South Korea's KAI says paid firm of Trump's lawyer $150,000 for accounting advice

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd (KAI) said on Wednesday it paid $150,000 for consulting services on accounting matters to a firm set up by U.S. President Donald Trump’s private lawyer Michael Cohen.

FILE PHOTO: Officials stand at Korean aircraft industry Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) booth at the Baghdad International Fair for Defence and Security, March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

The arrangement came as the company, backed by state-owned Export-Import Bank of Korea, competes to sell trainer jets to the U.S. Air Force in an auction that could be worth up to $16 billion.

Payments by KAI and other companies including Novartis AG to Essential Consultants, a company that also paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 just before the U.S. presidential election, were described on Tuesday by her lawyer Michael Avenatti.

Avenatti also detailed payments by a company with ties to a Russian oligarch who has been sanctioned by the United States to punish Moscow for activities that included suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Novartis on Wednesday said it was contacted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office regarding the agreement with Essential.

A KAI spokesman said the company has not been contacted by Mueller’s office, which is investigating Russia.

Neither Avenatti nor Cohen responded to requests from Reuters for comment.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said Cohen paid her to stay quiet about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, which he has denied.

A KAI spokesman said it signed a contract with Essential last year for “legal consulting concerning accounting standards on production costs,” and upon the expiration of the contract it made the payment in November.

The aircraft components and military jetmaker declined to give further details on the consulting services it received from Essential and said it had no individual dealings with Cohen.

In a tweet and a report, Avenatti said Cohen described Essential as a real estate consulting firm and claimed its typical clients are U.S.-based high net worth individuals.

Reuters could not immediately verify Avenatti’s claim or how he knew of any payments made to Essential.

In two U.S. television interviews on Wednesday, Avenatti declined to say where he received the information about the payments. He told ABC News it was “unclear” what exactly they were paying for and what services Cohen provided.

AT&T Inc said it hired Essential to offer advice on working with the new administration in early 2017, around the time of Trump’s inauguration.

The agreement illustrated efforts by the telecoms company to work with an influential adviser to the new president as the Trump administration took up major industry issues and considered AT&T’s $85 billion proposal to buy Time Warner Inc.

KAI builds the T-50 trainer jet which has been developed with U.S. fighter jet maker Lockheed Martin. The two firms have partnered to compete in an auction for the U.S. Air Force’s advanced pilot trainer jet procurement of about 350 new jets. The results of the auction are expected later this year.

Reporting by Joyce Lee, writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Jeffrey Benkoe