Cohen allegedly paid by Russian oligarch

US lawyer Michael Avenatti says a Russian oligarch paid $US500,000 to Donald Trump’s former lawyer.The lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims being paid $US130,000 by Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for US President Trump, to stay quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump, says Cohen received $US500,000 from a Russian billionaire in the months after the 2016 US election.

In a tweet and report released on Tuesday, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti said a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, sent the payment to Cohen.

Reuters could not immediately verify the claim and it was not clear how Avenatti would have knowledge of any payment from Vekselberg to Cohen. Cohen and Avenatti did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

Avenatti said Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, made eight transfers to Cohen between January and August 2017 through a company called Columbus Nova LLC for a total of $US500,000.

Columbus Nova is a US investment arm of Renova Group, a conglomerate controlled by Vekselberg. Both Vekselberg and Renova were hit last month by US sanctions for suspected meddling in the 2016 US election and other alleged “malign activity.”

Vekselberg and Intrater could not be immediately reached for comment. An executive at Columbus Nova did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported last week that Vekselberg was questioned by agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year, as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.

Avenatti also said he discovered four payments of just under $US100,000 each by drugmaker Novartis to Essential Consultants, the same company used by Cohen to make payments to Daniels. Novartis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.