The FBI is scrutinizing 60 wire transfers, most of which contained memo lines about financing the 2016 election, from the Russian foreign ministry to the country's embassies, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday.
The transactions moved between Citibank accounts in almost 60 countries and totaled $380,000. It isn't clear what the money was used for.
Citibank launched an investigation after discovering an Aug. 3 transfer of $30,000 from the Russian foreign ministry to Russia's embassy in Washington, D.C. It had the memo line "to finance election campaign of 2016." The bank ultimately found dozens of transfers with similar memo lines sent to countries ranging from Afghanistan to Nigeria. At least one transfer involved VTB Bank, a Kremlin-controlled financial institution that's been sanctioned by the U.S.
Citibank spokesperson Jennifer Lowney said the financial institution is "diligent" in reporting suspicious transfers but that "given the confidential nature of these reports, we do not comment on or confirm any particular report or transaction."
BuzzFeed points out that seven countries held elections in 2016, including Russia for the lower house of parliament, and Russian embassies operated polling stations for citizens living abroad. But the FBI is now investigating if and how any of the money was used in the U.S. election.
“We had an election and the intelligence community concluded Russia interfered in it,” an FBI agent told BuzzFeed. “How could we not investigate a suspicious financial transaction that contained a memo that said, ‘finance election campaign 2016?’ Given the climate and what was in that memo line it would be very irresponsible for us not to investigate. It’s a good lead.”
Three Congressional committees are conducting investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential vote. Information on the transfers was provided to them by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. The Senate Intelligence Committee committee asked FinCEN for “any actions” the agency took to support investigations of individuals and businesses with ties to Russia, any documents it sent to the FBI, and any requests for information it sent to banks. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also requested information on VTB Bank from the Treasury Department.