Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on March 14, 2017. It involves Cambridge Analytica part-owner Robert Mercer.
The coincidences are piling up.
Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev last week disavowed any contact with President Donald Trump.
But speculation again was stoked when his state-of-the-art yacht Anna sat anchored in the British Virgin Islands on Friday night and another equally resplendent luxury liner, the Sea Owl, sidled up, according to a website that tracks the movement of yachts.
The owner of the dark-hulled yacht? President Donald Trump’s biggest financial supporter and Breitbart News moneyman, Robert Mercer.
Rybolovlev has repeatedly said he has never met Trump or had any dealings with anyone in his campaign. The oligarch did purchase a Palm Beach mansion from the developer in 2008 through a family trust, Rybolovlev’s spokespeople say.
Within days of the election, Trump’s and Rybolovlev’s jets were parked on the airport apron in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 3. Trump had a campaign rally that day in Concord, N.C. Rybolovlev said he was there for business.
Since the CIA and FBI said Russia launched a campaign to interfere with the U.S. election in an attempt to benefit Trump, ties between one of America’s longtime nemeses and the president have surfaced on several fronts, including Rybolovlev.
Russia is the top suspect in hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which were released through WikiLeaks.
The president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former campaign adviser Carter Page all have had interactions with Russian officials. Trump has business ties with Russians who developed properties with him in Fort Lauderdale and New York.
There is also a possible connection through Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has part ownership in the Bank of Cyprus, which has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rybolovlev also owned shares in the bank. Ross also has a home on Palm Beach where Trump owns Mar-a-lago, now dubbed the Winter White House.
Then there is the Deutsche Bank connection. The former CEO now runs the Bank of Cyprus. Deutsche Bank is Trump’s top creditor to the tune of about $300 million. Deutsche just paid $425 million in fines to the state of New York for laundering $10 billion in Russian money.
Now one of the president’s chief financial backers during the campaign has been spotted within one-tenth of a nautical mile of oligarch Rybolovlev in the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean. The yachts stayed near each other on Saturday then later motored away from each other, but were in the same vicinity during the weekend.
A source provided The Palm Beach Post photos of Mercer’s Sea Owl and Rybolovlev’s Anna anchored off the North Sound near Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. One photo shows the two yachts separated only by a few sailing vessels between them.
The two vessels were a couple hundred feet away from each other on Friday and about 1,000 feet apart as late as Monday, according to data from www.marinetraffic.com obtained by the Palm Beach Post.
Besides taking photos of the boats up close and from a distance, the source did not reveal any other information or the motivation in reaching out to The Post. Neither Rybolovlev or Mercer were observed on the vessels.
“Mr. Rybolovlev has never met Robert Mercer and has no relationship with him whatsoever,” said Brian Cattell, the oligarch’s spokesman, said Tuesday.
A staffer at Mercer’s residence in Suffolk County, N.Y., answered the phone and took a message, but no call was returned for comment.
How important was Mercer to Trump being elected president? He supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, before throwing his support to Trump.
Along with Mercer’s support came Stephen Bannon, the man who ran the right-wing website Breitbart News. Bannon took over Trump’s campaign and engineered the biggest upset in American politics in decades. Now Bannon serves as chief strategist to President Trump.
Cattell, Rybolovlev’s spokesman, used to write for Breitbart. He said he never met Mercer.
Rybolovlev’s known tie to Trump is the purchase of a 62,000-square-foot mansion in 2008 on North County Road in Palm Beach for $95 million, the highest price paid at the time for a residence in the U.S.
The oligarch’s jet showed up in places where Trump just happened to be campaigning. This past week, for the first time, Rybolovlev through a spokesman said he and his plane did share the airport apron at the same time as Trump in Charlotte, N.C., but it was purely coincidental.
“Particular attention has been focused on a trip made by Mr. Rybolovlev to North Carolina,” said Sergey Chernitsyn, an adviser to Dmitry Rybolovlev. “He was in North Carolina for a business meeting and we can state categorically that he did not have any contact with Mr. Trump or any of his advisers at the time he was there.”
The statement did not address the time Rybolovlev’s plane touched down for an hour in Las Vegas just 37 minutes after Trump’s plane had departed on Oct. 30, 2016, according to flight data analyzed by The Post*. Also, he did not address why his plane was in Miami on the weekend of Feb. 11 when Trump was at Mar-a-Lago entertaining the Japanese prime minister.
Now enter Robert Mercer, who along with his daughter Rebekah, have supported right-wing causes, whether it be Breitbart or Super PACS, including Make America Number 1, which supported Cruz before getting behind Trump.
In December, Trump, Bannon and senior aide Kellyanne Conway attended a lavish Christmas costume party Heroes and Villains at the Mercers’ Long Island family estate.
Mercer worked for IBM for two decades before getting wealthy when he joined the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.
The political clout, though, tends to be wielded through his daughter, Rebekah. Politco in November reported that she was playing a major role in shaping Trump’s administration.
Cattell, Rybolovlev’s spokesman, said the oligarch did not know Mercer’s daughter.
The Mercers have poured at least $1.4 million into organizations that cast doubt on climate change science and $34.6 million to 30 conservative non-profits from 2011-2014, according to Politico.
This past month, the Guardian profiled Robert Mercer, noting he had a $10 million stake in Cambridge Analytica, that specializes in “psyops” — “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operation.”
Also reportedly on the board of Cambridge Analytica: Steve Bannon.
The company can psychologically analyze Facebook users — reportedly without their knowledge — based on their activity.
“We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win,” Alexander James Ashburner Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, said after the election.
* An earlier version of this story said: The two planes were also in Las Vegas at the same time in October.
Reporter Mike Stucka and staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.