Trump-Russia: Manafort ‘paid European ex-politicians’

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort departs the federal court house after a status hearing in Washington, DC, USA, 14 FebruaryImage copyrightEPA
Image caption Mr Manafort insists he is innocent

Ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly paid unnamed former senior European politicians to lobby for Ukraine’s previous pro-Russia government, a new indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller says.

Mr Manafort paid over €2m ($2.5m; £1.8m) to the ex-politicians, it says.

He has maintained his innocence in the face of Mr Mueller’s investigations.

Trump-Russia: Manafort ‘paid European ex-politicians’
Trump-Russia: Manafort ‘paid European ex-politicians’

Mr Trump’s ex-deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, has admitted conspiracy and lying to investigators in a plea deal.

Mr Mueller is investigating claims of Russian political meddling in the US.

There are no allegations that either man colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, which is the main thrust of the justice department investigation.

What are the latest allegations against Mr Manafort?

Previously, Mr Manafort was charged with multiple counts of tax and bank fraud.

He faces new charges of conspiracy, money-laundering, failing to register as an agent for a foreign actor and making false statements.

His alleged payments to former senior European politicians were made in 2012 and 2013, the new indictment says.

He is also alleged to have created a group called the Hapsburg Group to give the former politicians’ lobbying efforts the appearance of independent analysis.

The alleged group was managed by a former senior European politician named only as “Foreign Politician A” in the indictment.

The alleged paid lobbying was part of Mr Manafort’s work for the Ukrainian government, a pro-Russian party, the Party of Regions, and its leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was president between 2010 and 2014, the indictment says.

Mr Manafort’s work for Ukrainian pro-Russian political parties is said to have continued after Mr Yanukovych was overthrown and fled to Russia in 2014 following anti-government protests.

The indictment says Mr Manafort did not register as an agent of a foreign principal for this work as required by law.

He is also alleged to have hidden millions of dollars made from his Ukraine work in offshore accounts.

What does Mr Gates say?

The new indictment was filed after Rick Gates pledged to co-operate in “any and all matters” with the Mueller inquiry.

Mr Gates, 45, is named in the new Manafort indictment as having worked to hide Ukraine income from the US authorities.

In a court appearance, Mr Gates admitted charges of conspiracy and lying to investigators.

Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Rick Gates said he had “had a change of heart” after his initial not-guilty plea

He had previously had been indicted on more serious criminal counts, including bank fraud and money laundering.

In a letter to family and friends, Mr Gates said he had “had a change of heart” after his initial not-guilty plea, according to ABC News.

He reportedly said he was ready to accept “public humiliation” to avoid inflicting prolonged pain on his children.

“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much,” he reportedly wrote. “I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process.”

Sentencing guidelines for him suggest a prison term of between 57 and 71 months. He could have faced decades in prison under the more serious charges.

How did Mr Manafort respond to the plea deal?

The man who resigned as Trump campaign chairman in August 2016 after five months amid questions over his business dealings maintains his innocence.

He did not comment immediately on the new indictment brought against himself but did respond to Mr Gates’s plea deal, insisting he was innocent.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” he said in a statement.

“For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

Mr Manafort has worked on several Republican presidential campaigns, beginning with Gerald Ford’s in 1976.

How many people has Mr Mueller charged?

Nineteen people – including Mr Manafort and Mr Gates – have been indicted by the special counsel:

Mr Trump has said there was no collusion. Moscow has rejected US intelligence claims of interference.

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