Exposed: The many possible crimes of Paul Manafort.
Depending whom you ask, Paul Manafort is either a political genius or one of the world’s biggest criminals. He is potentially both – in the most Machiavellian sense of those combined terms.
The 63-year-old political strategist and lobbyist is the central figure in a complex criminal scheme which has disrupted global events for over a decade, culminating in his tour of duty as the campaign chairman for a Russian-engineered campaign to elect Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election.
In July, federal agents burst into Manafort’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia in a pre-dawn raid. They ordered him and his wife, Kathleen, out of bed and searched them for weapons. Investigators hauled away business binders and copies of his computer files. They also took photos of his expensive Italian-made suits, a leaked detail which may hint at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s potential indictment.
Prosecutors told Manafort they intend to indict him for possible tax law violations, money laundering, failing to register as foreign agent and using offshore holdings in criminal activity going back 11 years. Manafort’s phone was tapped under a FISA warrant from 2014 to early 2016 and then again before the election until after the inauguration.
Manafort worked for the Kremlin since 2006 and is alleged to have stolen millions from Ukrainians.
In June 2005, Paul Manafort met with unassuming Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. U.S. diplomatic cables at the time described Deripaska as “among the two to three oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.”
Manafort and Deripaska struck a lucrative $10 million-a-year deal to lobby for Russia beginning in 2006. Under the arrangement, Manafort would influence Russian politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics. Deripaska has since been banned from the U.S. for ties to organized crime but he’s traveled here as a Russian diplomat.
In 2007, Manafort and Deripaska partnered in an offshore company registered in the Caymen Islands. Deripaska invested $18.9 million in a Ukrainian telecom and paid Manafort’s firm $7.4 million. Deripaska later backed out of the deal and sued Manafort for the return of his Money.
It should be noted that a favorite Russian money laundering technique is for two conspiring companies to set up a joint offshore company whose only purpose is to connect two international parties via a phony transaction. One of the parties then sues the other in order to obtain a judge’s ruling which effectively “cleans” the money through a corrupt court in the country in which the offshore holding is registered.
Manafort set up a similarly suspect offshore company with Ukrainian oligarch Dmitro Firtash. They hatched a plan to buy New York’s Drake Hotel then cancelled the deal leaving employees stranded without salaries. Firtash is wanted in the U.S. on suspicion of bribery and organized criminal activity. He was arrested in Austria in 2014 and is expected to be extradited to the US soon. Firtash may provide direct evidence to implicate Manafort. Both of Manafort’s known offshore holding were exposed in the Panama Papers.
Manafort fomented political division in Ukraine resulting in the death of 100 Ukrainian protesters.
Manafort’s consulting efforts for the Kremlin officially ended in 2009 but he stayed in the Kremlin’s orbit assisting Vladimir Putin in his invasion and political disruption of Ukraine.
In 2010, he helped elect former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is a violent convicted felon but Manafort was able to ‘rebrand him’ by fomenting divisive politics. “He used damaging techniques to divide Ukrainian society and help Putin to achieve a simple goal,” Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, told Bloomberg.
Manafort and Yanukovych became close albeit through a translator, as neither of them spoke each other’s’ language. The bromance was cemented in lengthy sauna conversations which spanned from politics to style. They became so close, “Yanukovych started to resemble Manafort in his Italian suits and carefully coiffed dark hair parted on the side,” according to Bloomberg. This could explain why prosecutors took photos of Manafort’s suits when they barged into his apartment.
Yanukovych’s party illegally paid Manafort $12.7 million for his work between 2007 and 2012. Investigators found a “black ledger” detailing the payments in Manafort’s Kiev office. One $750,000 payment Manafort received was invoiced to a Belize-registered offshore company called Neocon.
In 2014, Manafort advised Yanukovych on the final days of his Putin-backed presidency which resulted in the death of 100 protestors. Manafort’s daughter, Andrea, decried his new-found riches as “blood money” in text messages which were later published after her phone was hacked.
Yanukovych was deposed by the 2014 demonstrations and he fled to Moscow. Manafort continued to consult for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, earning another $1 million and making seventeen trips to the country.
