Saturday, February 03, 2018

Banks on the Danube

The basic question hovering around the controversial manufactured "memo" is why the FBI was so interested in Carter Page within the scope of a foreign intelligence investigation.

It's been known for a while that Page was keeping some strange company -- in the old days of espionage, he would be the kind of figure popping up in places like Istanbul, Tangier, and Vienna.

Except that he was still popping up in Vienna. Here he is describing a November 2014 visit to Vienna, in the course of remarks praising Austria's neutrality and saying that Ukraine would benefit from the same accommodation between Russia and the West. 

Even more interesting is a strange detour in his remarks to discuss Austrian banks --

Ironically, the Austrian economy has suffered a disproportionately severe impact from the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and E.U. in 2014. The effect of sanctions levied on Russia have severely punished some of Austria’s largest financial institutions, including Raiffeisen Bank International. Although banks today represent almost half of the total market capitalization of the Vienna Stock Exchange, they stand at the forefront of today’s economic tumult given the prominent role they have played in financing Ukrainian development. As a primary example, this unnecessary collateral damage has been particularly great in the case of Raiffeisen which holds a top five market position in Ukraine with loans of 2.9 billion Euro, 713 business outlets and 2,962,732 customers.

Why so much emphasis on Raiffeisen and the impact of sanctions against Russia on it? Maybe there was some lobbying involved. But Raiffeisen also has a bit part in Donald Trump's finances. Raiffeisen was the lender for Trump Tower Toronto -- launched in 2002 but only finished 14 years later, bankrupt, and no longer bearing Trump's name. In fact, Trump was never an investor in the project -- he collected fees while putting in no money -- but that subtlety was not clear to all the other investors, who lost their money.

Anyway, the point is that Trump's serial bankruptcies had made him toxic to most American lenders, so that put him in a relationship with German and Austrian banks that had opaque ties to eastern Europe and Russia. A world that includes a need for no-questions-asked movements of money into solid investment vehicles. Like property. In turn, a trail that Russian intelligence services might like to keep an eye on. Which in turn might pique the interest of other intelligence services, including the fabled Five Eyes, who might notice a recurring character like Carter Page. 

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