KIEV â Investigations here into payments allegedly made to former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort by ousted Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych have come to a standstill, which could affect the US case against Manafort.
The information from the Ukrainian investigations is the cornerstone of the indictments against Manafort by special advocate Robert Mueller, who charged him with money laundering, non-registration as a foreign agent and other crimes.
But it seems that many senior officials here, from the current president to the bottom, would like to forget the Manafort affair. Their reason: They don’t want to side with the Trump administration.
Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August 2016 after reports in the American press on the basis of documents compiled by Ukrainian investigators. And until last year, progress was still being made here in unraveling the complicated “project”, as Mueller calls it, in which the Yanukovych regime, closely allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin, allegedly made secret payments of millions. of dollars in Manafort.
The former Trump campaign leader has insisted on his innocence and, unlike his close associate Rick Gates, has refused to make a deal with Mueller since his initial indictment in October (PDF).
It looks like little to no new evidence will come from here.
Kiev prosecutor Serhiy Gorbatyuk, head of special investigations, told the Daily Beast in an exclusive interview on Sunday: âIt is disappointing to see the Manafort case frozen for four months.
Gorbatyuk said the investigation had been passed from hand to hand, authority to authority on several occasions since last fall when prosecutors’ orders on how to proceed were not carried out. âThis is the worst point,â Gorbatyuk said.
In a series of interviews over the past few weeks, current Ukrainian politicians as well as former Manafort colleagues have repeatedly told the Daily Beast that in the current political situation in Ukraine, a year before the presidential elections, the main political competitors did not want to upset President Donald Trump. .
Many would like the world to simply forget about the dubious plans involving Manafort, Gates and lawyers at giant firm Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom, who were enjoying multi-million dollar payments before Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2014.
“We are burying the Manafort affair and you become our best friend.“
– MP Serhiy Leschenko describing the position of the President of Ukraine
Here in Kiev, the Manafort scandal that originally erupted in Ukrainian media no longer made the headlines, and Serhiy Leshchenko, member of the Ukrainian parliament, told the Daily Beast that one of the reasons is obvious : “President Petro Poroshenko is trying to sell Trump a deal: we bury the Manafort affair and you become our best friend.” “
Over a year ago, lawmaker Leshchenko released copies of documents from Yanukovych’s secret ledger, showing that Manafort received up to $ 12.7 million in cash. Many criticized the MP for the charges, insisting that no one would ever find enough evidence to prove that US political adviser Manafort broke the law.
Last year, Leshchenko forwarded documents to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Ukrainian prosecutors, including a $ 750,000 invoice, dated October 2009, which the MP insisted was solid evidence. of the crime: âPaul Manafort received huge payments from pro-Russians. Party of Regions.
“With the help of our investigation, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted Manafort for conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion during his work in Ukraine,” Leshchenko told the Daily Beast.
But it was not easy to contact Ukrainian prosecutors – too many officials did not want the investigations against Paul Manafort to continue. “Our management is doing everything to slow down the investigation process,” Leshchenko said. “It took me so much time and effort last year, before I managed to get the documents signed by Manafort to the right prosecutor, Serhiy Gorbatyuk.”
After Manafort quit his job in the Trump campaign in 2016, for about a year, Ukrainian lawmakers and civil groups struggled to find answers to crucial questions:
Did Trump’s friend Manafort advise Yanukovych to kill dozens of protesters in Maidan Square in early 2014?
Did Trump hire any PR firms or staff who had previously received Ukrainian taxpayer money for advising Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions?
Did Skadden’s lawyers help Yanukovych lock his political opponents in jail?
In an attempt to uncover the truth, Ukraine has opened two criminal cases: one on payments to Skadden for a 2012 report defending Yanukovych against criticism from European and US human rights groups for suing his political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko; and the other on Manafort’s dark contracts with the pro-Russian Party of Regions.
âOne of Manafort’s daughters worked in the company and suggested to her father to involve Skadden in the Tymoshenko case,â MP Leshchenko told the Daily Beast. Another cabinet member, Alex van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of a prominent oligarch allegedly close to Putin, was indicted by Mueller last month specifically for lying to the FBI about his role in preparing the Tymoshenko report (PDF).
