Several news websites have reported that the investigation of wrongdoing involving Uranium One and Hillary Clinton bagged its first indictment.
Facebook users flagged a post from a site called Republican News as suspicious and possibly fake. The website’s Jan. 13 headline said, "First indictment issued in Russian bribery case tied to Obama-era Uranium One deal."
That post echoed similar reporting by the New York Post, which announced "there’s an indictment in the FBI probe of the Uranium One scandal," also on Jan. 13. The next day, The Hill repeated the Post report.
There was an indictment, but the Justice Department doesn’t tie it to the Uranium One deal.
Instead, the charges come out of a 2014 investigation of an American-based kickback scheme that defrauded millions of dollars from a subsidiary of the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom.
The kickback scheme and Rosatom's 2010 purchase of a controlling interest in the Canadian company Uranium One were entirely separate. The kickback plan locked in contracts for an American firm to import Russian uranium. The other deal involved buying Uranium One stock. They involved different Rosatom subsidiaries and different activities.
The news reports tied the two together, but none gave details on the connection.
"The DOJ handed down an indictment in the Uranium One deal," Republican News said. "THIS is what the media was trying so hard to cover-up."
But it provided no evidence.
Let’s unpack this.
Mark Lambert is the former co-president of Transport Logistics International, a Maryland company that arranged the transport of nuclear materials to the United States. According to the Jan. 12 indictment, between at least as early as 2009 and 2014, Lambert and his partner funneled money to a Russian official with Tenex, the company in charge of exporting Russian uranium.
Through an elaborate kickback scheme, the Maryland firm got the contracts to ship Russian uranium to the United States. Tenex paid handsomely for the firm’s services, and the Maryland firm shared some of the proceeds with the Russian official. In short, Tenex paid for the bribery.
Lambert’s indictment on Jan. 12, 2018, was just the most recent step in a long-running case against his company. That investigation made no mention of Uranium One.
In 2014, the Justice Department charged Lambert’s business partner, the Russian Tenex official and two others (including the wife of the business partner) with bribery, fraud and money laundering. All told, about $2.1 million ended up in overseas bank accounts controlled by the Russian.
For the record, the indictment of the Russian official said the scheme started in 2004. That’s six years before the Uranium One sale was on the table.
Lambert’s business partner and the Russian had pled guilty in 2015. The Russian is serving a two-year prison term, and the business partner is awaiting sentencing.
In 2010, the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom wanted to become the majority owner of the Canadian firm Uranium One. Uranium One had holdings in the United States, so the deal had to win approval by a number of state and federal agencies. That group included the State Department, then led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Our summary of the case gives plenty of details, but the gist is some of the owners of Uranium One had given millions to the Clinton Foundation. One in particular gave the foundation between $1.3 million and $5.6 million while the sale was under review.
On the 2016 campaign trail, candidate Donald Trump cast the donations as a payoff to grease the skids for approval.
There is no evidence that Clinton had a hand in the vetting process, an undertaking that involved eight federal offices in addition to the State Department.
Recently, Republicans have called for a fresh investigation of the matter. The Justice Department has made no official comment.
The department recently allowed an FBI informant in the Tenex bribery case to testify before a Senate committee investigating the Uranium One transaction. It is unknown what if anything new that informant might provide.
How does the recent indictment link to the Uranium One sale? Aside from the tie to Rosatom, not in any obvious way.
The Maryland firm was in cahoots with Vadim Mikerin, a Russian national who was the general director of Tenam USA, the American arm of Tenex. Tenex is a subsidiary of JSC Atomenergoprom, which in turn is a subsidiary of Rosatom.
Rosatom bought the controlling share in Uranium One through another subsidiary.
There is no evidence that the kickback scheme that defrauded Tenex overlapped with Rosatom’s efforts to buy Uranium One. None of the news reports that claimed a connection provided any evidence. In fact, the New York Post article incorrectly said, "The federal investigation grew from charges that the Obama administration covered up an FBI probe of the uranium business — and thus allowed the Russian firm Tenex to buy a stake in Uranium One."
But Tenex was not the buyer. As a subsidiary of Rosatom, its role was to export Russian uranium, a very different business activity. The Rosatom subsidiary that bought the stake in Uranium One was Atomredmetzoloto.
Law professor Michael Koehler at Southern Illinois University School of Law is an expert on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and has written about the Tenex prosecutions. He reviewed the indictment and saw no tie between the two matters.
"Last week’s case concerns the same core conduct the Justice Department brought action on in June 2015," Koehler said.
While any FBI investigation of the Uranium One deal lies behind a veil of secrecy at the department, Koehler said the idea that it might have spurred the latest indictment is "highly unlikely."
A website called Republican News said a recent bribery indictment is tied to the Uranium One deal. There was an indictment, but the Justice Department did not connect it to the sale of shares of Uranium One to Rosatom.
The indictment was the latest step in a 2014 investigation of a kickback scheme that defrauded a Rosatom subsidiary. That investigation had already secured two guilty pleas.
The reports that tied the indictment to Uranium One offered no evidence of a connection.
If new information from the Justice Department emerges, we’ll revisit this. But for now, we rate this claim False.