By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 6, 2017
Headline writers at the New York Times need to sharpen their pencils. Yesterday’s New York edition carried a front page article that links two of the biggest Wall Street banks, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, to the Jared Kushner affair with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, Chairman of the state-owned Russian bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014. But readers would have missed that completely if they only read the softball headline, which failed to mention either bank.
Everyone on Wall Street has been waiting for the next shoe to drop in the Jared Kushner episode. Kushner is under FBI and Congressional probes over allegations that he met in December with Gorkov while simultaneously attempting to set up a secret channel to communicate with Russia using its equipment inside its own embassy – ostensibly to thwart U.S. intelligence snooping. Kushner then failed to list that meeting, as well as one or more meetings with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, on his form for security clearance until the meetings became public knowledge.
That shoe has now dropped. Wall Street On Parade reported on May 30 that some of the biggest names on Wall Street are sitting with hundreds of millions of dollars of that sanctioned Russian bank’s bonds and notes in their mutual fund portfolios. (See related article below.) Yesterday, the New York Times reported that when Gorkov came to Manhattan to meet with Kushner in December, he also “met with bankers at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and another, unidentified American financial institution.” The article notes that “Goldman Sachs bankers also tried to arrange a meeting but ultimately had a scheduling conflict.”
The Times’ reporters are quick to note that the meetings with the U.S. banks are not outlawed by the sanctions but then the paper of record climbs out on a very shaky limb, writing: “Citi and JPMorgan had long, established relationships clearing financial transactions for VEB in the United States, activities not affected by the sanctions.”
According to our read of the exact language of the sanctions, any transactions between U.S. banks and VEB may well be unlawful or, at the very least, frowned upon by the U.S. government. The sanctions, imposed on July 16, 2014, read as follows:
“In response to Russia’s continued attempts to destabilize eastern Ukraine and its ongoing occupation of Crimea, the U.S. Department of the Treasury today imposed a broad-based package of sanctions on entities in the financial services, energy, and arms or related materiel sectors of Russia…
“Today, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew determined that persons operating within Russia’s financial services sector may now be subject to targeted sanctions. Following Secretary Lew’s determination, Treasury imposed measures prohibiting U.S. persons and persons within the United States from transacting in, providing financing for, or otherwise dealing in new debt of longer than 90 days maturity or new equity for Gazprombank OAO and VEB, their property, or their interests in property. As a practical matter, this step will close the medium- and long-term U.S. dollar lending window to these banks, and will impose additional significant costs on the Russian Government for its continued activities in Ukraine.” (Italics added.)
It’s pretty clear that the U.S. Treasury wanted to “close” the U.S. dollar lending window to VEB for anything other than short term borrowings. It would make little sense for the U.S. Treasury to allow two of the biggest U.S. banks to thwart the sanctions by continuing to clear trades for the state bank, which is 100 percent owned by the Russian government.
Both Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase have been involved in large scale debt issuance for VEB prior to the sanctions. Reuters reported in 2010 that the two banks were among the bookrunning managers for $1.6 billion in VEB Finance Loan Participation Notes.
Another VEB prospectus indicates that on December 18, 2012 “VEB signed a U.S.$800 million three-year syndicated loan agreement and received the loan on 15 January 2013…The lead-arrangers and bookrunners for the loan were The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Barclays Bank, BNP Paribas, Citibank, Commerzbank AG, Credit Agricole, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, ING Bank, J.P. Morgan and Mizuho Corporate Bank.”
It would now seem likely that Senate and House Intelligence Committees along with the Special Counsel will want to hear from Citigroup and JPMorgan bankers about the precise nature of their conversations with Gorkov.