Did Trump Campaign Manager Reap Millions in Stolen Ukrainian Wealth?
The bromance between Donald Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin—even when reminded of the murders of anti-Putin journalists—has been one of the oddities of the 2016 presidential campaign. Besides Trump's praise of Putin as a strong leader, and the GOP presidential nominee's invitation to Russia to hack into the email server of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, there's the work done on behalf of a Putin ally by Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager.
Today, the story deepened, thanks to an exposÃ© in the New York Times on the looting of Ukraine's treasury during the presidency of Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych, to whom Manafort served as a political consultant.
It's bad enough that Manafort made his living by aiding the political fortunes of a leader described by the Guardian as "a thug," and who, before he fled Ukraine in the wake of a popular uprising against government corruption, was an enemy of the U.S. But the latest revelations about Manafort's Ukrainian adventure should disqualify him to serve as the chief strategist for the presidential campaign of the Republican Party.
The Times article, by Andrew E. Kramer, Mike McIntire and Barry Meier, describes a secret ledger kept in a third-floor office of the Kiev headquarters of Yanukovych's political party that appears to be a handwritten record of disbursements made to the deposed president's allies and operatives, according to Ukrainian government investigators, through a looting of the nation's assets. Among the names listed in the ledger is Manafort's, beside numbers totaling millions. From the Times:
"Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials."
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court.
The authors quote a former official of Yanukovych's Regions Party describing how, during the Yanukovych presidency, the room also contained two safes filled with $100 bills. “This was our cash,” former party leader Taras V. Chornovil told the Times reporters. “They had it on the table, stacks of money, and they had lists of who to pay.”
The Times is careful to say its reporters have been unable to prove whether or not the payments were actually made to Manafort, and his lawyer, Richard A. Hibey, said his client had not received any such cash payments.
But the Times also makes note of Manafort's business dealings with Ukrainian figures, which involved shell companies in jurisdictions that make it difficult to trace cash flows, such as the Seychelles, Belize, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
According to the Times:
"The role of the offshore companies in business dealings involving Mr. Manafort came to light because of court filings in the Cayman Islands and in a federal court in Virginia related to an investment fund, Pericles Emerging Markets. Mr. Manafort and several partners started the fund in 2007, and its major backer was Mr. Deripaska, the Russian mogul, to whom the State Department has refused to issue a visa, apparently because of allegations linking him to Russian organized crime, a charge he has denied."
Perhaps it's just a coincidence of the calendar that Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns for that year—even though it's not a year for which his tax filings are being audited. (Trump's excuse for not releasing any tax returns is that his filings are being audited by the IRS.)