Four wealthy Russians take more specific exception to the dossier: They say they were libeled.
In four separate lawsuits filed as recently as April, the Russians sued Steele and BuzzFeed, the online news outlet that published the memos in January 2017. Three of the Russians — all owners of a Moscow-based financial-industrial conglomerate called Alfa Group — also have sued Fusion GPS, the research company that enlisted Steele under a contract with a law firm connected to the Democrats.
Russian tech entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev and the Alfa Group’s owners — Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan — all say they had nothing to do with the events described in the dossier. In cases playing out in state, federal and British courts, they say they took unfair hits to their reputations.
The four men are named in two separate Steele memos, both of which are seemingly out of alignment with the rest of the dossier, as their legal teams have stressed in court filings.
Their questionable relevance raises the possibility that they were motivated by someone with a different agenda who perhaps fed false information to the former spy. Indeed, Gubarev’s lawyer has repeatedly suggested his client might have been framed by a competitor or someone looking for a scapegoat in the computer business.
In the Alfa Group memo, the billionaire owners were said to perform unspecified political favors for Putin. Fridman and Aven allegedly sent “large amounts of illicit cash” to Putin in the 1990s when he was still a city official in St. Petersburg.
The Gubarev memo said his business “had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data” in an operation against Democratic Party leaders. He was purported to have been recruited under duress by Russian security agents.
Any actions ascribed to the four Russians have never been independently confirmed by official investigations or authoritative news reports.
The Alfa Group owners do have ties to the Kremlin. Aven is a former Russian foreign trade minister, and Fridman has been said to be close to Putin. Like Fridman, Khan is Ukrainian-born and one of the original founders of the Alfa Group. However, their financial and industrial empire has also waged bare-fisted battles with other powerful Russian interests, leaving adversaries who might want to take them down.
Gubarev, who lives in Cyprus, also is a possible target for scapegoating as the owner of a Luxembourg-based digital services business with thousands of customers, subsidiaries around the world, and business relationships in Russia, the U.S. and elsewhere.
Unlike the other memos, Steele’s Alfa Group write-up concentrates on internal Russian affairs, with no direct connection to the U.S. election. The only tie is an unsupported inference in the memo’s heading that it somehow involves the topic of “Russia/US Presidential Election.”
“Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven and Mr. Khan have absolutely nothing to do, in any way, with the issue that is the theme of the dossier — alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign,” the trio’s lawyer, Alan Lewis, said in an interview.
Oddly, the memo about Gubarev is dated five weeks after the election.
“Why the heck did he even bother to continue writing this stuff?” Gubarev’s lawyer, Valentin Gurvits, asked in an interview.
Steele has said the Gubarev memo came from unsolicited details that continued to trickle in after Trump’s election, and his lawyers have acknowledged that the memo “needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified.”
BuzzFeed has issued an apology for publishing Gubarev’s name and redacted it in response to his complaints.
Representatives for both Steele and Fusion GPS chief executive Glenn Simpson declined to comment for this story.