- Thomson Reuters
Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev “categorically” denied through his adviser on Friday that he had ever met President Donald Trump, amid questions over why Rybolovlev had flown into cities where Trump was campaigning before the November election.
“A number of theories have been circulating about the supposed relationship between Dmitry Rybolovlev and President Donald Trump. None of these theories has any foundation in fact,” Rybolovlev’s adviser, Sergey Chernitsyn, said in a statement provided to Business Insider.
It was the first time Rybolovlev acknowledged that he was on his jet when it landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, minutes before Trump’s plane landed and parked nearby.
Rybolovlev’s adviser insisted, however, that the billionaire “never met Mr. Trump personally and has no connection whatsoever to Mr Trump or his team of advisers,” Chernitsyn added.
The response was the most expansive – and first official – statement Rybolovlev has given since photos began circulating on social media in November of his Airbus A319, dubbed M-KATE.
Theories began circulating, too, about why his jet – which spends most of its time flying between major European cities like London, Berlin, and Zurich, with sporadic trips to Los Angeles, Miami, and the Caribbean, according to flight records – flew to Las Vegas, Nevada, and Charlotte, North Carolina, the same days Trump did.
The timing raised questions about whether Rybolovlev met with Trump while their planes were parked at the same time in Las Vegas in late October and then in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early November.
- Reuters/Eric Gaillard
“Particular attention has been focused on a trip made by Mr Rybolovlev to North Carolina,” Chernitsyn said. “He was in North Carolina for a business meeting and we can state categorically that he did not have any contact with Mr Trump or any of his advisers at the time he was there.”
Chernitsyn did not mention Rybolovlev’s presence in Las Vegas at the same time as Trump, but said that “Mr. Rybolovlev travels frequently to many different destinations, including destinations across the US,” Chernitsyn continued. “If Mr Rybolovlev was physically in the same place as Mr Trump at any time, this was pure coincidence.”
A White House official called the speculation “ridiculous” and characterized it as akin to a “conspiracy” in an email to Business Insider earlier this week.
“No member of the Trump campaign or Mr. Trump met with Mr. Rybolovlev during the campaign or any other time,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The official continued: “No one was even aware of the plane until receiving a similar email about this yesterday. For a press corps so obsessed with evidence, proof and feigning a general disgust at even the hint of conspiracy, this is pretty rich.”
The speculation about possible preelection encounters between Trump and Rybolovlev had also been fueled by the fact that it wouldn’t have been their first. Rybolovlev, a multibillionaire who was an early investor in one of the world’s most lucrative fertilizer companies, bought a Palm Beach property from Trump for $95 million in 2008, two years after Trump had put it on the market for $125 million (after purchasing it for $41 million in 2004.)
Rybolovlev has never lived in the mansion and has since torn it down, but Chernitsyn said “there is every prospect that this investment will turn out to be profitable.”
Both Rybolovlev and Trump have insisted that they never met at any point during the historic transaction.
“The Rybolovlev family trust did acquire a property in Palm Beach from Mr Trump back in 2008, below the asking price, as an investment and following a process of negotiation,” Chernitsyn said. “Throughout the process of the trust’s purchase, Mr Rybolovlev had no personal contact with Mr Trump.”
The adviser sent a later statement to Business Insider commenting on Rybolevlev’s ties to Cyprus Bank, which was majority-owned by Wilbur Ross until this year. Ross, who was recently confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, bought out the Cypriot bank in 2014 from Russian oligarchs who had been accused of using it to move their money to offshore accounts.
“Following the 2013 bail in at Bank of Cyprus, Mr Rybolovlev’s previous shareholding in the bank was diluted to a very low level,” Chernitsyn said. “He has never met Wilbur Ross.”