New evidence calls into question Psy Group ownership on multiple fronts
A pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch who is directly tied to the Trump Tower Toronto project used the parent company of Psy Group, according to foreign news reports and an analysis of corporate documents from Ukraine, Israel, Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, and other nations.
Separately, a former director in the corporate structure of Psy Group is casting doubt on the notion that Joel Zamel is the ultimate owner of the intelligence-gathering and social media manipulation company.
These two episodes are shining new light on why federal investigators probed the money flow behind the group.
Psy Group was an Israeli-based company whose CEO Joel Zamel pitched the Trump campaign numerous times on Psy Group’s ability to help Trump get elected. The August 2016 Trump Tower meeting included Zamel, Donald Trump Jr, Erik Prince, and George Nader. Deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates previously sought proposals from Psy Group to aid the Trump campaign by creating fake profiles online and boosting Trump’s image.
After the election, Nader paid Zamel approximately $2,000,000 for reasons that are currently unclear. Nader, through his representatives, believes that Psy Group may have indeed gone through with a plan to boost Trump, whereas Zamel and his team deny the allegation.
“Mr. Nader and Mr. Zamel have given differing accounts over whether Mr. Zamel ultimately carried out the social media effort to help the Trump campaign and why Mr. Nader paid him $2 million” reported the New York Times in a 2018 article.
Psy Group structure
The structure of Psy Group as of the August 2016 Trump Tower meeting, as seen above and exclusively reported on in 2018, runs through at least four countries. The Daily Beast reported in February that Salix Services had come under scrutiny in the Mueller probe for their management of Psy Group.
Six weeks prior to the meeting, Zamel was in Russia at the country’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the New Yorker reported last month. Zamel was allegedly looking for funding. Days after his trip to Russia, the ownership of Psy Group changed to a Russian-connected shell company in the British Virgin Islands (more below).
A previous investigative piece found that Protexer Limited, as seen in the chart above as the parent company of Psy Group, was also the parent company for a business owned by a Russian billionaire, Mikhail Slipenchuk.
Now, it can be reported that another Soviet-born man, Vasyl Khmelnytsky, used Protexer Limited in his business as well. Multiple reports in mid-2018 revealed that the corporate structure of Khmelnytsky’s UFuture Investment Group included Cypriot and British Virgin Islands companies, including Protexer Limited.
Khmelnytsky is a Ukrainian multi-millionaire who happens to be longtime business partners with the developers of Trump Tower Toronto, Alex Shnaider and Eduard Shifrin. That project, it was later revealed, was largely funded by the Russian state-owned bank VEB.
The connection between Khmelnytsky and Protexer Limited, the parent company of Psy Group, further raises questions about the true ownership and funding of the Israel-centered intelligence company.
Additionally, exclusively obtained documents show that Psy Group ran an operation in 2017 that targeted Ukrainian anti-corruption activists.
The operation, targeting at least two anti-corruption activists, appears to have resulted in the creation of two YouTube videos. The videos, which remain active with a combined 20,000 views, allege that the activists are under investigation for financial misconduct and/or allege ties to the United States embassy.
A full report on the Ukrainian operation, including the exclusive documentation, will be published in the near future.
Why Psy Group would target anti-corruption officials in Ukraine remains a mystery. It remained a possibility that Psy Group was hired by a client to conduct this activity.
It was also revealed in 2018 that Protexer Limited was directly in business with a subsidiary of the Russian-state controlled Gazprombank. With the addition of Khmelnytsky and Slipenchuk, Protexer Limited appeared flush with Ukrainian and Russian money at the same time that Psy Group (at the time owned by Protexer Limited) pitched its spy-like services to the Trump campaign.
Though the bank accounts of Protexer Limited are inaccessible without subpoena power, the businessmen that used the company offer some clues. At the very least, Psy Group’s parent company was flush with Russian and Ukrainian cash.
Before Protexer Limited took ownership in 2016, Psy Group was ultimately owned by a Panamanian company, Cornell Enterprises. Exclusive documents acquired from Panama show that Cornell Enterprises was being run by Judith Hamburger, Urs Meisterhans, and Michel Vonlanthen. Hamburger and Vonlanthen did not return requests for comment.
Meisterhans, however, offered an intruging detail about who was behind Cornell Enterprises. When asked for comment about the topic, Meisterhans made clear that he understood that an “elderly Israeli-American” was the ultimate owner of Cornell Enterprises, and thus Psy Group until 2016.
When asked if he could provide a name or any more information, Meisterhans said that he and Hamburger would only respond to law enforcement officials should they be asked, something that has not happened per Meisterhans.
Joel Zamel, the Psy Group CEO who multiple media outlets have named as the owner of the company, is neither elderly nor an American.
For now, it remains unclear if Mueller wrote about Psy Group in his report recently delivered to Attorney General William Barr.
At least two former business partners of Erik Prince indicated that the US Attorney’s office in DC had an open investigation into Prince, though it wasn’t clear if the investigation pertained to Psy Group or if it originated with Mueller.
Prince, whose House Intelligence testimony is riddled with lies, half-truths, and complete omissions, has been under the scope of investigators for months. In 2018, Mueller seized Prince’s electronic devices and questioned him at length, though it appears that Prince has escaped charges in the Mueller investigation.
The US Attorney in DC and representatives for Nader, Prince, and Zamel did not respond to requests for comment.
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