Much of Manafort’s international offshore dealings were routed through the Bank Of Cyprus. Investigators obtained documents of Manafort’s Cypriot transactions earlier this year. The bank is widely considered a Russian laundering front. Its former Vice Chair Wilbur Ross is Trump’s Commerce Secretary, is also under investigation.
U.S. Investigators have been working with Ukrainian prosecutors as “part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukrainian assets,” according to the Associated Press.
Manafort brought his divisive politics to the U.S. on behalf of the Kremlin and Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Manafort has been in Republican politics since his days at Georgetown law school in the early 70’s. He later worked for the campaigns of General Ford, Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush and Bob Dole. He also served as the deputy political director for the Republican National committee.
Manafort’s big shot at political fame in the U.S. came when he joined the Trump Campaign in March last year. A month later, he was at a Trump campaign event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C., also attended by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions. It remains a mystery if the group held any formal meetings at the hotel. Manafort’s surveillance warrant was likely not in effect then though it’s widely believed Ambassador Kislyak’s phone was monitored as a matter of course.
Manafort was promoted to campaign chairman in June giving him control of its then $20 million budget, included approval on advertising and media strategy. That’s important because of suspected coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in targeted Facebook advertising began as early as June 2015.
In June 2016, Manafort took notes on his phone while at a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and several Russian operatives who had been actively working on dropping the Magnitsky sanctions against Russia. The Russians’ stated intent of the meeting was to hand over dirt on Hillary Clinton. The FBI obtained Manafort’s notes from the meeting which may lead to another criminal indictment involving espionage.
In July, Manafort engineered the selection of Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s VP pick by faking a mechanical issue with Trump’s plane, forcing the presidential nominee to overnight in Pence’s home town of Indianapolis. Pence has his own ties to Deripaska but it’s unknown if these extend to any offshore holdings.
Manafort was in charge of the campaign when Wikileaks published the first batch of Russian hacked DNC emails. A Trump Tower server linked to Russia’s Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health recorded a dramatic increase in traffic after the hack. The server was likely reconciling stolen voter data Russia had hacked with other publicly available data. Investigators were surveilling the servers as part of a FISA warrant, as first reported by Louise Mensch’s Patribotics blog and later confirmed by the BBC.
In August, Manafort was forced to resign after his “black ledger” of payments from Ukraine was exposed. He continued to advise Trump and VP Mike Pence behind the scenes.
The FBI resumed their wiretaps before the election so their surveillance likely included conversations between Manafort and Pence who spoke daily throughout the transition. Pence was instrumental in selecting Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser even after he was warned Flynn may be compromised by the Russians.
Manafort’s lobbying for ruthless dictators and ties to a suspect campaign funding operation with ties to gambling families and Trump.
Back in 1980, Manafort launched Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm with another Trump adviser Roger Stone. They represented murderous warlords and dictators from the Philippines to Angola. The firm retroactively registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
One of BMSK’s senior directors, Dennis Whitfield, is also an adviser to the Strategic Campaign Group. In May, investigators raided the SCG offices in Annapolis, Maryland.
Investigators took computers which may implicate the company in an attempt to defraud donations intended to support Republican candidates. SCG shares an address with a law firm linked to another offshore company owned by the Cordish gambling family. Reed Cordish serves as assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives at the White House and reports directly to Jared Kushner.
The Strategic Campaign Group is also linked to Penn National Gaming, which was a partner in Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Trump’s casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year of operation resulting in a $10 million fine, according to CNN.
If Manafort is indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller it could be at the same time as others involved in his criminal scheme.
Elizabeth de la Vega spent 21 years as a Federal prosecutor, including four years as part of an organized crime strike force. She believes Mueller will indict Trump, Flynn, Manafort simultaneously to remove the possibility of a pardon. “Here, as a practical and logistical matter, Trump has no way to pardon Flynn, Manafort, Kushner and others until they are indicted,” de la Vega tweeted. “It is most likely that Mueller will indict Trump, Flynn, Manafort et al. simultaneously. At that point, Trump is out of luck,” she says.