Russians at centre of Trump scandal deny Kremlin plot

Aras Agalarov says emails ‘all made up’ and Natalia Veselnitskaya denies Moscow role

Vice president of Crokus Group Emin Agalarov, then not-yet-elected US president Donald Trump and president of Crokus Group Aras Agalarov   at a press conference before the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow. Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

Vice president of Crokus Group Emin Agalarov, then not-yet-elected US president Donald Trump and president of Crokus Group Aras Agalarov at a press conference before the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow. Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

 

The two Russian figures at the centre of claims Donald Trump’s eldest son sought to collude with Moscow to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign have denied they were involved in any government plot to meddle in the 2016 election race.

Aras Agalarov, the Russian oligarch described as a go-between for Russia’s state prosecutor and the Trump campaign in emails to Donald Trump jnr, said the emails were “all made up” and denied involvement in attempting to get an audience with Trump aides.

“I don’t know who’s making this up,” Mr Agalarov told radio station Business FM on Wednesday morning.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met Mr Trump jnr and was described in the emails as a “Russian government lawyer”, also denied any Kremlin involvement, saying in an interview she did not go to Trump Tower at the behest of Russian officials.

The two Russians have become the subject of intense scrutiny after Mr Trump jnr published the June 2016 email exchange he had with a former business partner that showed he was eager to co-operate with Russian government efforts to thwart Mrs Clinton. Democrats have seized on the revelation as evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Official documents

In the emails, which Mr Trump jnr released on Tuesday after the New York Times obtained copies, Trump associate Robert Goldstone claimed Mr Agalarov had met with the Russian state prosecutor and had been offered “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary”, which he wanted to pass to the Trump campaign.

Mr Goldstone claimed the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”, noting that Mr Agalarov had “helped along” the effort. Mr Trump jnr responded: “If it’s what you say I love it.”

Mr Agalarov denied Mr Goldstone’s account in the radio interview, saying: “What’s Hillary Clinton got to do with this? I don’t know. I don’t know Rob Goldstone at all.”

Ms Veselnitskaya, who met Mr Trump jnr and two other senior campaign aides – the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort – in Trump Tower on June 9th, said the session had been set up through Emin Agalarov, Mr Agalarov’s son and an Azeri pop star.

In a lengthy exchange on the messaging service Telegram late on Tuesday night, Ms Veselnitskaya told the Financial Times that the younger Mr Agalarov was a “friend of a friend” and set up the meeting to help her lobby the Trump team for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that sanctioned several top Russian prosecutors.

Miss Universe event

The Agalarovs met the Trumps when they hosted the 2013 Miss Universe beauty pageant in Moscow and claimed to have remained in touch earlier this year. Mr Goldstone also worked on the pageant. Mr Goldstone, who is pictured on his Instagram account embracing Emin during the pageant, counted the younger Agalarov as a client.

Ms Veselnitskaya denied she had offered Mr Trump jnr any information about Mrs Clinton. “Do you really think that if anyone wanted to pass anything on, they would use channels like that and be so wise as not to pass anything over?” she told the FT.

Ms Veselnitskaya said she was unaware the elder Mr Agalarov or Russian prosecutors were involved in organising the meeting. “It was a private meeting without any context from the presidential election,” she said, adding the suggestion of involvement by senior officials from the prosecutors’ office was “nonsense”.

Mr Agalarov said he did not know Mr Trump jnr, despite the oligarch’s work with the Trump organisation during a failed attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2013. “Emin knows him, I don’t,” Mr Agalarov said. “Well, we did Miss Universe together, and the contacts happened then.”

“They’re about the same age, how do I know what their conversations were like?” he added of Mr Trump jnr and his son Emin. “They had some conversations, I don’t know.”

He also said of Mr Goldstone: “He worked with Emin for some period as a manager, probably, or promoted something in America, I don’t know . . . Basically, he worked [for him]. They talked.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017