Senior U.S. Democrat seeks to delay lifting of sanctions on Russian firms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday he would ask the Treasury Department to delay the lifting of sanctions on companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska until Feb. 28 to give Congress time to review the decision.

FILE PHOTO: House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) leaves after a closed intelligence briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel on the death of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters he would call Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday and ask him for the delay.

Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal, its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed on Russian entities since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Deripaska himself would remain subject to U.S. sanctions.

Mnuchin was to meet with Republican senators to discuss the sanctions action ahead of a vote on Tuesday on whether to advance a resolution of disapproval that would leave the sanctions in place.

“Why is the Trump administration proposing sanctions relief when President Putin has not yet made any move to curtail or contain his malevolent activities around the globe?” asked Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who forced the vote.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Schumer’s resolution as “a stunt and a farce.”

Hoyer introduced a similar measure in the House on Tuesday, although there was no immediate word on when, or whether, the chamber would vote on the measure.

“Mr. Deripaska has been key to much of the malign activities Russia directs against the United States, and the Congress must protect the American people against foreign interference and corruption,” Hoyer said.

Treasury officials did not respond to a request for comment on Hoyer’s statement.

The measure is unlikely to pass given that President Donald Trump’s Republicans have a majority in the Senate and are expected to support his policy. And if it were to pass the Congress, Trump would likely issue a veto.

Schumer said the timing of the sanctions decision was inappropriate in light of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 contest and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Deripaska had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have shown. Manafort is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the United States and agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.

Deripaska agreed to pare back his controlling stakes in the companies, but Schumer said he still retains too much influence on them and has also argued that easing the sanctions would boost Russia’s economy.

Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by David Alexander and Paul Simao

Heard from feeds.reuters.com/~r/Reuters/PoliticsNews/~3/E2o8smFfGZc/senior-u-s-democrat-seeks-to-delay-lifting-of-sanctions-on-russian-firms-idUSKCN1P921A

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