Israelis Named by Stormy Daniels' Attorney for Transferring Hush Money to Michael Cohen: 'Is This a Prank?'

A tale of wire transfers from Kenya, hush money, and two Michael Cohens: How these Israelis got entangled in the Trump-Stormy Daniels affair

FILE - In this April 16, 2018, file photo, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, left, stands with her lawyer Michael Avenatti as she speaks outside federal court in New York. The story told by President Donald Trump and the White House about payments made to Daniels has evolved over time. The White House has consistently denied Trump had an affair with Daniels, but statements from the president and his aides about a hush money payment made just before the 2016 election have changed. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Mary Altaffer/AP

Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing the porn star who received hush money from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, added a new twist to the affair on Tuesday. He published a document containing information about eyebrow-raising financial transfers from various people to Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

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One entry on the list of financial transfers to Cohen’s account is the modest sum of $980 transferred from a Kenyan bank account belonging to Netanel Cohen and Stav Hayun. The U.S. media have investigated several of the bank transfers listed in Avenatti’s document and confirmed their veracity.

But when Haaretz investigated the Israeli couple on the list, the results were surprising.

Hayun, an Ashdod native in her twenties, has spent the past several years in Kenya, where she works as a pastry cook and advises restaurants on how to construct their menus. Nati Cohen, who once lived with her in Kenya, currently lives in Ashdod, where he too works in the restaurant business.

In a conversation with Haaretz, Cohen sounded utterly surprised that his name and Hayun’s appear in the document Avenatti made public, and it took several minutes to convince him that this wasn’t a prank.

“I’ve never heard of Michael Cohen and I have no connection to this affair,” he said.

But though Cohen said he doesn’t know Trump’s attorney, he confirmed that he has a bank account in Kenya and has transferred money from it to his brother. The brother’s name, as it turns out, is Michael Cohen.

The brother also lives in Ashdod and works as a technician servicing El Al planes. He, too, was stunned when Haaretz contacted him. “It’s bizarre,” he said. “It sounds ridiculous to me. How did they know about the financial transfer?”

Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, April 13, 2018.
\ Jeenah Moon/ REUTERS

The seven-page document Avenatti released contains comprehensive information about the alleged financial transfers from various bank accounts to Michael Cohen. It doesn’t reveal the source of the information, but provides details such as the dates of the transfers, the amounts, the names of the individuals or corporations that sent the money and the name of the shell company used to pay the hush money to porn star Stephanie Clifford, better known by her stage name of Stormy Daniels.

Clifford hit the headlines after saying she had received $130,000 from a company called Essential Consultants three weeks before America’s 2016 presidential election in exchange for promising not to tell about her alleged affair with Trump in 2006. Avenatti claims that after she received the money, several financial transfers, totaling about $500,000, were made to Michael Cohen’s company from the New York investment firm Columbus Nova.

Columbus Nova’s biggest customer is a company controlled by the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. But the investment firm denies that Vekselberg was involved and says the payments to Cohen were consultancy fees.

Avenatti’s document also asserted that after the 2016 election, several major companies, including Novartis and AT&T, paid consultancy fees to Cohen.

The New York Times investigated Avenatti’s document and confirmed that most of the information was accurate. Additional investigation by the paper, along with a series of interviews, shed light on Cohen’s involvement with the firm connected to Vekselberg. The oligarch himself was questioned earlier this year by investigators working under special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.