Updated with additional details on USG, specifics of Soriano’s work for Deripaska and Abramovich, and links to the CIA.
Natasha Bertrand at Politico was out with a big story earlier this week about Walter Soriano, a mysterious Orthodox Jew who runs a security firm in London.
Bertrand reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to Soriano seeking his communications with Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.
The subpoena, sent April 5, also seeks records of Soriano’s contacts with three Israeli private intelligence firms as well as any communications he may have had with Orbis Business Intelligence, a firm co-founded by the former British spy Christopher Steele.
The 51-year-old Soriano is unknown in the United States, but he’s a figure of intense speculation in Israel where his name surfaced more than a year ago in connection with a bribery investigation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Kan TV news reported that Soriano was hired to dig up dirt on the investigators investigating Netanyahu. This work was given to subcontractors, some of whom worked for Israeli military intelligence:
This prompted Netanyahu to write a Facebook post insisting that he had not spoken to Soriano in eight years.
What intrigued me about Soriano was that Bertrand’s story linked him to Oleg Deripaska, whose connections to Paul Manafort were at the heart of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
What hasn’t been reported in the United States is that Deripaska was a client of Soriano’s consultancy, USG Security Limited, according to a court filing by Israeli investigative journalist Raviv Drucker. (Soriano is suing Drucker in Israel for libel.) Drucker wrote that Soriano worked for Deripaska during his long-running legal feud in London with Michael Cherney, who has long faced allegations—which he has denied—that he and his brother, Lev, are connected to Russian organized crime.
Another oligarch, Roman Abramovich, also was a USG client, according to Drucker. USG helped Abramovich in his legal dispute in London with Boris Berezovsky, Drucker’s court filing states.
Drucker claims that USG’s subcontractors carried out “sophisticated surveillance, information gathering and data acquisition by various technological means, such as eavesdropping, hacking, and so on.”
On its website, USG says that its consultants are “all former members of the world’s elite intelligence units, military forces and security organizations, with vast knowledge and practical experience.”
This sounds very much like the work of the three private Israeli security firms who are mentioned in the subpoena: Psy Group, Wikistrat, and Black Cube. Founded by former Israeli military intelligence officers, Black Cube has used operatives with false identities to investigate journalists, victims of Harvey Weinstein, and former Obama staffer Ben Rhodes. Published reports claim Trump aides hired Black Cube for a “dirty ops” campaign to discredit Rhodes and other supporters of the Iran nuclear deal. (Black Cube denied working for Trump.)
Another Soriano client is Dmitry Rybolovlev, another Russian billionaire who purchased a Florida mansion from Trump in 2008 for $95 million. Trump had purchased the mansion for $41 million four years earlier.
Rybolovlev hired Soriano to spy on art dealer Yves Bouvier, according to Drucker and an investigation by Le Point, a French newsweekly. Le Point also obtained correspondence from Soriano to Rybolovlev suggesting he was also hired to deal with problems at the football club the oligarch owns, AS Monaco. (See “L’étrange M. Soriano,” Le Point, February 7 2019.)
The football connection is an interesting thread in this strange world because someone named Walter Soriano emerged in 2010 — the same year that USG Security Limited went into business — as the UK representative of former Argentinian superstar Diego Maradona.
“I think Diego would be very open to the idea of coming to England and managing Aston Villa,” a reporter for the Sunday Mercury quoted “Walter Soriano” as saying.
The real Walter Soriano was at one time a partner in a now defunct UK firm called Football Universe Limited. And like Maradona, Soriano is a native Argentinian, the tireless blogger Richard Silverstein reported. (An Israeli judge threw out Soriano’s lawsuit against Silverstein.)
An earlier version of USG’s website names Soriano as director of operations and Simon Bird simply as “UK operations.” The equally mysterious Mr. Bird, who is 76 and not to be confused with an English actor of the same name, gave an address of Ware House in Lyme Regis, a manor immortalized in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Bird is described as a historian and a longtime partner of Winston Churchill’s granddaugher-in-law.
Both Bird and Soriano were directors of a now-defunct UK firm, Universe Security Group, whose board included Nahum Admoni, a former head of Mossad; Uri Sagi, former head of IDF intelligence; and Albert Raes, formerly Belgium’s top spy. (Issac Molho, a trusted advisor to Netanyahu caught up in the prime minister’s scandals, received about $200,000 in “finder’s fees” from the company.)
Update: A reader who asked not to be named pointed out that Molho did not just receive finder’s fees. He owned 10 percent of the company, according to a letter of intent he signed in 2003. Soriano was the majority shareholder.
In 2003, the Panama Maritime Authority, which manages the world’s largest ship register, selected Universe Security Group as one of three “recognized security organizations” to approve ship security plans. Soriano told Lloyd’s List that company operatives come mainly from the UK, Belgium, Israel, Central and South America, North Africa and the US.
