A six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 by then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the trip arrangements.
DeLay reported that the trip was sponsored by a Washington-based nonprofit organization. But interviews with those involved in planning DeLay's trip say the expenses were covered by a company registered in the Bahamas that also paid for an intensive $440,000 lobbying campaign.
It is unclear how the money was transferred from the Bahamian-registered company to the nonprofit.
The expense-paid trip by DeLay and four of his staff members cost $57,238, according to records filed by his office. In Moscow, he played golf, met with Russian church leaders and talked to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a friend of Russian oil and gas executives associated with the lobbying effort.
DeLay also dined with the Russian executives and two Washington-based registered lobbyists for the Bahamian-registered company, sources say. One of those lobbyists was Jack Abramoff, who is now at the center of a federal probe related to his representation of Indian tribes.
Travel funds did not come directly from lobbyists; the money came from a firm, Chelsea Commercial Enterprises Ltd., that funded the lobbying campaign, according to the sources. Chelsea was coordinating the effort with a Russian oil and gas company -- Naftasib -- that has business ties with Russian security institutions, the sources said.
Aides to DeLay, who is now the House majority leader, said that DeLay thought the nonprofit organization -- the National Center for Public Policy Research -- was funding the trip on its own.
-- R. Jeffrey Smith
and James V. Grimaldi