New questions are being raised over a meeting between Jared Kushner — Donald Trump's son-in-law and special adviser — and a Russian banker named Sergei Gorkov.

“Gorkov is a longtime associate of [Russian president] Vladimir Putin,” says journalist Elias Groll, who has reported on Gorkov in-depth for Foreign Policy magazine. “He’s a veteran of the Russian intelligence establishment. And he is the head of a bank that essentially functions as a slush fund for Vladimir Putin’s pet projects.” 

Moreover, Gorkov’s bank, Vnesheconombank or VEB, has been used in the recent past as a front for Russian espionage activities.

Kushner met Gorkov in December 2016, apparently at the suggestion of Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, not long after Kushner met with Kislyak.

The purpose of the meeting is not clear, but some news outlets are now reporting that it was connected to Kushner's alleged search for a secret channel of communication to the Kremlin.

Gorkov and his bank say it was a simple business meeting, between a banker and Kushner, in his capacity as a businessman.

The Trump administration does not deny the meeting took place but says it was connected to diplomacy, with some suggestions that it was related to Syria policy in particular.

No one is suggesting that the meeting was illegal. But Kushner failed to disclose the meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov when he applied for security clearance in January. The president’s son-in-law later added them when the meetings were reported by The New York Times. Kushner said he “forgot” about them. That's one big reason why investigators want to know more.

It’s not clear what, if any, ties Gorkov still has to the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service. The 48-year-old Russian graduated from the FSB academy in 1994. He’s a recipient of the Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland.

However, VEB has been used as a front for espionage activities in the recent past. "A few years ago," explains Groll, “a Russian spy ring was rolled up in New York City, and one of those operatives, Evgeny Buryakov, was working in New York, using the cover of being a Vnesheconombank executive.” That case was overseen by the former US Attorney Preet Bharara.

VEB is currently under US and international sanctions. “VEB is one of the Russian financial institutions that was targeted ... in the aftermath of Russian meddling in Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea,” says Groll.

Hitting VEB was seen by the Obama administration “as a really easy way to strike at the financial tools that Vladimir Putin uses to exert his authority both inside Russia and outside of Russia,” says Groll.

Gorkov has enjoyed some success as head of VEB, and previously as deputy head of Sberbank. “He has essentially been able to bring it [VEB] out of financial ruin,” says Foreign Policy’s Groll. The bank had taken on a number of poor investments associated with the Sochi Olympics.

“Gorkov has been credited with cleaning up the bank and its balance sheet,” says Groll, “and has been fairly successful, by all accounts.”

“But at the end of the day,” he adds, “you have to remember that the bank’s creditworthiness, and the bank’s credibility as a financial institution is closely linked to its ties to the Russian government.”

Both VEB and Sberbank are funded by the Russian state. The head of the board of VEB is none other than Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.

“Anytime that the bank has run into financial trouble,” explains Groll, “the government has bailed it out.”

From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI