Senior U.S. Democrat seeks delay in lifting sanctions on Russian firms

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 - The second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday he would ask the Treasury Department to delay the lifting of sanctions on two companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to give Congress time to review the decision.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters he would call Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday and ask him to delay implementation of the decision until Feb. 28.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal, its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed on Russian entities since Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea. Deripaska himself would remain subject to U.S. sanctions.

Democratic lawmakers have expressed discomfort with the move, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has forced a vote in the Senate later on Tuesday on a resolution criticizing the decision. The measure is unlikely to pass given the Republican majority in the chamber.

Schumer said this week that the timing of the sanctions decision was inappropriate in light of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible ties between President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government.

Deripaska had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have shown.

Deripaska has agreed to pare back his controlling stakes in the companies, but Schumer said he still retains too much influence on them and has also argued that easing the sanctions would boost Russia's economy.