On June 12, 2018 The Washington Post ran an overlooked story where they disclosed that National Security Advisor John Bolton had accepted money from the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Deutsche Bank and HSBC to return for his participation in speeches and panel discussions. These three entities have been linked to various kinds of corruption including sanctions evasion for Iran, money laundering on behalf of drug cartels, provision of banking services to backers of Islamic terror organizations and controversial donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The financial ties between Bolton and these institutions highlight serious ethical concerns about his suitability for the position of National Security Advisor.
I. Victor Pinchuk Foundation
John Bolton accepted $115,000 from the Victor Pinchuk Foundation to speak at multiple events hosted by the Foundation including one in September 2017 where Bolton assured his audience that President Donald Trump would not radically change US foreign policy despite his explicit campaign promises to do so.
The Victor Pinchuk Foundation was blasted in 2016 over their donation of $10 to $25 million to the Clinton Foundation between 1994 and 2005. The donations lead to accusations of influence peddling after it emerged that Victor Pinchuk had been invited to Hillary Clinton’s home during the final year of her tenure as Secretary of State.
Even more damning was Victor Pinchuk’s participation in activities that constituted evasions of sanctions levied against Iran by the American government. A 2015 exposé by Newsweek highlighted the fact that Pinchuk owned Interpipe Group, a Cyprus-incorporated manufacturer of seamless pipes used in oil and gas sectors. A now-removed statement on Interpipe’s website showed that they were doing business in Iran despite US sanctions aimed to prevent this kind of activity.
Why John Bolton, a notorious war hawk who has called for a hardline approach to Iran, would take money from an entity who was evading sanctions against the country is not clear. It does however, raise serious questions about whether or not Bolton should be employed by Donald Trump, who made attacks on the Clinton Foundation’s questionable donations a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign.
II. HSBC Group
British bank HSBC paid Bolton $46,500 in June and August 2017 to speak at two gatherings of hedge fund managers and investors.
HSBC is notorious for its extensive ties to criminal and terror organizations for whom it has provided illegal financial services. Clients that HSBC have laundered money for include Colombian drug traffickers and Mexican cartels who have terrorized the country and recently raised murder rates to the highest levels in Mexico’s history. They have also offered banking services to Chinese individuals who sourced chemicals and other materials used by cartels to produce methamphetamine and heroin that is then sold in the United States. China’s Triads have helped open financial markets in Asia to cartels seeking to launder their profits derived from the drug trade.
In 2012, HSBC was blasted by the US Senate for for allowing money from Russian and Latin American criminal networks as well as Middle Eastern terror groups to enter the US. The banking group ultimately agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine for this misconduct as well as their involvement in processing sanctions-prohibited transactions on behalf of Iran, Libya, Sudan and Burma.
Some of the terror groups assisted by HSBC include the notorious Al Qaeda. During the 2012 scrutiny of HSBC, outlets such as Le Monde, Business Insider and the New York Times revealed that HSBC had maintained ties to Saudi Arabia’s Al Rajhi Bank. Al Rajhi Bank was one of Osama Bin Ladin’s “Golden Chain” of Al Qaeda’s most important financiers. Even though HSBC’s own internal compliance offices asked for the bank to terminate their relationship with Al Rajhi Bank, it continued until 2010.
More recently in 2018, reports have claimed that HSBC was used for illicit transactions between Iran and Chinese technology conglomerate Huawei. The US is currently seeking to extradite Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou after bringing charges against Huawei related to sanctions evasion and theft of intellectual property. The company has been described as a “backdoor” for elements of the Chinese government by certain US authorities.
Bolton’s decision to accept money from HSBC given their well-known reputation is deeply hypocritical. HSBC’s connection to terror organizations such as Al Qaeda in particular is damning for Bolton due to the fact that he formerly served as the chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a New York-based advocacy group that purports to oppose terrorism. These financial ties are absolutely improper for an individual acting as National Security Advisor.
III. Deutsche Bank
John Bolton accepted $72,000 from German Deutsche Bank to speak at an event in May 2017.
Deutsche Bank has for decades engaged in questionable behavior. During World War II, they provided financial services to the Nazi Gestapo and financed construction of the infamous Auschwitz as well as an adjacent plant for chemical company IG Farben.
Like HSBC, Deutsche Bank has provided illicit services to international criminal organizations. In 2014 court filings showed that Deutsche Bank, Citi and Bank of America had all acted as channels for drug money sent to Colombian security currency brokerages suspected of acting on behalf of traffickers. In 2017, Deutsche Bank agreed to pay a $630 million fine after working with a Danish bank in Estonia to launder over $10 billion through London and Moscow on behalf of Russian entities. The UK’s financial regulatory watchdog has said that Deutsche Bank is failing to prevent its accounts from being used to launder money, circumvent sanctions and finance terrorism. In November 2018, Deutsche Bank’s headquarters was raided by German authorities as part of an investigation sparked by 2016 revelations in the “Panama Papers” leak from Panama’s Mossack Fonseca.
Two weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Bush administration signed an executive order linking a company owned by German national Mamoun Darkazanli to Al Qaeda. In 1995, Darkazanli co-signed the opening of a Deutsche Bank account for Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. Salim was identified by the CIA as the chief of bin Laden’s computer operations and weapons procurement. He was ultimately arrested in Munich, extradited to the United States and charged with participation in the 1998 US embassy bombings.
In 2017, the Office of the New York State Comptroller opened an investigation into accounts that Deutsche Bank was operating on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is defined by both the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization. It is ironic that Bolton, who is a past recipient of the “Guardian of Zion Award” would accept money from an entity who provided services to Palestinian groups that Israel considers to be terror related.
IV. Clinton-esque Financial Ties Unbecoming To Trump Administration
Bolton’s engagement in paid speeches, in some cases with well-known donors to the Clinton Foundation, paints the Trump administration in a very bad light. Donald Trump criticized Hillary Clinton during his 2016 Presidential campaign for speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs that were labeled by her detractors as “pay to play” behavior. John Bolton’s acceptance of money from similar entities, especially the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, are exactly the same kind of activity and are an embarrassment for a President who claims to be against corruption.
More broadly, John Bolton’s work for the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, HSBC and Deutsche Bank shows that while he preaches hardline foreign policy approaches towards nations such as Iran and North Korea he has no issue tying himself to those who openly flaunt American sanctions and diplomatic attempts to pressure these states. For an individual who is the President’s National Security Advisor to have taken money from banks who provide financial services to terror groups who have murdered thousands of Americans is totally unacceptable.
It is embarrassing enough that Donald Trump hired Bolton in the first place. The next best remedy is to let him go as soon as possible.