Invoking President Donald Trump’s executive order about election interference for the first time, the US Treasury Department has sanctioned several people, planes and a ship “linked to” the Internet Research Agency in Russia.
Russian nationals Denis Kuzmin and Igor Nesterov were added to the Treasury sanctions list on Monday for “links” to the IRA. Three companies registered in the Seychelles – Autolex Transport Ltd, Beratex Group Ltd, and Linburg Industries Ltd – were also sanctioned on the same grounds, as well as “cyber” and Ukraine-related statutes.
Three airplanes owned by these companies and a “pleasure craft” named St. Vitamin, owned by Beratex Group and registered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, were also named in the sanctions order.
All of these people, vessels and entities are in turn “linked to” Yevgeny Prigozhin, whom the US government has accused of masterminding the 2016 “Russian election meddling” via social networks. Prigozhin’s own designation was expanded to cite the “election interference” executive order.
These seem to be the first designations under Executive Order 13848, which Trump signed in September 2018. The order provides grounds for sanctioning foreign individuals and entities based on an “assessment” by the Director of National Intelligence – the office currently embroiled in the impeachment probe over Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine.
By what must have been sheer coincidence, the New York Times ran a feature on Monday accusing Russia of meddling in the 2016 US elections and now “using similar tactics” in the Central African Republic (CAR). It centers around Prigozhin, described as a “confidant” of President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin’s company, Concord Management & Consulting, was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in 2018, for allegedly running the IRA as a “troll farm” and “sowing discord” on US social media prior, during and after the 2016 election.
Concord challenged the indictment in a US federal court, and DOJ lawyers have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent it from seeing evidence in the case ever since.
In July, it was revealed that Concord’s lawyers successfully challenged Mueller’s prosecutors – now working for the DOJ – for prejudicial statements in the report that claimed to have “established” and “confirmed” Russian government interference in the election. US District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich agreed that Mueller did not in fact establish a link between Concord and the Russian government and that Prigozhin being “widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin” was an assertion, not evidence. Friedrich stopped just short of finding the prosecutors in contempt.
As the newest sanctions show, however, the assertion that Russia “meddled” in the US election – originally levied by the losing party in order to challenge the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency – has been accepted as an article of faith even by Trump’s own administration.
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