A Korean aircraft company was just dragged into Trump and Cohen’s pay-for-play scandal

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A South Korean aircraft manufacturer trying to win a contract from the U.S. Air Force has been caught in the web of murky consulting deals that President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen made as he moved from being a lawyer to being the president’s personal unregistered lobbyist. 

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Korea Aerospace Industries has confirmed it paid Cohen’s secretive shell corporation Essential Consulting about $150,000 last November. 

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Korea Aerospace is making a joint bid with U.S. aircraft company Lockheed Martin for an Air Force contract for the Advanced Pillot Training project – building airplanes to be used to train pilots and crews – that could be worth as much as $16.3 billion. 

They build the T-50 trainer jet, of which the Air Force is expected to order 350 planes, according to Reuters. 

A South Korean think tank, the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, said the joint bid was “well placed” to receive the contract, which will be awarded later this year, reports Business Insider.

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Korea Aerospace is backed financially by South Korea’s Export-Import Bank, which means it is officially tied to the South Korean government.  

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Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels, leaked information yesterday which showed Korea Aerospace was one of several clients of Cohen’s.

Avenatti has suggested the clients were trying to buy access to President Trump, but Korean Aerospace would only say that it was paying for “legal consulting concerning accounting standards on production costs.”

The firm said the money was paid at the end of the contract it had with Cohen.

A spokesman for Korea Aerospace refused to say exactly what services it got from Essential Consulting but did say it has never been contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or his investigators about its dealings with Cohen.

Korean Aerospace, the only aircraft manufacturer in South Korea,  has a history of corruption, especially in its efforts to do business outside of Korea. 

Last September the president of the company, Ha Sung-yong,  a veteran of the South Korean Air Force, was arrested in Korea for accounting fraud and “directing the manipulation of financial records of the company’s overseas projects,” the Korea Herald reported at the time.

He was accused of granting contracts in return for kickbacks.

The day after that arrest, another senior official,  Kim In-sik, who was in charge of Korean Aerospace’s overseas business, committed suicide at his home.

Ha Sung-yong has resigned as president.

Cohen, who according to public records seen by the Associated Press, is not a registered Washington lobbyist and is walking a very fine line by taking money from clients as a consultant if what they really want is insights into the president or access to the president or those around him.

If it is after access, that could be construed as lobbying, which would be very illegal. 

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In April 2017, Cohen did announce he was “joining forces” with the politically-connected Washington lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, but there is no indication the work done through Essential Consulting was part of that agreement, or that the outside firm handled the lobbying.

Cohen clearly was capitalizing on his longtime relationship with Trump, which continued after the President took office, but like so much of what he did as Trump’s “fixer,” as he has been called, it is unclear just what he really did for these huge payments. 

Whether Korean Aerospace will win the lucrative U.S. Air Force contract to build training jets won’t be known until later this year, but the fact they are reaching out to someone seen as connected – Cohen – shows that the company cited for corruption last year is now playing the D.C. game right up to the edges of what is legal. 

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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