Mueller files new fraud charges against Paul Manafort

Manafort exaggerated his income to take out mortgages on homes in SoHo and the Hamptons that he had purchased years earlier in part with income illegally funnelled through offshore bank accounts

WASHINGTON: Even as he was managing Donald Trump’s campaign for president, Paul Manafort lied to banks to secure millions of dollars in cash loans as part of a decade-long money laundering scheme, according to charges unsealed by the special counsel Thursday.

Manafort exaggerated his income by millions of dollars to take out mortgages on homes in SoHo and the Hamptons that he had purchased years earlier in part with income illegally funnelled through offshore bank accounts, according to the indictment. The laundered money — which totalled $30 million (Dh110 million)— came from Manafort’s work as a lobbyist and political consultant to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned former Ukrainian president.

But after Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 and fled to Russia, Manafort’s income quickly dwindled. The 32-count indictment describes a complex plot that Manafort then undertook to leverage money from his real estate with the help of his longtime business partner and campaign deputy, Rick Gates.

The charges do not involve Trump or his campaign and are not significantly different from ones filed against the men in October. But they outline new criminal behaviour and appear to be the latest attempt by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to pressure Manafort and Gates to cooperate with his inquiry to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. The men have said they have nothing to offer Mueller on the central question of the investigation: whether any associates of Trump coordinated with Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 election.

Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty, and a spokesman for Manafort denied wrongdoing.

“Paul Manafort is innocent of the allegations set out in the newly filed indictments, and he is confident that he will be acquitted of all charges,” the spokesman, Jason Maloni, said in a statement. “The new allegations against Manafort, once again, have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion.”

Manafort has also sued the Justice Department, claiming that Mueller’s previous indictment against him demonstrates how he has overstepped his authority by bringing charges unrelated to Russian election meddling. Gates’ lawyer, Thomas C. Green, who was hired in recent weeks, has refused to discuss the case.

The investigation has been an unwanted distraction for the White House. After Gates and Manafort were indicted, a former national security adviser and a foreign policy aide to Trump have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their Russian connections. And 13 Russian operatives were charged with trying to sow chaos in the presidential election and tip the vote toward Trump.

The court records paint an unflattering portrait of the man who ran Trump’s presidential campaign from June to August of 2016, as the candidate secured the Republican nomination and moved into the general election against Hillary Clinton. Prosecutors say he concealed years of lobbying for the pro-Russia government in Ukraine and never properly registered with the US government for that work. In the process, they say, he laundered millions of dollars in proceeds and misled investigators about how he received those funds.

He and Gates shielded millions of dollars from US tax authorities, court papers show, by moving the funds through foreign bank accounts around the world: in Cyprus, the Seychelles, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Manafort and Gates hid the existence and ownership of the foreign companies and bank accounts, falsely and repeatedly reporting to their tax preparers and to the United States that they had no foreign bank accounts,” the indictment said.

Two of the largest loans totalled $16 million and were made by one bank. The bank is not identified in the indictment, but the description fits what The New York Times reported last year about loans to a company connected to Manafort called Summerbreeze LLC, which borrowed millions from Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, headed by Stephen M. Calk, an economic adviser to Trump at the time.

Manafort’s dealings with Federal Savings began in July 2016, when he was running Trump’s presidential campaign, and continued after he was ousted a month later. In each instance, according to the indictment, Manafort and Gates altered financial statements for their consulting business to make it easier for Manafort to qualify for mortgages.

Mueller also appears to have obtained communications between Manafort and his son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, who ran a real estate investment business in Los Angeles in which Manafort had invested millions of dollars. The business went bankrupt, and Yohai himself fell under FBI scrutiny.

In a message cited in the indictment, Manafort appears to ask Yohai to cooperate in a ruse to make it seem that he was living in a building owned by Manafort, thereby comporting with information Manafort had submitted on a mortgage application.

The original indictment did not explicitly bring tax charges, an omission that experts had predicted that Mueller would ultimately correct. The first indictment also relied heavily on accusations that Manafort violated foreign lobbying laws, which have rarely been used at trial. The new indictment gives prosecutors more options.

Unlike the original indictment, which was filed in Washington, the one unsealed Thursday was brought in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Prosecutors said they had filed the charges there because the crimes had occurred in the Eastern District of Virginia and Mueller did not have authority to bring them in Washington. The fact that the two men are now facing similar indictments in two federal courts means that Manafort’s case will probably be moved to Alexandria.

Manafort joined the campaign in March 2016 to ensure Trump had enough votes among delegates to the Republican National Convention to clinch the party’s nomination for president. He was elevated to campaign chairman in May, and after Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was removed in June, Manafort took control.

Days earlier, he had attended a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians who had promised incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. Manafort has maintained that he only briefly attended the meeting, which was arranged by Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.

But just two months later, questions arose about money Manafort had received from his work in Ukraine, and Manafort stepped aside. He remained in Trump’s orbit, often speaking with the candidate.


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