semion Mogilevich’s first major attempt to worm his way into the Western financial system.
Mogilevich was using a company called YBM Magnex that was about to be seized by Canadian authorities and the FBI in the U.S.
“In December 1998 news reports stated an anonymous group of investors had proposed to buy YBM for $2 per share and relaunch the Russian mafia-associated magnet maker as a public venture,” reported Vancouver business journalist Adrian Duplessis.
On the eve of the Fed’s seizure of the enterprise, Curshen made an out of the blue offer to take the company private before taking it public again. Observers noted Curshen’s offer lacked anything resembling credibility.
Reporter Duplessis was amused and intrigued.
He wrote:“By compiling, and cross-referencing, Curshen’s web-site and newsgroup postings from a list of inter-related email addresses, a profile emerges of a character who appears to get really excited about both the stock market and S&M.”
Duplessis noted that Curshen had posted in alt.personals.bondage, alt.personals.spanking.punishment, alt.personals.fetish., as well as more diverse groups like alt.sex.bestiality, alt.sex.enemas, alt.sex.fetish.powerrangers, and alt.invest.penny-stocks.
Now that Curshen has been convicted, people petitioning for a reduced sentence are painting a more family-friendly portrait of him.
Also featured in the YBM Magnex story are an assortment of unsavory Russian gangsters. One reportedly bought five condominiums at Trump Tower. There was also the usual assortment of crooked politicians, most notably, a former Premier of Ontario.
Steve Bannon, Andy Badolato, Pavel Vrublevsky
Then in 2003 Jonathan Curshen, who incidentally holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Great Britain, went into business with a Sarasota grifter with a more illustrious pedigree than his own: Andy Badolato, business partner and longtime associate of Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon.
Bannon even listed Andy Badolato’s beach house as his legal residence before the 2016 election, when his official residence in Miami, which was sitting vacant, started looking too much like a crack house.
There is no doubt that Badolato has been a busy boy, but it was still considered shocking when Cambridge Analytica, in a bankruptcy filing, listed one of Badolato’s Sarasota dummy companies as a creditor.
Beginning in 2003, another business partner of Curshen and Badolato’s was in business in Howard Beach in Queens with the first Russian hacker cited by name by the FBI, two months before the 2016 Presidential election.
Mike Muzio is a hapless Tampa Mobster, currently in prison until 2020. But in 2003-2004 he was running a subsidiary of an Adnan Khashoggi company which was important to the transnational effort called Genesis Intermedia.
Khashoggi subsidiary Blue Moon Group LLC billed itself as an ‘entertainment’ company which once bought Elvis Presley’s piano for unexplained reasons.
Mostly what Muzio did was run dozens of porn websites for the Mob, including his biggest hit, VoyeurDorm.com, which allowed voyeurs to pay to watch girls who might pass for coeds— if you squinted real hard— go through their daily rituals while living in a house wired with cameras and sound.
‘Red Eye’ in Queens
Sharing the house in Howard Beach with Muzio and Khashoggi’s BlueMoon Group was Pavel Vrublevsky. Twelve years later he became the first Russian hacker the FBI cited for interference with U.S. election systems.
Vrublevsky, known as ‘Red Eye,’ to his friends, owned a Russian company called Chronopay, which was handling back-end credit card operations for Muzio’s Mob porn sites.
Much later, in 2012, after being sent to prison to do a two-year stint, Vrublevsky will be forced to go to work for the Russian government. When he was released early, he had new obligations.
What Vrublevsky was doing, in the universal language of gangsters everywhere, was ‘working off a beef’,which led directly to him being accused of election interference.
His options had been limited. They still are.
An unfortunate misunderstanding
An FBI alert in September 2016, two months before the 2016 Presidential election, accused Russian Vladimir Fomenko, owner of an Internet company called King Servers, of a cyber-attack on electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois.
“Circumstantial evidence ties the attacks to Russia,’ reported McClatchy’s Washington Bureau.
Fomenko claimed it was all a big misunderstanding. He’d only been renting the servers involved. They were owned by a Dutch company controlled by Pavel Vrublevsky.
The Fomenko-Vrublevsky spat did not go unnoticed by the FSB, Russia’s successor to the KGB. They concluded information about Fomenko, Vrublevsky, and King Servers could only have been leaked to American intelligence by Sergei Mikhailov, chief of the FSB Operations Directorate.
These days, Sergei Mikhailov is languishing in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. When he was arrested in a large public meeting in Moscow, police put a sack over his head, and frog-marched him out of the building in front of a roomful of co-workers.
Until he went on trial for treason in Moscow in February, many presumed he was dead.
Old spooks never die
It started here: I began stumbling across connections between former Iran Contra operatives and the people who’d been operating—in some cases mysteriously—out of the Venice Airport during the year leading up to the 9/11 attack.
Back in 2004-2005— long before Russians became central to American political discourse— my interest in the drug trade had led me to my first encounter with the concept ‘Russian oligarch,’ and I reported a October 2006 story headlined “SEARCHING FOR MR. BIGSKI.”
I remember congratulating myself for the ‘Mr. Bigski’ drollery. Today he appears increasingly central to the question of Donald Trump’s collusion with the Russians; but in 2006 I hadn’t even heard of ‘Semion Mogilevich.’
I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a line-up. I was certainly light years away from understanding the impact the Russian Mob was having on the global economy.
Then came my first story on May 21, 2008 about Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who was even then paying former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort some $10 million dollars a year—though we were still years away from knowing it—for services which still seem a little vague.
