Kremlin-linked Billionaire, Netanyahu Friend Donated to Trump's Private Legal Fund

Len Blavatnik, who made his fortune in the former Soviet Union in the oil business, appears on a legal defense fund list uncovered by the Wall St. Journal

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TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump pauses to speak to the press while boarding Air Force One at Morristown Airport September 24, 2017 in Morristown, New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump pauses to speak to the press while boarding Air Force One at Morristown Airport September 24, 2017 in Morristown, New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiCredit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP

A Soviet-born billionaire who is considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu donated to a private legal defense fund for U.S. President Donald Trump, the Wall Street Journal revealed.

The fund is supposed to help with fees incurred for legal advice by Trump in connection with allegations that Russian interests intervened in last year's presidential election campaign. The costs have been paid for by a number of wealthy donors including Len Blavatnik, the Wall Street Journal reported late last week. Blavatnik is a Ukrainian-born Jewish billionaire and friend of Netanyahu who is among the owners of Israel's Channel 10 television and the Sport 5 channel through his RGE Group.

FILE PHOTO: Len Blavatnik speaks during the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists held at Cipriani in New York, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010. Credit: Bloomberg

The Wall Street Journal noted that he is also a longtime business partner of Viktor Vekselberg, one of Russia's richest men, who has close Kremlin ties.

"In 2013, Mr. Blavatnik earned billions when he, Mr. Vekselberg and two other partners sold their stake in the oil company TNK-BP to Rosneft, a Kremlin-controlled oil company," the Wall Street Journal said, adding that Rosneft’s is led by a man called Igor Sechin who is considered a top ally of Russian President Vladmir Putin.

Donations by supporters to President Trump's legal defense fund were reportedly paid via the Republican National Committee, which in turn transferred more than $300,000 last month to cover the American president's personal legal fees, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. Blavatnik contributed $12,700 to the legal account of the Republican National Committee in April, following $200,000 in contributions in 2016 and an additional $200,000 to other party accounts. Blavatnik, who made his fortune in the former Soviet Union in the years immediately following the breakup of the U.S.S.R., did not provide a response for the Wall Street Journal article.

In an unrelated case, Blavatnik was called upon this month by Israeli police investigators to provide information in connection with their investigation of the prime minister in the case dubbed Case 2000. The case involves suspicions that Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes and Netanyahu pursued an agreement through which Yedioth would have provided favorable coverage of the prime minister in exchange for steps that would have reduced the competition that paper faces from another daily, Israel Hayom.

Blavatnik's name has also surfaced in connection with another investigation against Netanyahu, Case 1000, involving gifts provided to the prime minister and his family by leading business figures, notably Israeli-American Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. The main thrust of Case 1000 is ascertaining what if anything Netanyahu may have done to advance Milchan’s interests in return. Milchan owned a stake in Channel 10 television but ultimately sold most of it to Blavatnik.

In response to a question from Haaretz over whether the prime minister had intervened in any of Milchan’s media business dealings or had worked to make sure Blavatnik would buy Channel 10, the Prime Minister’s Office replied: “Your claims are baseless and aimed solely at exerting improper pressure on the law enforcement authorities to harm Prime Minister Netanyahu. The prime minister has always acted in the state’s best interests. We repeat – there will be nothing, because there is nothing.”

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