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Russia Probe: Investigators Want To Know More About Oleg Deripaska

Jun 5, 2017
Originally published on June 5, 2017 6:12 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's follow one strand in the web of links between President Trump and Russia. It's a strand of interest to congressional investigators exploring Russian involvement in the 2016 election. This strand leads from candidate Donald Trump to Paul Manafort. He's the president's former campaign chairman. Manafort, in turn, used to work for a man named Oleg Deripaska. He's the wealthy founder of an aluminum company with ties to Russia's President Vladimir Putin. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Russian oligarchs usually keep a low profile - not 49-year-old Oleg Deripaska. He has a website all about his career, his charitable works and his business interests. And he can sometimes be seen on TV, opining about commodity prices, as in this 2016 interview.

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OLEG DERIPASKA: The market's now driven, you know, by emotion, as we can see - last two weeks.

ZARROLI: Deripaska differs from most oligarchs in another way says, Anders Aslund, senior fellow at The Atlantic Council. He's fun to be with.

ANDERS ASLUND: Deripaska is very much in your face. He's straightforward. He says what he wants to say. It's one of a few big Russian businessmen that we can actually discuss and debate with.

ZARROLI: Deripaska was a student at Moscow University when he began commodities trading. The Soviet Union was falling apart, and he used his profits to acquire and manage part of an aluminum smelter. Over the years, there have been reports, which he strongly denies, that Deripaska was linked to organized crime, Aslund says.

ASLUND: Controlling people of these aluminum workers were hardcore criminals. And the question that has been posed again to Deripaska is, how close was he to the crimes they committed?

ZARROLI: Over time, Deripaska steadily expanded his holdings. Today, he owns and controls the industrial group Basic Element. Will Pomeranz is with the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center.

WILL POMERANZ: A lot of the oligarchs simply purchase companies and drain the assets from those companies. Deripaska was different. He actually created a company and made it a very successful one.

ZARROLI: Deripaska is married to the daughter of a top aide to former President Boris Yeltsin, which has given him political connections. But during the 2008 financial crisis, he had to be rescued by a bank that's linked to Putin. And his fortune, once estimated at $28 billion, is a lot smaller today. Deripaska is said to be close to Putin. Earlier this year, the AP reported that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had once turned a Deripaska to get a lobbying contract with Putin's government. Pomeranz says there's no proof that proposals actually got to Putin.

POMERANZ: But it raises questions, nevertheless, about the relationship between Manafort and Deripaska and thereby potential relationships between Manafort and even Putin.

ZARROLI: Deripaska has denied the AP report and is suing the wire service for libel. Still, Democratic congressman Ted Lieu of California says Deripaska can answer a lot of questions for investigators.

TED LIEU: What were the conversations that he had with Paul Manafort? What was this Manafort seeking to do? And was there any quid pro quo between helping the Putin government and what the Trump campaign would do in exchange for

ZARROLI: Deripaska says he's more than willing to talk to investigators. He also strongly rejected a report in The New York Times that he wants immunity before testifying. The allegation that I'm seeking anything other than the truth in this soap opera, he says, is a lie. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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