A month later— fully eight years before ‘Russian oligarchs’ became a thing— I had been investigating Trump’s Palm Beach mansion sale to a Russian gangster in “Trump Mansion Sold to “Mobsters Sans Frontières.
Given the seriousness of what happened later, the headline was too clever by half.
A suspicious transaction, even for Trump
Trump had sold a down-at-the-heels mansion in Palm Beach for $100 million to a Russian named Dmitry Rybolovlev.
I knew Rybolovlev was in business with Oleg Deripaska. They were Russian gangsters working the same racket.
Remember Robert Mueller’s prophetic 2011 announcement about transnational organized crime trying to corner global markets in basic commodities like oil and precious metals?
Deripaska already had a stranglehold on Russia’s world-leading aluminum industry. He was trying to consolidate the Russian mining and metals industry under one roof, and in the process become a Russian John D. Rockefeller.
Rybolovlev owned Uralkali, Russia’s biggest potash mining company. He was on his way to cornering the fertilizer industry.
Both industries use tons of potash.
The Russian oligarch who paid Donald Trump almost $100 million for an out-of-date Palm Beach mansion was a Russian gangster masquerading as a businessman.
Dmitry Rybolovlev had been charged with ordering the murder of a business rival. The man was gunned down in front of three of his daughters. Authorities in Moscow called it “a contract hit.”
Before the charges magically “went away,” Rybolovlev spent more than a year in prison.
The Russian Mafiya meets Palm Beach society
But it can only be imagined. Because they didn’t know. No one in the mainstream media reported the truth. Instead, The New York Times called Rybolovlev a Russian ‘fertilizer magnate.’
But then the Times also refers to Mexico’s richest man Carlos Slim as a ‘telecommunications magnate.’ So at least they’re consistent.
This one was led by Germany’s Deutsche Bank, which was busily laundering Russian Mob money into the Western economy.
Donald Trump’s Palm Beach “homie” Adnan Khashoggi ran a $300-500 million financial fraud with Deutsche Bank, an operation that would end up costing the bank a fine of $278 million.
When no American lender would touch him, loans from Deutsche Bank were raining down on Trump like manna from heaven. This might just be a coincidence, if there wasn’t abundant other evidence showing that Trump and Khashoggi belong to a charmed circle of people allowed to commit criminal acts with impunity.
As one courtroom observer put it, “It’s as if somebody gave these guys a high sign to ‘back up a truck.’”
In a complicated stock scheme whose insider knowledge shows Adnan Khashoggi and Deutsche Bank together gaming the system, they stole $300 million from investors, and caused the biggest brokerage collapse in the United States since the Great Depression.
The Government made Deutsche Bank give $279 million back.
Khashoggi walked. He suffered no criminal penalty. Several years later, the Securities and Exchange Commission asked him politely not to do it again.
There is no indication he assented. And it never made the Evening News.
“No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”
Because I spent years career covering drug trafficking —a massive industry that doesn’t even have its own trade journal — I began seeing pieces of what would become the RussiaGate puzzle. Basically, guys I’d covered in previous scandals began getting more ‘screen time.’ They were becoming visible again.
In Venice Florida after 9/11, despite non-stop worldwide coverage, I witnessed an incredible drug trafficking cover-up take place in real time.
There was nothing I could do except speak as succinctly as I could into a camera for a documentary that might leave a trail of bread crumbs for a future generation.
It was weird to see names of Barry Seal’s Iran Contra cronies coming up two decades later in the same context. Now it looked industrialized, like a 2000-mile long conveyor belt constantly feeding product to waiting markets.
But we’ve all been around. No doubt you’ve seen many of the same things I have. Still, you can’t help but wonder where all the money goes. But of course you’re encouraged to think of it as an asked-and-answered question.
I tried to keep my camera pointing out to sea in a non-threatening fashion. Because when you’re living on a Gangster Planet, you’ve gotta be careful about asking too many questions.
When Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska first hooked up with Paul Manafort in 2004-2005, he was arguably richer than just about anyone before him in the history of the planet, and he was already on my radar.
Russian oligarchs-wise, I was way ahead of the curve. When Deripaska became the Oliver North of RussiaGate, the mechanic in a dozen places at once, I was watching.
If you’re too young to remember Oliver North from the Iran Contra Scandal, you’ll soon catch up. North is in the thick of the RussiaGate scandal, and will likely remain in the news.
The disclosure that the National Rifle Association was used to pass through millions of dollars of Russian money to the Trump campaign led almost immediately to Oliver North being tapped to lead the group through the coming crisis. His appointment did not come as a shock. North already knows a lot about successful cover ups.
Shelter from the storm
The players and their connections are fleshed out in coming stories. But here are a few quick cuts:
A New York Mob affiliate named Donald Trump made common cause with a Russian Mob Boss named Semion Mogilevich.
The U.S. side of the Russiagate equation—which should be getting way more attention than it has been—comprised a crew of grifters and gangsters with help from a Saudi crew led by the recently-deceased Adnan Khashoggi, as well as co-conspirators from the ultra-orthodox Jewish Chabad Lubavitch sect.
The punishment obviously fell short of fitting the crime. Adnan had what Russians call “a roof.” A “krysha.” Shelter from the storm.
I haven’t yet revealed what first made me begin tracking the movements of Oleg the Oligarch. The answer deserves its own episode. Until then, remember:
RussiaGate happened on a Gangster Planet. Why? Because it could never have happened anywhere else.