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Aide Helped Controversial Russian Meet McCain

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has been suspected of having ties to organized crime.
Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has been suspected of having ties to organized crime. (By Dmitry Beliakov -- Bloomberg News)
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Last summer, a power struggle broke out in the McCain campaign after it ran short of money. Many staffers were dismissed, but Davis survived the purge.

The work of Davis's firm put him on the opposite side of Eastern European politics from McCain, who has spoken out vigorously against what he sees as Putin's attempts to subvert elections in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine.

Davis's firm provided political advice to a pro-Russian party in Ukraine during the parliamentary elections of 2006. McCain, on the other hand, backed President Viktor Yushchenko, a Western-oriented reformer who led 2004's Orange Revolution, which overturned what he and his allies considered an election stolen by the party helped by Davis's firm. McCain visited Ukraine to boost Yushchenko after he won a new election and even nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Deripaska, 40, a former metals trader, is No. 40 on Forbes's billionaires list as owner of two-thirds of the world's largest aluminum producer. He has been accused of shady business practices in lawsuits in the United States and Britain, and his multiple-entry U.S. visa was yanked by the State Department in the summer of 2006.

One source familiar with the decision said it was made because of concerns about Deripaska's business dealings in Russia.

The Wall Street Journal has linked Deripaska's entry ban to concerns that he might have ties to organized crime in Russia, but Deripaska has denied any such links. "He's not the nicest in terms of law abidance," said Anders Aslund, a Russian expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, based in Washington. "But he is by no means among the worst."

E-mails to Deripaska's office asking about his meetings with McCain went unanswered. His attorney in Washington declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Deripaska in London.

The first gathering that brought McCain and Deripaska together occurred in January 2006, when McCain was part of a congressional delegation trip. He and a small group of senators, including Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), met for a drink near Davos, Switzerland, at an apartment where they were greeted by Davis and Deripaska. The group then went to a dinner at the ski chalet of Peter Munk, founder of Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold-mining company, based in Toronto. Participants at the buffet dinner said Munk complimented his sometime business partner Deripaska during his brief remarks to the 40 or so guests.

Later that month, Deripaska wrote to Davis and his partner, GOP political consultant Paul J. Manafort, to thank them for arranging the meeting. "Thank you so much for setting up everything in Klosters so spectacularly," he wrote. "It was very interesting to meet Senators McCain, Chambliss and Sununu in such an intimate setting."

The letter went on to mention a business deal that Deripaska and the consultants had apparently been talking about. "Please will you send me the information on the metals trading company we discussed and would be happy to see if I can do anything to help," Deripaska wrote.

The letter was sent to Davis at the Reform Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit group that McCain helped start to promote many of his trademark reform efforts, including increasing the transparency of lobbying and campaign financing.

Davis was the institute's president from January 2003 until December 2005. During that time, he was also a registered lobbyist at Davis Manafort. The institute was located at the Davis Manafort offices until January 2006.

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