On Tuesday, Mother Jones published a lengthy investigation about a mysterious Russian-linked firm that hired a former Trump campaign aide named Nick Muzin to work in the United States to help the right-wing Democratic Party of Albania during the country’s 2017 parliamentary elections. The story zeroed in on Biniatta Trade, a Scotland-based shell company that paid Muzin $150,000, and perhaps more, to help the DPA and its chairman, Lulzim Basha. According to corporate filings in the United Kingdom, the two Belize-based shell companies that created Biniatta Trade were linked to other firms controlled by Russian nationals. It was a complicated trail, and here’s a chart to help explain what Mother Jones uncovered:
The bottom-line question was this: Did Russians use the political system in the US to meddle in Albanian politics?
We tried to track down these Russian-linked companies and their representatives—examining Russian corporate records, sending a reporter to several addresses in Moscow, and calling and emailing entities and individuals in Russia, Ukraine, Canada, and the United States. We never obtained a complete answer. But our question hit a nerve. Over the last two days, several media outlets in Albania reprinted pieces of our story, as Albanian politicians and the Russian embassy in Tirana denounced the article—and Mother Jones.
The Democratic Party of Albania issued a statement alleging that the ruling Socialist Party paid Mother Jones, which it called “second-hand media,” to “forge facts.” The DPA’s statement denied any ties to Russian-linked shell companies. “The Democratic Party has not had and has no direct or indirect links with Russian individuals or companies,” said the party. Yet records filed with the US Justice Department state that Biniatta Trade paid Muzin, the lobbyist, to do work on behalf of the DPA.
In a statement to the independent Albanian newspaper, Shqiptarja, Mother Jones said, “The charge that Mother Jones received payment from Edi Rama for publishing this article is absurd. We never accept payment for an investigation under any circumstances and certainly did not in this case.”
Soon, Shqiptarja interviewed the reporters who worked on the piece, landing us on the front page:
— Muhamed Veliu (@MuhamedVeliu) March 8, 2018
Controversy over the story has continued. One publication alleged Mother Jones coverage was biased because it has received $1.16 million in donations from Democratic donor George Soros. (Mother Jones has not received support from any of Soros’ organizations in years, and when it did the amount was far less than this.) One DPA member currently serving in Albanian parliament wrote on Facebook that Mother Jones must be tied to US socialists—implying the magazine was in the bag for the governing Socialist Party of Albanian—because the magazine’s namesake, Mary Harris Jones, was a labor leader tied to the American socialist movement in the early 20th century.
And the Russian embassy in Tirana joined in. The article did not report any Russian government connection to these shell companies. But the embassy issued a statement saying the story “alleged Russian interference in the parliamentary elections of 2017.” It then blasted the piece as “unworthy of detailed comments” and part of a “dirty news campaign unleashed against Russia by Western media.” The embassy added: “We emphasize that, unlike a number of Western states, Russia firmly adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, including Albania.”
The Russian embassy urged the Albanian press to dispute the story: “We also express hope that the opinion of the American authors does not coincide with the position of newsrooms among Albanian media that reprinted the opus.”
Image and chart credits: Getty Images; Chris Kleponis/CNP/ZUMA; Twitter; Jodi Hilton/NurPhoto/ZUMA; DPA/Facebook