Indictment Charges Russian Oligarch with Plot to Bribe and Obtain Cannabis License in Nevada

A whirlwind of conspiracy stretching across several states indicates a plot to alter elections and illegally obtain cannabis licenses in Nevada and other locations.

According to an indictment, which was unsealed for the public by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York on March 14, a Russian oligarch colluded with American officials to allegedly score a cannabis license illegally in Nevada. According to federal prosecutors, the actions amount to illegal political campaign contributions.

Andrey Muraviev—who happens to be a Russian oligarch—was charged with violating federal campaign finance laws in 2018. Muraviev is accused of illegally funneling donations to former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt—with the perk of winning an adult-use cannabis business license in Nevada. Laxalt has been accused of bribery before.

The news arrives at a time when businesses of all types are cutting ties with Russian oligarchs, albeit for a different reason, as the Ukraine conflict brews up.

Muraviev is charged with conspiring with Lev Parnas, Ukrainian-born Andrey Kukushkin and Igor Fruman and others—all of whom were convicted at trial or have pleaded guilty to related crimes. 

The five are charged with concocting a plot to get $1 million from Muraviev, and then give donations to political campaigns to back-scratch political candidates who could in turn pull strings to help Muraviev and co-conspirators obtain licenses.

A representative of the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) told High Times that they just discussed this particular issue at a recent board meeting that took place last December. “Muraviev was a lender and creditor, and it is the Board’s responsibility to know where funds go,” Chair Dennis Neilander said at a December 14 Cannabis Compliance Board meeting. “In this case, the funds came from an individual who is known to have associated with some other individuals that committed serious crimes.” Most members of the Board agreed.

Miami Herald reports that the plot involved securing cannabis licenses in several states, but it ultimately fizzled out after Parnas and Fruman and two other associates failed to submit the required paperwork on time to obtain licenses in Nevada and elsewhere.

Muraviev gained wealth as the CEO of a Russian cement company and through his holdings in the Russian online payment company QIWI. He had already invested in several California-based cannabis operations before he connected with Parnas and Fruman.

Muraviev is believed to be in Russia and remains at large, prosecutors said.

Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced the unsealing in a press release.

“As alleged, Andrey Muraviev, a Russian national, attempted to influence the 2018 elections by conspiring to push a million dollars of his foreign funds to candidates and campaigns,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. “He attempted to corrupt our political system to advance his business interests. The Southern District of New York is committed to rooting out efforts by foreigners to interfere with our elections.”

The actions show that federal prosecutors will not tolerate illegal donations that are intended to alter elections.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll agreed, saying “as alleged, Muraviev, a Russian foreign national, made illegal political contributions and conspired with Parnas, Kukushkin and Fruman to obscure their true source. The money Muraviev injected into our political system, as alleged, was directed to politicians with views favorable to his business interests and those of his co-conspirators. As today’s action demonstrates, we will continue to aggressively pursue all those who seek to illegally affect our nation’s elections.”

The Nevada Independent reports that Parnas was found guilty last October on six counts related to funneling money into U.S. campaigns, and Laxalt testified at the trial, saying Parnas promised to hold a fundraiser that never took place. 

Fruman pleaded guilty to illegal foreign campaign contributions in September last year.

The post Indictment Charges Russian Oligarch with Plot to Bribe and Obtain Cannabis License in Nevada appeared first on High Times.

Source: Hightimes

Russia Extends Brittney Griner’s Detention by Two Months

WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner will be held in a Russian prison on charges of possessing cannabis vape cartridges until May, according to information provided by the state media outlet on Thursday. Griner was taken into custody last month at an airport near Moscow after customs officials reportedly found the cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage. The Olympic gold medalist has been detained in Russia since her arrest.

On Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that the Khimki City Court of the Moscow region had ruled to detain Griner for at least two more months as the case is investigated, according to a report from the Daily Mail.

“The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of U.S. citizen Griner’s detention until May 19,” the court ruled.

Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center and has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team twice.

Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for Phoenix. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.

WNBA Star Arrested Last Month

The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. Griner was not identified by name and the date of the arrest was not specified. The customs service also released a video that appears to depict Griner making her way through an airport security checkpoint.

TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February. After news of the arrest broke, the WNBA and the players’ union expressed support for the star player.

“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league said in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.

TASS reported on Thursday that Griner is being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights watchdog group Public Monitoring Commission, a semi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.

Kalugina further reported that Griner has accepted her detention and was being held in a cell with two other women with no prior convictions who are also being held on drug-related charges. Griner’s only issue, she said, was that the prison’s beds are too small for the 6’9” basketball star.

“The beds in the cell are clearly designed for a shorter person,” Kalugina told TASS.

The human rights worker also said that U.S. authorities have not yet visited Griner in Russia, which invaded its neighbor Ukraine on February 24, plunging the region into a humanitarian and diplomatic crisis.

“In addition, for an unknown reason, the U.S. consul does not come to [see Griner], although the administration of the pre-trial detention center is ready to create all conditions for a visit,” TASS quoted Kalugina as saying.

Griner’s time in custody is being made easier by the women being held with her, the report continued.

“[Griner’s cellmates] also had no previous convictions and are charged with drug-related [offenses],” said Kalugina. “They speak English and help Griner communicate with the prison administration.”

“They helped her order books: she reads F. M. Dostoevsky and [a] biography of the members of the Rolling Stones,” she continued.

Uproar Over Griner’s Arrest

Griner’s arrest has led to an outcry from politicians and celebrities around the globe. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the basketball star’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into the circumstances of Griner’s arrest.

“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”

American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian was detained in Tehran by the Iranian government in 2014 and held in a notorious prison for 544 days, finally being released in 2016. He said that he sees similarities in his case and Griner’s.

“It’s the most audacious hostage taking by a state imaginable,” Rezaian told CNN. “I know from my own case that the supposed charges against me were not based in anything like reality, and they were used to perpetuate a narrative about why I was being held.”

The post Russia Extends Brittney Griner’s Detention by Two Months appeared first on High Times.

Source: Hightimes