In 2010, Yanukovych, advised by Manafort, Gates and dozens of other Russian, Ukrainian and American political analysts, nearly lost the presidency to Tymoshenko. The famous lady with the blonde braid won 45.4 percent. A year later, Yanukovych tried Tymoshenko. She was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power while serving as prime minister because of the natural gas deals she made with Putin. The Kiev court fined Tymoshenko $ 180 million and ordered the confiscation of all his property.
When Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty last month in the United States, prosecutors in Kiev immediately saw how the 33-year-old Dutch lawyer based in London could connect the dots in the larger plot. Zwaan’s stepfather is Moscow-based Ukrainian billionaire German Khan, director of powerful Russian banking group Alfa and other interests.
Khan and two of his partners, Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman, were mentioned rather inconclusive in the dossier of Christopher Steele’s “golden shower” as Putin’s advisers on the United States. Gorbatyuk, the Kiev prosecutor, said he was impatient to continue these connections, but to no avail. “In vain, we asked Washington to let us interrogate Manafort and Alex van der Zwaan, that did not happen,” the prosecutor told the Daily Beast.
Gorbatyuk says Ukraine’s investigation into the Skadden case was closed and sent to court too soon. âI think the Ukrainian Justice Ministry was not entitled to pay Skadden money for the report – that at least three officials broke the law,â Gorbatyuk said.
“Tymoshenko does not want to make enemies today, neither with Trump, nor with Putin.“
– Alexander Martynenko, Director of Interfax Ukraine.
Tymoshenko’s trial was considered a political vendetta by Yanukovych at the time, as she suffered from excruciating back pain, and was frail and hungry from weeks of hunger strike. The affair became a scourge for Yanukovych’s political future and also damaged Ukraine’s association agreement with members of the European Union.
But today, political experts in Kiev once again claim that the gas deal Tymoshenko signed with Putin in Moscow in 2009 was destructive to the Ukrainian economy, perhaps because at the moment the popularity of Tymoshenko is high, much higher than that of President Poroshenko.
Yet Tymoshenko and his team declined to comment on the role played by the Zwaan and Skadden report.
“You see, Tymoshenko doesn’t want to make enemies today, neither with Trump, nor with Putin – his popularity is silently rising,” said veteran analyst Alexander Martynenko, director of Interfax Ukraine.
Martynenko told the Daily Beast that Tymoshenko’s political enemies like to bring out her old photos with President Putin to discredit her, or even a more recent photo of her and Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev, smiling the to one another.
For several months, President Petro Poroshenko has not said a word publicly about the Manafort investigation. After four years of military conflict with Russian-backed rebels in the eastern parts of the country, Ukraine is now expected to receive hundreds of US Javelin anti-tank missiles and dozens of related administration “command launch units” Trump. The $ 47 million deal was approved on March 1.
It was the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an official speech full of information about Moscow’s new generation of supposedly unstoppable nuclear weapons.
Ironically, Manafort was allegedly responsible for removing a passage from the Republican Party platform at the 2016 convention that supported the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Today Ukraine counts on Washington’s support in the conflict with Moscow and is ready to make all kinds of deals. “Businessman Trump sold Poroshenko tonnes of coal from a Pennsylvania-based company, which sounds ridiculous, but today Poroshenko is happy to please Trump in exchange for arms and support, âsaid Martynenko of Interfax Ukraine.
In 2006-2007, Yanukovych’s team member Taras Chernovil had a personal conflict with Manafort. In a recent interview in Kiev, Chernovil told the Daily Beast why he would like to see the Manafort investigation completed – and it wasn’t Manafort’s money that bothered Chernovil:
âDuring one of the meetings, Manafort asked about 40 of us, Yanukovych’s political advisers, to tour the country and agitate the electorate against Ukraine’s membership in NATO. and for Russian to become the second state language, âChernovil said, moving frantically in his chair as he remembered how he stood up, threw out Manafort’s instructions and walked out of the room. “I never doubted that Paul Manafort was working as a Kremlin agent in Kiev. It is very important that all Ukrainians know the truth about his program.”