Washington: Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort secretly paid a group of former senior European politicians more than two million euros ($2.5 million) to lobby for Ukraine’s then-leader backed by Russia, according to an indictment filed Friday.
The charges, lodged in a Washington federal court by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, said Manafort retained the so-called Hapsburg Group of onetime politicians to “take positions favourable to Ukraine, including by lobbying the United States.”
The group, which operated from 2012-2013, was managed by an unnamed “former European chancellor,” who along with other members of the group lobbied US legislators and White House officials, the indictment alleged.
They were to “appear to be providing their independent assessments of the government of Ukraine actions, when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine,” according to the indictment.
Manafort has been accused by the team investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign of money laundering, tax fraud and banking fraud connected to work he did for Viktor Yanukovych from 2006-2014.
Yanukovych was Ukraine’s president beginning in 2010.
Backed by Moscow, the billionaire Yanukovych was eyed suspiciously at the time in much of Europe for his pro-Russia stance and widespread accusations of deep corruption.
He was overthrown in a 2014 uprising and exiled to Russia. After that, Manafort stopped working for him, returned to the United States and, in 2016, joined Trump’s presidential election campaign.
The Hapsburg Group was meant to “act informally and without any visible relationship” to the Ukraine government, a memorandum written by Manafort in June 2012 read.
While the latest indictment did not charge Manafort with any crime specifically tied to the Hapsburg Group, those activities were cited to show Manafort had been actively lobbying for Ukraine and had allegedly broken laws by not registering as such in the United States.