Federal prosecutors in Manhattan accused a Russian tycoon of scheming to make $1 million in illegal campaign donations to U.S. federal and state political candidates to gain favorable licensing decisions for a cannabis business venture.
Prosecutors said donations by Russian businessman, Andrey Muraviev were at the heart of an illegal campaign finance scheme carried out in the months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, at which time two other Russian-connected businessmen, who were also Rudy Guiliani sidekicks, surfaced: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were behind the marijuana business scheme.
Muraviev At The Center
Allegations against Muraviev have come up in the past when his alleged role surfaced at the October trial of Parnas and co-defendant Andrey Kukushkin, who were convicted of conspiring to funnel Muraviev’s money to American political candidates in exchange for supporting their supposed cannabis business plans.
The indictment unsealed on Monday in New York charges Muraviev with making political donations as a foreign national in the name of another person – an illegal process known as a straw donor.
Muraviev, meanwhile, is believed to be at large in Russia. Each of the two counts against him carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
NY Indictment…Why Now?
“He attempted to corrupt our political system to advance his business interests,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement, reported by the NY Times. Williams said his office was “committed to rooting out efforts by foreigners to interfere with our elections.”
Prosecutors noted that the indictment against Muraviev was returned by a federal grand jury in September 2020, but gave no explanation as to why the charges were unsealed only this week.
The timing provoked criticism from Kukushkin’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt who took exception to the government describing Muraviev as a “Russian oligarch.” Lefcourt says Muraviev is from Ukraine.
Lefcourt accused NY prosecutors of pulling an “obvious publicity stunt and orchestrated effort to manipulate Mr. Kukushkin’s sentencing proceedings” by unsealing the charges now “to exploit the feelings of outrage” against Vladimir Putin and Russia in the hope of influencing Judge J. Paul Oetken, who will sentence Kukushkin.
Prosecutors said that more than $150,000 of the money Muraviev had sent, which was siphoned through a bank account controlled by Fruman’s brother, ended up being donated to the Republican Adam Laxalt who was running for governor of Nevada in 2018.
Needless to say, the cannabis business schemes contemplated by Parnass and Fruman never got off the ground.