A company that paid Michael Cohen $500,000 says it is not controlled by a Russian oligarch. An archived version of that Russian’s website indicates otherwise.
On Tuesday, Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, revealed that a company called Columbus Nova LLC had paid about $500,000 to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime attorney and “fixer.” According to Avenatti, this is notable because Columbus Nova is “controlled by” Viktor Vekselberg “a Russian oligarch with an estimated net worth of nearly $13 billion.” Like all Russian oligarchs, Vekselberg has close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
This payment was one among many that passed through Cohen. Since late 2016, more than $4 million has flowed through Essential Consultants, a shell company that Cohen created to funnel $130,000 to Avenatti’s client, Stormy Daniels.
But since the story broke on Tuesday evening, Columbus Nova has been aggressively pushing back on the Vekselberg connection. In a statement issued through their law firm, the company claimed that it is “solely owned and controlled by Americans.” The company denied Vekselberg or any foreign entity controls its activities, including the decision to pay Cohen.
In a statement on its website, Columbus Nova claims that while Renova Group — the Russian holding company controlled by Vekselberg — is its biggest client, it is nevertheless a completely separate entity.
Renova’s website is currently “under construction.”
But an archived version of the site from January 2017, the time the payments began, shows that Columbus Nova was listed as part of the “Renova group structure” alongside other subsidiary companies of Renova Group.
The website clearly indicates that, at the time the payments were made to Cohen, Columbus Nova was considered a subsidiary of Renova Group, the Vekselberg company.
Columbus Nova is correct that as a formal legal matter, the company is “owned by Americans.” The current CEO is Andrew Intrater, an American citizen who, according to SEC filings, is Vekselberg’s cousin.
It’s not surprising that today, Columbus Nova is claiming independence from Vekeselberg. On April 6, the United States government imposed sanctions on Vekeselberg and Renova Group. “As a result of the sanctions, all U.S. dollar bank accounts of companies controlled by Renova have been blocked,” Reuters reported. The sanctions were “aimed at penalizing those seen as enriching themselves from Mr. Putin’s government.”
Vekselberg was reportedly questioned by federal agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller when his plane landed in New York earlier this year. Vekselberg also attended Trump’s inauguration. He was provided a ticket by his cousin, Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater.
CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to clarify which website archive was accessed. It was that of Renova Group.