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Moscow Slams Leak Of Embassy Bank Transfers Around U.S. Election

Former Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak
Former Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak

The Russian Foreign Ministry is demanding that the United States stop the leak of confidential diplomatic information after a media report this week provided details of what it said were "suspicious" Russian embassy bank transfers.

The Kremlin demand on January 18 came after the U.S. online outlet Buzzfeed reported that U.S. officials investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election are studying bank transfers to and from the Russian Embassy in Washington before and after the November 2016 election.

Buzzfeed said U.S. banks flagged a number of embassy bank transfers and reported them to U.S. regulators, as required by U.S. law, because they were large and looked "suspicious."

The flagged transactions directly or indirectly involved Sergei Kislyak, who was the Russian ambassador to Washington until last year, and who had numerous contacts with top aides of U.S. President Donald Trump before and after his election.

Chief among those contacts was Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about multiple calls he had with Kislyak after Trump's election.

Media reports also said Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, sought to set up a secure back-channel of communication with Kislyak during the transition period before Trump took office in January 2017.

Buzzfeed reported that Kislyak received a $120,000 payment marked as "payroll" 10 days after Trump's election, which it said was flagged as "suspicious" by banks.

It also reported that five days after Trump's inauguration in January 2017, someone tried to withdraw $150,000 in cash from the embassy's bank account, but the embassy's bank blocked the withdrawal.

Kislyak returned to Russia last year as media publicized his contacts with Trump aides. He has not commented on those contacts or on the Buzzfeed story about the embassy financial transactions.

Russia in its protest against the leaks in the Buzzfeed story on January 18 did not deny that the reported transactions occurred, but rather portrayed them as "routine" rather than "suspicious."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the portrayal of these "routine" transactions was "twisted" and made to appear suspicious in the Buzzfeed story. It laid the most blame on the U.S. government for allowing information about the transfers to be made public.

"It's obvious that this could not have happened without the knowledge of the authorities" in the United States, the ministry said, asserting that "this intrusion on the sanctity of the accounts of the embassy and its staff, who have diplomatic immunity, is the work of Washington officialdom."

"Once again we have to note that Washington is not ensuring the appropriate conditions for the functioning of Russia's diplomatic missions. The pressure on them continues and is growing," said the ministry.

"We demand that the American authorities, at last, start implementing their own national laws and international obligations, immediately stop the unlawful distribution of confidential information...and hold responsible those who are to blame, including those who hold relevant posts in the American state administration," it said.

Based on reporting by Reuters, Buzzfeed, TASS, and Interfax
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