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Kazakhstan's BTA Bank Files New Lawsuit Targeting Ex-Trump Associate

Donald Trump (left to right), Tevfik Arif, and Felix Sater attend the Trump Soho Launch Party in 2007 in New York.

The Kazakh bank immersed in a multinational fight to recoup assets allegedly stolen more than a decade ago has filed a new U.S. lawsuit, alleging that a former associate of President Donald Trump considered using funds from those assets to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The suit, filed on March 25 in Manhattan federal court, is the latest front in the effort by BTA Bank -- once Kazakhstan's largest bank -- to both recover assets and also bring its fugitive former chairman to justice.

Among the people targeted by the lawsuit is Felix Sater, a convicted felon, former FBI informant, and New York real estate developer who has partnered with Trump on building projects in the past.

Sater is scheduled to testify on March 27 before the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee, where he's expected to be grilled about his work trying to help realize Trump's years-long effort to build a skyscraper in Moscow.

The lawsuit targets BTA's former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who, according to Kazakh authorities, may have stolen up to $4 billion from the bank before it collapsed. According to the complaint, Ablyazov's son-in-law, Ilyas Khrapunov, was also allegedly involved in trying to launder some of the funds stolen from the bank.

In its filings, BTA alleges that beginning in 2011 Sater helped Ablyazov and Khrapunov launder about $40 million through a number of U.S. business transactions.

"Sater helped Ablyazov, Khrapunov, and others launder tens of millions of dollars in those stolen funds into the United States," the complaint charged.

The complaint also charged that some of the funds were used by Khrapunov's sister to buy condominium units at the Trump SoHo tower in Manhattan.

Trump's name also appears in the complaint, though it does not allege that he had any knowledge that laundered funds were allegedly being used to purchase units.

"Sater not only met with Ilyas Khrapunov in Trump Tower to discuss laundering the Stolen Funds, but he also personally arranged meetings between Ilyas and Donald J. Trump to discuss possible investments," the complaint charged.

Sater could not immediately be located for comment.

BTA Bank made news unexpectedly last month, when Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed in testimony before Congress that the bank had hired him briefly as part of its fight against Ablyazov.

A New York-based lawyer for BTA Bank later confirmed Cohen's revelation, saying he had been hired in 2017, but said that he "did absolutely nothing of value, and BTA quickly tore up its agreement with him."

Cohen's appearance before the House committee followed his guilty plea to charges brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen admitted to lying to Congress in earlier testimony about the length and duration of talks he had with Russian officials during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign about the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project.

That project was also mentioned in the BTA Bank lawsuit.

"Sater conspired with Ilyas to invest the Stolen Funds to develop a Trump Tower project in Russia, which Sater has claimed would have been a 'high-rise, high-end development that could make a significant amount of money,'" it said.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.