Russian Illegal Gambling Case Involved FBI Wiretaps of Trump Tower
Since Donald Trump accused the Obama Administration of wiretapping Trump Tower during the latter stages of the 2016 US Presidential Election, the American media has sought any confirmation of that accusation. No wiretapping evidence which conforms to President Trump’s accusations has been found, but ABC News reports that the FBI did wiretap Trump Tower during Barack Obama’s term as president.
The case even involved Russians, though it had no direct link to Donald Trump himself. The investigation, which ran from 2011 to 2013, ended with a federal grand jury indictment of over 30 suspects. The FBI charged the main figure in their investigation with money-laundering and operating a gambling ring for the mafia.
“The Little Taiwanese”
The main target in the probe was Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, an alleged Russian mobster known to many by the enigmatic nickname “The Little Taiwanese”. Adding to the mystery is the fact Mr. Tokhtakhounov escaped the FBI raid which collected all the other targets of the investigation. Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov remains on the loose and is wanted by U.S. authorities.
Mike Gaeta, an FBI investigator who worked on the case, said of Tokhtakhounov, “He is a major player. He is prominent. He has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries.”
$50 Million in Laundered Money
Gaeta ran the FBI’s Eurasian Crime Unit at the time, so he kept tabs on the Little Taiwanese for years. He told ABC News that Tokhtakhounov laundered an estimated $50 million from his illegal gambling ring in the United States and Cyprus. It appears the Cypriot banks were the key locations for laundering money.
The FBI probe charted the sources of the money, along with its path around the globe on its way to the United States. Gaeta said, “Because of his status, we have kept tabs on his activities and particularly as his activities truly enter New York City. Their money was ultimately laundered from Russia, Ukraine and other locations through Cyprus banks and shell companies based in Cyprus and then ultimately here to the United States.”
Trump Tower Wired by the FBI
Trump Tower was under scrutiny, but the FBI agent is quick to point out that Donald Trump was not a target in the investigation. Instead, an office suite three floors down from Donald Trump’s penthouse was the focus of the wiretap. Suite 63A is alleged to have been a key pivot point for several Russian crime figures, including Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The Russian mafia figures are alleged to have conducted a number of rackets, including “international money-laundering [and] sports gambling“, as well as an “extortion ring.”
The suite officially was the home of Vadim Trincher, who eventually pleaded guilty to racketeering, for which he received a five-year prison term. Trincher was caught on tape threatening gamblers who had big debts.
Vadim Trincher’s Threats to Gamblers
According to court documents, a man who owed $50,000 was threatened with torture and death by Vadim Trincher. Mike Gaeta explained the phone call that the FBI monitored. He said, “Mr. Vladim Trincher was on one occasion intercepted speaking with a customer of the gambling operation who owed a debt of $50,000….[He] threatens the customer that Maxin would come and find him, would come and find the money and that he should be careful, lest he be tortured and lest he wind up underground.”
Besides being one of Donald Trump’s tenants at Trump Tower, Vadim Trincher and Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov have only one other known connection to President Trump. In late 2013, seven months after the federal indictments were handed out in the illegal gambling, extortion, and money-laundering case, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and Donald Trump made a public appearance at the same event.
2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia
By this time, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was an international fugitive, taking sanctuary from the FBI and Interpol in his native home of Russia. Donald Trump was hosting the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, when Trump sold Russian broadcast rights to a shopping mall director in Russia. Donald Trump and Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov were seen near one another in a VIP section of the Miss Universe pageant, though they did not appear to be sitting together.
When ABC News asked about the 2013 FBI raid on the illegal gambling ring in Trump Tower, a Trump spokesman said that the Trump Organization did not sell an inordinate number of properties to Russians. The spokesman said, in the gambling ring operation, federal authorities seized four properties: “two in New York and two in Sunny Isles, Florida“.
Since allegations arose about possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russian intelligence during the presidential election, it has been reported that the Trump Soho sold nearly $100 million in properties to wealthy Russians. Once again, it is not a crime to sell a high-priced condominium to a Russian oligarch.
The Bank of Cyprus Connection
The connection to Cyprus might be a bit uncomfortable for Donald Trump’s supporters, though. A Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev is one of the owners of the Bank of Cyprus, which is known to do a lot of business with Russian oligarchs. The embarrassing fact is the Wilbur Ross, nominated by Donald Trump to be the US Secretary of Commerce, is also a co-owner of the Bank of Cyprus.
When the bank experienced financial difficulties in 2014, Wilbur Ross (who made his fortune in the “steel, coal, textiles and auto-parts sectors”) led a rescue of the bank. Previously, the Cypriot government and Russian President Vladimir Putin helped had propped up the bank. Further showing the ties between the Bank of Cyprus and Russian oligarchs is the new CEO of the bank, Josef Ackermann, was the CEO of Deustchebank. Mr. Ackermann was forced out at Deustchebank because the German financial instution helped launder billions upon billions of dollars for Russian oligarchs — a crime that cost Deustchebank a $7 billion-plus fine.
Dmitry Rybolovlev also once bought a South Florida home from Donald Trump. Trump bought an estate in the Miami area for $40 million in 2004. In 2009, as real estate prices were collapsing around the globe, Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the estate from Donald Trump for $100 million, a record in US history for an estate sale. Mr. Rybolovlev never visited the estate, and subsequently tore down the mansion.