The trial of Paul Manafort, ex-aide to Donald Trump and advisor to fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, this week has revealed deeper links between the political consultant and Ukrainian oligarchs.
It follows a year-long pretrial investigation by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller and his team into Trump’s links with Russia.
US President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort (C) heading to the Federal Court Building in Washington, DC, USA, June 15, 2018 Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS
Manafort is facing 18 criminal counts, most of them linked to financial fraud, particularly corruption, money laundering through foreign accounts, tax evasion, and unregistered work for foreign governments.
The trial, which is taking place in Virginia, will center on Manafort’s work for Ukrainian politicians from 2005 to 2014. At the time, he was the advisor to the pro-Russian Party of Regions and its leader, Yanukovych. He also worked with Ukrainian oligarchs, including steel and mining magnate Rinat Akhmetov and Opposition Bloc faction deputy head Serhiy Lyovochkin.
Protesters await the trial of US President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia, USA on July 31, 2018. Manafort faces 18 counts, largely for financial fraud, corruption, and money laundering. This picture shows a woman holding Manafort’s photo with the caption "I like your new suit" (referring to the ostrich leather jacket). Photo: EPA-EFE / JIM LO SCALZO
During the trial, the prosecutor described Yanukovych as Manafort’s "golden goose.” According to the findings of Mueller’s investigation, the political consultant earned $60 million from his work in Ukraine, which was funneled out of the country through more than 30 secret offshore accounts in three foreign countries.
The trial has prompted criticism from Trump, who took to Twitter to defend Manafort and call for an end to the investigation into U.S. election meddling.
“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” he tweeted on August 1.
The defense insisted that during the hearings prosecutors avoid using verbal manipulation – a request that was supported by the judge, T.S. Ellis III. This means Manafort’s business partners can no longer be described as “oligarchs.” Ellis said the term was “pejorative,” implying the Ukrainian businessmen were “despicable people” and therefore Manafort was also despicable. Ellis also warned against focusing on Manafort’s lavish lifestyle because it could impact the impartiality of the jury.
Representatives from Paul Manafort’s legal team: Kevin Downing (L), Richard Westling (C) and Thomas Zehnle leave the District Court building during a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, US on July 23, 2018 Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS
Manafort's case forms part of a larger investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Given his work with pro-Russian Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, the investigation suggests that he may have ties with Russia as well. However, there is currently not enough evidence on this.
Nevertheless, many details important to Ukraine have emerged during the investigation. In the lead up to the trial, Manafort’s lawyers published more than 300 pages of documents that include evidence of Manafort's correspondence with his Ukrainian clients.
READ MORE: Deep Dive Into Paul Manafort’s Corruption
From this correspondence, it is apparent that Manafort’s work with Yanukovych was financed by Akhmetov. Manafort made recommendations on how to boost the Party of Regions’ image, from television advertising to how Yanukovych should respond to questions during press conferences. He also wrote public speeches for Yanukovych.
Manafort also recommended that the Ukrainian government focus on geopolitics and human rights when it came to cooperation with former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. Accusing the then-opposition, particularly the Svoboda party, of anti-semitism was another of Manafort’s tips. He also suggested the appointment of Hanna Herman, Party of Regions MP and advisor to Yanukovych, to the role of ambassador to the U.S. This, however, never happened.
Details also emerged of Manafort’s team working in Ukraine after the Euromaidan revolution. Tad Devine, who at that time was also consulting the Party of Regions and was the person behind Yanukovych’s 2010 presidential victory speech, spoke about them in court.
It has emerged that Manafort tried to establish a working relationship with current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. However, whether this happened is still unclear. The Presidential Administration admitted while they did receive the proposal they did not cooperate with Manafort.
Protesters stand near the district court, where the trial of US President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is taking place, Alexandria, Virginia, US, July 31, 2018. Manafort faces 18 counts, largely for financial fraud, corruption and money laundering Photo: EPA-EFE / JIM LO SCALZO
Furthermore, in May of that year, Manafort made recommendations for developing a working relationship with Vitali Klitschko, who was then about to be elected Kyiv Mayor. Klitschko admitted that he had contacted Manafort, but said that their cooperation ended before it began.
In 2014, Manafort continued to work with former Party of Regions members. Then, he recommended creating a new political force in Ukraine – the Party of Development, which later became part of the Opposition Bloc. One of the slogans for party rebranding was "Make Ukraine Work Again." Trump’s main campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.”
A screenshot of an email from American political consultant Tad Devine to Konstantin Kilimnik, a close associate of former Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort, suggesting using “Make Ukraine Work Again” as a slogan for the Party of Region’s rebranding.
The Manafort team also advised former Party of Regions members to focus on the interests of eastern Ukraine’s residents – to promise an immediate end to the war, restoration of infrastructure and humanitarian aid. Cooperation with the Russian-backed separatists of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People’s Republic" and "Luhansk People’s Republic" was also among the recommendations for a political success.
While the first stage of the trial takes place in Virginia, the second part will take place in September in Washington, D.C.
/By Ostap Yarysh
/Translated by Natalie Vikhrov