Russian state-controlled VTB Bank put $191 million into Twitter in 2011. Around the same time, a branch of Gazprom, the Russian government’s oil and gas company, made an investment into Facebook that ended up being worth about $1 billion. Both investments were made through entities run by Russian investor Yuri Milner, who himself has invested in Jared Kushner‘s company, Cadre, according to a report from The Guardian.
The information comes from a collection of leaked documents known as the “Paradise Papers,” that The Guardian and other outlets have been investigating. Milner claims that VTB’s money did not give them any influence of Twitter, and that Gazprom didn’t even know that their money was going into Facebook. Still, he does not deny that the Russian organizations, that are now the targets of U.S. sanctions, held stakes in the American social media giants.
The investments for the Russian bodies were done by Milner’s organization, DST Global, to which the state-backed firms invested their money. Whether they had any relationships with the social media companies or not has yet to be determined. Sources told The Guardian that after Facebook performed a review of Russian investments before the company’s 2012 IPO, they could not make any definitive conclusions about the nature of these investments and if they were meant to be political, or just money-making ventures.
Nevertheless, Vanessa Chan, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the investment backed by Gazprom was sold five years ago, after Facebook went public. Both Chan and a Twitter rep said that their respective companies performed their due diligence on investors.
Milner, on the other hand, has developed a friendship over the years with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, with the two advising each other’s charitable endeavors, and Zuckerberg attending Milner’s wedding in 2011.
Milner explained that the way DST Global’s investments worked, is that only DST Global had a say over where investment money would go, and that the the funders who backed the investments were not disclosed to the companies that received them. Additionally, he claimed that the investors themselves were only given barebones updates.
While current information cannot point to specific evidence that these investments were politically nefarious, the timing of the report makes the information noteworthy, amid reports of Russian use of advertising space on social media platforms.
As far as the Kushner connection?
Milner insists that he is not an “associate” of Kushner. While he admits to investing in Cadre, he says it was only for business purposes, and nothing political.
“I just thought it was an attractive opportunity,” he said. “I’m not involved in any political activity. I’m not funding any political activity.”
He claims he has met Kushner, but only once over drinks in 2016.
The nature of Milner’s investment in Cadre, however, has been reported in different ways by Cadre itself. A press release in June said the investment was from DST, but Cadre’s website said it was directly from Milner.
Cadre has been the source of other controversy for Kushner in the past. In July, Kushner was slapped with an ethics complaint for allegedly failing to disclose his interest in Cadre in his public financial disclosure statement.
[Image via CNN screengrab]