A sharp-eyed Twitter user, @brazencapital, pointed out something I had read many years ago and since forgotten. One of Universe Security Group’s contacts was Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, formerly the No. 3 at the CIA who went to prison in the scandal surrounding Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham. (Foggo was one of the subjects in my first book, Feasting on the Spoils.)
Buried in Foggo’s sentencing memorandum from 2008 is a statement from a CIA contractor named Joel Combs:
Universe Security’s reputation suffered a fatal blow in 2009 when one of its customers was robbed, according to an administrator’s report. (The client was not identified in the report but Israeli media reports named Graff diamonds in London.) Admoni, Sagi and Raes all resigned from the company en masse. The company went into liquidation; its assets were acquired by Soriano and Bird’s newly-formed USG Security.
There’s more. Soriano’s USG Security also surfaced in a dispute between wealthy London property developers the Candy brothers and British businessman Mark Holyoake.
“I have reliable information that USG Security has been hired by [Ed Candy] for (sic) investigate and monitor my family, my colleagues and myself,” Holyoake told a London court. He described USG as a “military-based ‘security consultancy and security services provider.'” (See Holyoake v Candy, Queen’s Bench Division)
Holyoake declined to reveal who passed him this information saying it related to security arrangements for his family and “could have consequences for the safety of my source if revealed.” Candy’s representative denied hiring USG.
During trial, Holyoake’s wife testified that among the men in the Candys’ “extended circle who have died mysteriously” is Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch in London who became a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin.
Berezovsky lost his high stakes London court battle with Roman Abramovich in 2012 over control over a major Russian oil company. Seven months later, Berezovsky was found dead in his shower with a scarf around his neck. A coroner could not reach a verdict on the death.
The mysterious Mr. Soriano is much than he seems. Connected to the prime minister, deeply tied to the Israeli security establishment, he adds to the intrigue surrounding Trump and Russia.
Victor Boyarkin, a close aide to the sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska, is getting some unwanted attention these days.
“How did you find me here?” Boyarkin asked a TIME magazine reporter who managed to track him down at a conference in Greece.
Boyarkin, reportedly a former colonel in the GRU, is part of the constellation of intelligence officers employed by Deripaska that help him maintain his proximity to the Kremlin’s inner circle.
TIME had questions for Boyarkin about Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. References to Boyarkin (“Victor” and “our friend V”) were sprinkled in emails to Manafort during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Tell V boss that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote to his associate, Konstantin Kliminik.
Boyarkin told TIME he was talking to Manafort during the presidential campaign to collect on a debt. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin said. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”
The fact that Trump’s campaign chairman was in debt to someone like Deripaska and being hounded for money by someone like Boyarkin shows, yet again, how deeply unqualified Trump was to be president. Trump’s best defense is that he didn’t know about any of this. The much darker, worst-case scenario is that he chose Manafort precisely because he had these sorts of connections to Russia.
Boyarkin headed up “special operations” for Deripaska, according to the Paris-based newsletter Intelligence Online. This work took him to the African country of Guinea where Rusal, Deripaska’s Russian giant aluminum concern, had a plant that was shuttered by a strike. But lately, Boyarkin’s “special projects” have involved the Trump administration.
According to Intelligence Online, Boyarkin recently returned to Deripaska’s inner circle to deal with the sanctions imposed in April 2018 by the Treasury Department on Deripaska and his companies. (Exactly what role he played isn’t clear.) Lord Barker of Battle, the chairman of Deripaska’s London-listed holding company, En+, paid the DC lobbying firm $108,500-a-month, Mercury Group, to lobby for sanctions relief.
It was money well spent. Ever since those tough sanctions were imposed on Deripaska, the Trump administration has been looking for ways to soften the blow, as I wrote for The New York Times. The Treasury recently said it intends to lift the sanctions on Deripaska’s companies in what seems like a sweetheart deal.
Boyarkin was himself sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury earlier this month “for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Oleg Deripaska.” Notably, The Senate intelligence committee said the sanctions on Boyarkin “will help counter some of Russia’s malign influence efforts, and is a welcome step.” It seems the sanctions on Boyarkin appear to be part of the deal to lift the sanctions on his boss.
According to the U.S. Treasury, Boyarkin and Deripaska were both involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections. A decade earlier, Manafort worked for Deripaska in Montenegro to manage a referendum campaign that ended with the country declaring its independence.
Boyarkin is a former colonel in the GRU, according to the British newspaper, The Telegraph. (Other sources describe him as a lieutenant colonel.) Boyarkin’s name shows up in the U.S. diplomatic list from the 1990s when he was posted to Washington as a Russian naval attache, often a cover for intelligence officers.
Have we learned all there is to know about Deripaska’s ties to the Trump administration?
I doubt it.
In case you missed it, here’s my op-ed on Russian sanctions and Oleg Deripaska that ran in The New York Times.
Ever wonder what it’s like to hang out with a Russian oligarch?
The answer to that question is found in one of the interesting stories that that didn’t quite fit into my book: The trip to Oleg Deripaska’s chalet in Siberia.