The global aluminium industry doesn’t make headlines very often, but that’s exactly what happened this past week after the Associated Press published an article claiming to expose ties between Rusal president Oleg Deripaska and Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. AP alleged that back in 2006, Manafort contacted Deripaska offering to provide communications services that would be beneficial to “the Putin government”.
The AP indicated that the story was based upon interviews with unnamed sources purporting to possess knowledge of the alleged business deals between the two, as well as with documents they say include strategy memoranda, contracts for work performed, and millions of dollars worth of international transfers. Such documents were said by the AP to include a $10 million contract begun in 2006 intended to disrupt anti-Russian activities, with payments on the agreement allegedly made for the next three years.
Deripaska returned fire in an open letter placed in The Washington Post and an ad in the The Wall Street Journal, “I have never made any commitments or contracts with the obligation or purpose to covertly promote or advance ‘Putin’s Government’ interests anywhere in the world,” Deripaska wrote. “I refuse to be dragged as collateral damage into the increasingly shrill and controversial theatre of US-Russia relations”, the letter said. Deripaska was critical towards the AP, pointing out that the news agency failed to confirm whether he had “accepted, signed or even saw Manafort’s alleged proposal”, saying that “fictional work does not leave a real trail”.
Calling Deripaska “[a] Russian billionaire close to President Vladimir Putin,” the Associated Press responded by saying that the initial story reported upon “a strategy memo proposing that the work he would do for Deripaska would ‘benefit the Putin Government,’ not that the contract contained that language.” The AP’s response also referenced a statement by its director of media relations that the organization stands by the assertions made in the original story.
The letter is a marked departure for Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest men, who generally maintains a low profile and gives few interviews. The aluminium magnate explained this change in tact by saying that the report was “simply too false and too damaging” to go unanswered, and that the AP performed “character assassination”.
The Rusal president went on to take issue with a chronology in the AP’s latest report, challenging the assertion that his fortune was made under Putin’s rule by pointing out that he began in the aluminium business shortly after graduation in 1993, “long before President Putin came to power or even moved to Moscow from St. Petersburg”. Deripaska also took issue with the AP’s contention that his business purchased overseas assets in a manner that benefited the Russian government. He went on to explain that “Russia does not have large deposits of bauxite – the raw material that is used to produce alumina, and later aluminum” and the foreign assets he bought were bauxite mines and alumina refineries to build Rusal as a vertically integrated company. Deripaska also expressed incredulity at the idea that the Kremlin would engage a private business to “undermine anti-Russian political movements” around the world. Deripaska closed by offering to “take part in any hearings conducted in the US Congress on this subject in order to defend my reputation and name.”