The Charlotte Observer
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee has asked the Treasury Department for any records involving a Russian oligarch and his purchase of a Palm Beach, Fla., home from Donald Trump before he became president.

Dmitry Rybolovlev, who made his money as a fertilizer magnate and now owns a Monaco soccer team, famously bought the mansion from Trump in 2008 for about $95 million, spurring questions about the big profit Trump made on the deal amid the financial crisis.

The Russian's luxury jet also generated international intrigue when it landed in Charlotte in November 2016 on the same day then-candidate Trump was making a presidential campaign appearance. After some speculation about the visit, a spokesman confirmed that Rybolovlev was in the area to meet with officials at battery manufacturer Alevo, which has a plant in Concord.

Alevo arrived in Cabarrus County in 2014 with great fanfare and later landed Rybolovlev as a major investor. But in August, the company's U.S. operations filed for bankruptcy protection and laid off 290 workers amid financial struggles and production delays. Alevo's equipment has been put up for auction, but no details have been provided on any of the buyers.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., made his request about the home purchase in a letter dated Friday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The letter notes that Trump bought the property in 2004 for $41 million and then sold it to a limited liability company owned by Rybolovlev in 2008 for $95 million. The mansion has since been torn down, and the property has been split into three parcels, two of which have been sold, Wyden wrote, citing media reports.

In July, Bloomberg News reported the U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election had expanded to examine a range of transactions involving Trump's businesses, including the sale of the Florida mansion. A lawyer for Trump at the time said he was unaware of the inquiry but that he considered it beyond the scope of what special counsel Robert Mueller should be reviewing. Trump has denied any allegations of collusion with Russia and called the investigation a "witch hunt."

In his letter, Wyden wrote: "It is imperative that Congress follow the money and conduct a thorough investigation into any potential money laundering or other illicit financial dealings between the President, his associates, and Russia. I therefore request that you provide the Senate Finance Committee with any reports or documents related to the July 2008 property transaction, including any Suspicious Activity Reports related to the transaction that the Treasury Department may retain."

Brian Cattell, a spokesman for the Rybolovlev family, said in a statement that when the Rybolovlev family trust acquired the property in 2008 it was made clear that the purchase was an investment.

"The transaction was publicly announced and widely covered by the US media," Cattell said. "There was no suggestion whatsoever of any impropriety about the purchase. What is more, the investment today remains on track to deliver a significant return to the trust. The first two lots of the property have sold for $71.3 million and the final lot has been listed for $42 million."

The Treasury Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

In 2016, Trump answered reporters' questions about the deal: "What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach ... for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million."