WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lawyer for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who says she was paid $130,000 by Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney for U.S. President Trump, to stay quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump, on Tuesday claimed that Cohen received $500,000 from a Russian billionaire in the months after the 2016 U.S. election.
In a tweet and report released on Tuesday, Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti said a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, sent the payment to Cohen.
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Reuters could not immediately verify the claim and it was not clear how Avenatti would have knowledge of any payment from Vekselberg to Cohen. Cohen and Avenatti did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
Avenatti said Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, made eight transfers to Cohen between January and August 2017 through a company called Columbus Nova LLC for a total of $500,000.
Columbus Nova is an U.S. investment arm of Renova Group, a conglomerate controlled by Vekselberg. Both Vekselberg and Renova were hit last month by U.S. sanctions for suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other alleged “malign activity.”
Vekselberg and Intrater could not be immediately reached for comment. An executive at Columbus Nova did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The New York Times reported last week that Vekselberg was questioned by agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year, as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Avenatti also said he discovered four payments of just under $100,000 each by drugmaker Novartis to Essential Consultants, the same company used by Cohen to make payments to Daniels. Novartis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
AT&T Inc confirmed another series of payments disclosed by Avenatti, who said the telecommunications giant made four payments of $50,000 each to Essential Consultants.
“Essential Consultants was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T said in a statement.
(Reporting by Tim Ahmann, editing by Clive McKeef)