Enemies of Hillary Clinton waiting to discredit her bid for the White House are likely to seize on news that one of the biggest benefactors to the Clinton Foundation has been trading with Iran and may be in breach of US sanctions imposed on the country.
Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, 54, has courted the Clintons for at least nine years – in the United States, the Alps and Ukraine.
Earlier this year, he was confirmed as the largest individual contributor to the Clinton Foundation, whose aims include the creation of “economic opportunity and growth”. He also has links to the Tony Blair Foundation and represented its biggest single donor in 2013.
The fourth richest man in Ukraine, Pinchuk owns Interpipe Group, a Cyprus-incorporated manufacturer of seamless pipes used in oil and gas sectors.
Newsweek has seen declarations and documents from Ukraine that show a series of shipments from Interpipe to Iran in 2011 and 2012, including railway parts and products commonly used in the oil and gas sectors.
Among a number of high-value invoices for products related to rail or oil and gas, one shipment for $1.8m (1.7m) in May 2012 was for “seamless hot-worked steel pipes for pipelines” and destined for a city near the Caspian Sea.
Both the rail and oil and gas sectors are sanctioned by the US, which specifically prohibits any single invoice to the Iranian petrochemical industry worth more than $1m.
However, US sanctions laws are complex and, in certain areas, ill-defined. Interpipe may qualify for penalties due to the mere presence on American soil of North American Interpipe Inc, its United States subsidiary.
The US authorities can also penalise non-American companies with no base in the US at all which it judges to be working counter to its foreign policy, as happened to Zhuhai Zhenrong, a Chinese oil company, in 2012.
Being denied access to US markets and the US banking system could prove catastrophic to Interpipe, given that accountancy giant Ernst & Young has raised questions over its viability.
The person in charge of this list of non-US companies is the Secretary of State, who between 2009 to 2013 – the period during which Pinchuk’s company was trading with Iran – was Hillary Clinton.
In November 2014, the now-retired Republican congressman, Steve Stockman, wrote to the US Department of the Treasury, questioning Interpipe’s dealings with Iran.
Newsweek has seen a copy of that letter, in which Stockman refers to a “body of evidence” detailing “exports from Interpipe to Iranian entities” that “may have contravened US sanctions to Iran”.
Pinchuk is considered to be one of the world’s foremost collectors of contemporary art. He counts Sir Elton John and Bill Clinton among his close friends and the Ukrainian owns a house in central London, which he bought for a record-breaking £80m.
Pinchuk became particularly friendly with Bill Clinton. In 2010, he invited the former president to his 50th birthday party in the French ski resort of Courchevel. In return, Pinchuk attended Clinton’s 65th in 2011, and was a guest at the inauguration of Clinton’s Presidential Library. The Clintons spoke at Pinchuk’s Yalta European Strategy conference, which seeks integration between Ukraine and Europe.
Both Interpipe and the office of Victor Pinchuk deny violating the regime of sanctions placed on Iran.
This article was updated to include a response from Interpipe and the office of Victor Pinchuk.