Who is Oleg Deripaska? Paul Manafort Allegedly Worked With Russian Magnate to Advance Putin's Interests

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Russian tycoon and President of RUSAL Oleg Deripaska gestures during the Regions in Transformation: Eurasia event in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 22, 2015. Ruben Sprich/Reuters

A Russian aluminum magnate is now at the center of a major U.S. political controversy. The Associated Press exclusively reported Wednesday that Paul Manafort, former campaign head for President Donald Trump, worked with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to advance the interests of the Kremlin. Deripaska, estimated by Forbes to be worth $5.1 billion, is a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The 49-year-old Deripaska runs Basic Element Co., which employs some 200,000 people globally across a number of industries. In a profile of the billionaire in 2011, Canada's Globe and Mail called the Russian oligarch "Putin's [favorite] industrialist."

Deripaska brought Rusal, a major Russian aluminum company, back from the brink of failure in 2008 by persuading banks to let him keep control of the massive enterprise.

"The deal was very simple," he told the Globe and Mail. "We never tried to screw the banks. I said 'You keep the debt and I will manage the company and deliver for you.'"

Others have pointed out, however, that Deripaska's connections in the Kremlin might have landed him a massive bailout loan that allowed Rusal to survive foreign debts. 

This month, in an interview with CNBC, the tycoon said Trump's relationship with Moscow might not prove as rosy as some might think. "We all tend to believe [in this] kind of fairytale but there is a reality... You know Trump and his administration needs to prove that they would be capable to change [the] economic reality in the U.S.," Deripaska told CNBC.

It was alleged in the Associated Press story Wednesday that Deripaska paid Manafort some $10 million annually starting in 2006. The business relationship lasted through at least 2009, a source told the AP. The former Trump campaign chairman reportedly worked to influence politics, business dealings and the media to benefit Putin's interests. 

"We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote in a 2005 memo to Deripaska, according to the AP.

Manafort rejected the allegations in the AP story, telling the wire service that his work had been  inaccurately presented as "inappropriate or nefarious." 

Manafort was let go from the Trump campaign in August after it was revealed he had covertly lobbied for pro-Russia interests in Ukraine. 

Amid numerous alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, FBI Director James Comey said this week the bureau was investigating if the Republican's campaign colluded with Russia. The intelligence community has already assessed that the Kremlin, through hacks and a so-called influence campaign, worked to get Trump elected. 

Recently, the White House has tried to distance itself from Manafort, claiming the former campaign chairman had little to do with Trump. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this week that Manafort played a "limited role [in the campaign] for a very limited amount of time."