US: Manafort Charged With Tax Fraud Over Ukraine Deals
Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has been charged with conspiring to defraud the US in his dealings with Ukraine.
The 12 charges brought against Mr Manafort and one of his business associates, Rick Gates, include conspiracy to launder money.
Mr Manafort and his lawyer have arrived at an FBI office in Washington.
The charges are the first to stem from an inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the US 2016 election.
However, they do not relate to Mr Trump’s campaign but to the two men’s Ukrainian business dealings up to 2015.
An investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into any links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Both sides deny any collusion.
Responding to news of the charges, Mr Trump tweeted to point out that they did not concern his campaign and asked why “the focus” was not on alleged wrongdoing involving his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton, instead.
For years Paul Manafort operated on the fringes of power, a once-influential Washington player who worked with some less-than-savoury international characters because his services were no longer in high demand domestically.
Then, like many other politicos in Donald Trump’s orbit, he was thrust into the spotlight because more established hands wanted nothing to do with the upstart’s presidential campaign.
Mr Manafort got his big break but it may end up breaking him. That resulting spotlight has drawn attention to Mr Manafort’s past dealings and raised questions about his actions while in at the top of the Trump campaign.
The good news for Mr Trump is these charges stem from Mr Manafort’s past business dealings, not his campaign efforts. He is being accused of working for years for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians and laundering millions in subsequent payments.
It certainly makes Mr Trump’s decision to cut Mr Manafort loose last August after details emerged of his Ukrainian ties seem a wise one.
The good news has its limits, however. Mr Manafort will be under growing pressure to co-operate with the Mueller investigation. If he offers up useful information about his time during the campaign, this could be just the first domino to fall.
The indictment against the two men looks at their links to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine between 2006 and 2015.
According to the indictment, Mr Manafort and Mr Gates acted as “unregistered agents” of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his party, both in opposition and government.
Mr Yanukovych was deposed as president in 2014 amid mass unrest over his pro-Russian policies.
Mr Manafort is accused of having laundered more than $18m (£14m) through offshore bank accounts, using it to buy property, goods and services in transactions concealed from the US authorities.
He is said to have “used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle” in America.
Altogether, at least $75m in payments from Ukraine flowed through the accounts, the indictment says.
Mr Gates is accused of having transferred more than $3m from the offshore accounts to other accounts he controlled. He has been ordered to surrender to authorities, according to US media reports.
No immediate comment from lawyers for Mr Manafort and Mr Gates was reported after the charges were revealed.
The team led by Mr Mueller is known to have conducted extensive interviews with several current and former White House officials as part of the inquiry.
Mr Manafort, 68, has worked on several Republican presidential campaigns, beginning with Gerald Ford’s in 1976.
He resigned as chairman of the Trump campaign in August 2016 after being accused over his dealings with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He denies any wrongdoing.
US intelligence agencies have already concluded that the Russian government sought to help Mr Trump win the election.
But President Trump has strenuously rejected allegations of collusion, calling the investigation a “witch hunt”.
On Friday, he accused Mrs Clinton of links with Moscow. Republican lawmakers have alleged that a uranium deal with a Russian company in 2010, when Mrs Clinton was secretary of state, was sealed in exchange for donations to her husband’s charity.
A Congressional investigation has been opened into the case. Democrats say it is an attempt to divert attention from the alleged ties between Russia and Mr Trump.