Ukraine Believes Manafort Crimes Go Beyond Money Laundering
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
MOSCOW—Many of Kiev’s journalists, investigators, and officials felt genuinely happy on Monday when they heard Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, had been indicted on charges of laundering more than $18 million from Ukraine.
Most of the 12 counts of the indictment pulled together by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team spoke about Manafort’s illegal financial deals when he was working for Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin Party of Regions from 2006 onward. It also accused him of “conspiracy against the United States,” since Manafort allegedly used multiple shell companies to hide his money, and never bothered to inform U.S. authorities about the true size of his income.
Manafort had racked up this fortune as an adviser to the infamously corrupt Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled into exile in Russia in 2014. So, to see Manafort brought up on charges and threatened with jail time was considered a triumph for Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, which overthrew Yanukovych. During the uprising, which centered on Kiev’s central square, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, more than 100 people lost their lives in 2014.
“It is very important for Ukraine to never see such a phenomenon as Manafort on its soil ever again,” journalist and commentator Ekaterina Sergatskova told The Daily Beast. “He symbolizes the ‘old regime’ of money laundering, corrupt lobbying, dirty scams—the regime that made millions suffer—both in Ukraine and in United States. Manafort served a regime that worked under Russia’s total control—that regime should never come to power in Ukraine again.”
In the past year, Ukrainians have constantly heard sinister news about Manafort. But the investigation conducted in the U.S. raised even more questions for people who want to know how he was advising Yanukovych as political opponents were rounded up and violent attacks mounted against the opposition.
“Well done,” the head of Ukraine’s special prosecutions office, Serhiy Gorbatyuk, told The Daily Beast as he looked through the indictment. “We find item number 22 especially important: It confirms our own investigation was on the right track.”
Paragraph 22 of the indictment says that Manafort and his associate Richard W. Gates III directed the lobbyists they’d retained in Washington to lobby in connection with the roll out of a report commissioned by the government of Ukraine about the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine who spent three years in prison. The international democratic community, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supported Tymoshenko in jail, while Manafort and Gates advised Yanukovych about his repressive politics.
Over the past year, as The Daily Beast reported in May, Ukraine’s politicians have cooperated with the FBI while civil society groups and prosecutors have been working hard, conducting several independent investigations into the alleged corruption of Paul Manafort. Members of Ukraine’s parliament, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, prosecutors, and journalists were analyzing the list of 22 Manafort payments in 2007-2012 totaling more than $12 million.
As a result of Ukraine’s cooperation with Western media, the information about the “Black Ledger,” an accounting document found among the Yanukovych papers, exposed corruption in great detail, including some that involved Manafort. As a result, he had to quit Trump’s campaign.
“We hope that with the help of American investigators we’ll find what role Manafort’s friends among the Ukrainian oligarchs… played in money laundering,” prominent Ukrainian journalist Khristina Berdynskykh told The Daily Beast. “We are happy that it’s been proved that our former politicians threw away millions of dollars—it shows the scale of corruption; although we also wonder, of course, why for all these years American authorities have ignored Manafort’s actions.”
Was Manafort backing all the decisions by Yanukovych, including the murders of protesters in Maidan square? Many in Ukraine suspect that was the case.
Manafort returned to Kiev even after the horrible violence on its central square to help re-form the Party of Regions into a new organization. His representatives, including his current lawyer, insist he is innocent of charges in the U.S. indictment and that his role in Ukraine was to encourage pro-European Union democratic government. But investigators in Kiev aren't buying that for a minute.
In March this year The Daily Beast reported that Yevgenia Zakrevskaya, an attorney in the Ukrainian capital, and one of the strongest liberal voices in the country, focused attention on Manafort after text messages between his daughters were hacked and released in February. One of them, from Andrea Manafort to her sister, read “Don’t fool yourself. The money we have is blood money.”
“All Mr. Yanukovych’s allies, supporters of the former regime, should be questioned on this case as potentially responsible for the mass killings during the Maidan protests; including, if the facts get proved, Mr. Manafort,” Ukrainian legal expert Mikhail Zhernakov told The Daily Beast.
The Kremlin’s advisers who advised Yanukovych together with Manafort were also happy about the investigation for their own reasons.
“We feel malevolent joy about Manafort’s arrest,” Sergei Markov, Russia’s spin doctor during the Yanukovych presidential campaign, told The Daily Beast. “We Russians who worked with him in Kiev are gloating, as he was a CIA agent and it is fun to see America investigating its own former agents.”
Markov offered no proof of the CIA allegation, but he did reinforce the argument that Manafort was paid with dirty funds. “Of course Manafort was paid grey money and sent it to offshore accounts—that is what everybody does. Ukraine has always been corrupt.”
Moscow’s mainstream media, meanwhile, continued to deny Russia’s involvement with the U.S. election last year, pushing the story about fake news. On Monday one of the most popular news shows, Vesti, reported that Hillary Clinton paid $6 million for a campaign to discredit Trump. But even in Moscow nobody seemed too enthusiastic about defending Manafort.
At age 68, Manafort has devoted more than a decade of his life to lobbying for Russian and Ukrainian politicians, playing the role of a bridge between Russian oligarchs, the Kremlin, and Yanukovych. What kind of bridge he provided to the Trump campaign and Donald Trump himself remains to be seen. But the Ukrainians who helped the FBI gather key evidence against Manafort are happy to see that their efforts put him on the spot, and may yet land him in jail for a good long time.