The unverified intelligence dossier compiled by retired U.K. spy Christopher Steele alleging ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and the Russian government has cast a suspicious light on the sale of a 19.5 percent stake to private entities by Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft's .
In December 2016, the Russian-owned oil company Rosneft sold off a 19.5 percent stake in a deal that had been previously under wraps. The complicated deal has resulted in questions about who has bought a stake in Rosneft, which has the most prodigious output of oil in the world. The administration of former President Barack Obama had expressed concern that the massive deal had violated U.S. sanctions on Russia.
The deal had reportedly surprised both Rosneft shareholders and the Russian government, with sources asserting that the privatization had been handled exclusively between Rosneft president Igor Sechin and Russian President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. The Rosneft board of directors reportedly was not even aware of the privatization until it was publicly announced on Dec. 7, 2016, Reuters reports.
Associate fellow Lilia Shevtsova of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House noted that the privatization deal had to have had input from Putin's Kremlin.
"In Russia we have a marriage between power and business, and that is why all important economic deals need approval and the endorsement of the authorities," Shevtsova told Business Insider. "This was a very serious commercial deal that hardly could have succeeded without the direct involvement with the Kremlin."
Rosneft's announcement of who has invested in their company has also been contradicted by journalistic investigations. While the Russian oil company asserted that the 19.5 percent stake, the largest foreign investment in Russia since the Obama administration slapped the country with stiff sanctions in 2014, was sold to a Singapore venture shared equally between the Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar's Qatari Investment Authority (QIA), the numbers do not add up.
Records of the deal found that Glencore had only contributed roughly $320 million U.S. dollars to the deal, which altogether cost roughly $11 billion, meaning that the oil trading firm had only invested 0.54 percent in a venture that both Putin and Sechin described as a 50-50 split.
Meanwhile, QIA invested roughly $2.7 billion while Italian bank Intesa SanPaolo reportedly loaned roughly $5.6 billion to the Singapore-based venture, meaning that nearly a third of the price of the 19.5 percent stake has not been accounted for.
Public records also included that ownership for the stake in Rosneft also belongs to a Cayman Islands firm that cannot be identified, meaning that a crucial investor in the Russian oil company remains a mystery. The companies involved have also declined to answer how the 19.5 stake in Rosneft will be divided up between them.
Which is where the unverified dossier alleging ties between Putin's government and the Trump campaign comes in. That document had alleged that Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump, had met with Rosneft's Sechin in July 2016, according to Business Insider.
The dossier further alleged that Sechin had "offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft. ... In return, Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected U.S. president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted."
Page's trip to Russia and alleged meeting with Sechin has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. intelligence community. The former foreign policy adviser left the Trump campaign in September 2016 after the allegations of his Moscow ties were first reported.
On Jan. 12, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that "Page is an individual whom the President-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign."
Spicer's assertion was contradicted by an interview Trump had given in March 2016, when he stated that Page was among his foreign policy advisers, CNN reports.
Page previously held investments in the state-owned Russian energy company Gazprom, the parent company of the Gazprombank, which had funded the sale of Rosneft's 19.5 percent stake the the Singapore venture. The former Trump adviser told the FBI in September that he had sold his stake in Gazprom.
On Dec. 7, 2016, Rosneft finalized its privatization deal. One Dec. 8, Carter visited Moscow to meet with Rosneft leaders, although he denied meeting with Sechin.
The intelligence document alleging Page's talks with Sechin has not been verified and must be viewed with skepticism, but its accusation that the Rosneft president had offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent privatization of the oil company was predictive of the 19.5 percent stake sold to the Singapore venture, whose investors include a mysterious Cayman Islands firm.
Trump has repeatedly suggested lifting current U.S. sanctions on Russia, despite opposition from GOP lawmakers. The Senate Majority Leader, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has warned Trump against lifting the sanctions.
"If there's any country in the world that doesn't deserve any kind of sanctions relief, it's the Russians," McConnell said on Jan. 27.
The dossier detailing Page's alleged talks with Sechin has not been substantiated by evidence, but given the potentially devastating accusations of quid pro quo by the Trump campaign and Russia and in light of the mysteriousness of who now owns a 19.5 percent stake in Russia's most prominent oil company, the matter might merit an investigation.
The U.S. Treasury Department would be tasked with examining any potential connections between the Trump campaign and the Rosneft deal, but that agency will potentially be headed by Trump's appointee to Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin, who is currently awaiting Senate confirmation, according to Washington Monthly.