The Russian Connection: McConnell and Deripaska, A Love Story

While everyone has been fixated on the Trump’s current temper tantrum and fight for abortion rights, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Putin’s “favorite industrialist”, Oleg Derispaska are having an affair in Kentucky.

Kentucky might be going into business with the Russian mafia.

Not the rough-and-tumble “Godfather” crowd with the bent noses and such names like Tessio, Barzini and Luca Brasi.

If all goes according to plan, by the middle of the year, we’ll be in business with Oleg Deripaska, a buddy of Vladimir Putin.

He could be sending $200 million — if you believe media reports — in what could very well be mobbed-up money to northeastern Kentucky to build a $1.7 billion aluminum plant on an old strip mine there.

The United States government, according to the New York Times, has long believed that Deripaska has deep ties to Russian organized crime — the Bratva — so much so it has limited his travel here and prohibited him from doing business in this country.

The 51-year-old billionaire emerged as a powerful businessman following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union after a bloody fight for control of Russia’s aluminum industry.

Last November, the New York Times quoted Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another Russian billionaire, saying he stayed out of that battle and urged those he worked with to do the same because of the ruthlessness of the fight. “There were so many murders, I refused to go into this business,” Khodorkovsky said.

According to the Times, many have claimed that Deripaska “engaged in theft, intimidation, bribery and even murder, notably of a Russian banker in 1995,” but that none of those claims has been substantiated.

He was sued in Delaware in 2004 in a case that portrayed him as a “member of a criminal gang that seized control of an iron-ore mining complex in the Ural Mountains in the late 1990s,” the Times wrote.

“The previous manager claimed that at a meeting attended by Mr. Deripaska, a mafia leader and five armed thugs, he was told to transfer a majority share or ‘this is the last time you will leave here alive.’”

Deripaska denied the claims. The Delaware case was dismissed in 2007 because the American court didn’t have jurisdiction.

Now Deripaska could be bringing his aluminum acumen to Kentucky.

That plant in which he and his company is investing is the Braidy Industries aluminum plant that Gov. Matt Bevin poured $15 million of your money into in 2017.

When he announced the planned aluminum mill, Bevin hailed it as possibly the “most singularly transformative economic development decision that has ever been made in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

But the plant has had trouble getting off the ground, in part because Braidy was forced to move the planned construction site from South Shore to Ashland when it was learned the original location couldn’t support the weight of the plant.

And money was a problem.

Enter Rusal, a Russian aluminum company that until just three months ago was barred from doing business in the United States in part because of its ties to Deripaska.

The Trump administration lifted the sanctions in January after Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership stake in the Moscow-based company, the world’s second-largest aluminum manufacturer, from 70% to less than 45%.

And that came only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed that decision despite large numbers of Republicans and Democrats who objected to allowing Rusal and its parent company En+ Group into the United States.

The House voted to keep the sanctions 362-53, but the Senate fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. McConnell, along with Sen. Rand Paul, voted against the resolution.

Get ready for borscht and vodka in Ashland.

The deal is that Rusal will own 40% of the mill and will supply it with its reserves of aluminum from a smelter under construction in Siberia. Braidy will roll it flat so it can be used to make car parts here in the United States.

Deripaska is supposed to have been sidelined. But who really believes that? He’s a Russian oligarch. He does what he wants.

So, why would you go into business with a guy like this?

Craig T. Bouchard, the CEO of Braidy Industries, has lagged behind in raising money to build the plant, and has repeatedly extended the fundraising deadline.

And Bouchard and his new best buddy, Matt Bevin, need to get this operation moving, and they could only do that after getting hundreds of millions in loans. And they couldn’t do that until they had private investors putting up approximately $500 million.

The plant, which at 2.5 million square feet — roughly the size of 14 super Walmart stores —would be one of the largest buildings in the world, is supposed to be fully operational in 2021.

There’s not a lot of time left.

But maybe, more importantly, Bevin faces reelection in November, and there has been an air of suspicion surrounding the Braidy project as it has dragged on.

The question being asked: Is this project really going to happen?

Even Bevin’s fellow Republicans have expressed doubt.

Now, according to the New York Times reporting, some House Democrats in charge of some strategic committees, have requested that the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin review the deal.

A group of Democratic lawmakers with top roles on committees overseeing the Treasury Department sent a letter on Thursday to Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, saying they were “deeply alarmed” by Rusal’s investment in the Kentucky mill.

“Given that EN+ is a company substantially owned by individuals and entities with close ties to the Russian government, we believe the proposed transaction warrants immediate review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is an interagency panel led by the Treasury Department that can block foreign investments in American companies on national security grounds.

The panel rarely discloses the existence of reviews, and a spokesman for Mr. Mnuchin declined to comment on the potential Rusal investment. The companies say the deal is expected to close before the end of June, and the plant is expected to be operational by 2021.

Craig Bouchard, the chairman and chief executive of Braidy Industries, rejected the notion that the deal could be blocked by the committee, citing a provision in the regulations excluding from review start-ups or so-called greenfield investments, such as building a plant.

Rusal’s investment is only in the new mill, he said in a statement. “It is not an investment at the parent company level.”

And you thought that it was just the Trump crime family that was deep into the Russian mob.