As the US Justice Department sues pardoned Paul Manafort over undisclosed foreign banks accounts, Zamaan Qureshi follows the financial links with Putin’s oligarch Oleg Deripaska and a Russian intelligence agent

The United States Justice Department has filed a complaint against former Donald Trump campaign chairman, convicted fraudster and foreign political consultant Paul Manafort demanding $3 million.

The complaint, filed in the Southern District of Florida, alleges that Manafort failed to report offshore bank accounts in Cyprus, the UK, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The civil suit stems from the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

It alleges that Manafort engaged in a “wilful failure to timely report his financial interest in foreign bank accounts” in 2013 and 2014 – and that Manafort hid his income from lobbying work in Ukraine for his company, DMP International, starting in 2006.

Accounts were registered mostly under other names by his accountant – including Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the US for making false statements during the Mueller probe, and Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged Russian agent. A warrant for Kilimnik’s arrest remains outstanding for “obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.” He is still wanted by the FBI.

Manafort’s lawyer said in a statement that this lawsuit seeks money from Manafort for “simply failing to file a tax form”.

In the final weeks of his presidency, Donald Trump pardoned many of his wealthy and well-connected associates – including Paul Manafort, for charges related to bank fraud, conspiracy and the obstruction of justice. Manafort ended up serving two years of his seven-and-a-half-year jail term.

But this latest civil suit appears to suggest that the Justice Department does not consider the pardon to cover charges relating to 2013 and 2014.

Two separate cases into Manafort stemming from the Mueller probe were brought. One was in Virginia which charged Manafort for failure to disclose his foreign bank accounts, which had balances of more than $10,000 – the threshold for reporting. Ultimately, the jury failed to reach a verdict.


The Russia and Ukraine Connections

The accounts listed in the lawsuit were primarily to deposit income from Manafort’s work in Ukraine.

Beginning in 2004, Paul Manafort began work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska sought a political operative who could conduct influence operations. In 2006, Manafort and Deripaska signed a $10 million annual contract, according to the Associated Press. Their relationship would eventually come to an end over financial disputes.

Much of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election centred around the work Manafort undertook in Ukraine on behalf of pro-Russian candidates.

In 2010, for instance, Manafort helped Viktor Yanukovych – regarded as pro-Russian – to win the presidency of Ukraine.

When Manafort was first hired by the Donald Trump campaign, little was known about his background – including the fact that he owed Deripaska millions following a failed campaign venture.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Oleg Deripaska in 2006. Photo: ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy

Manafort also believed he was owed money by Russian oligarchs for other political work that he was in the process of trying to recover when he was hired by the Trump campaign in 2016. It was here that Manafort sought to use his position in Trump’s world to get repaid by oligarchs who owed him money. 

Last October, the Washington D.C. home of Deripaska was raided by the FBI. It is unclear why, only that the FBI said that it was conducting “law enforcement activity at the home”, according to NBC News. Deripaska is on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list as of 2018.

Manafort was available for hire because Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, his former client, was ousted in the 2014 Maidan Revolution – which led to Russian President Vladimir Putin annexing Crimea, subsequently leading to the current invasion of Ukraine.


Campaign Data and Cambridge Analytica

As with most things with the Trump campaign, there is a connection back to the now-defunct British consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica.

The company was hired by the campaign to micro-target voters in key swing states, as well as handle its data analytics.

Page 136, Special Counsel’s ReportRick Gates’ proffer agreement with the FBI (FD-302)

According to the Mueller report, Rick Gates in “accordance with Manafort’s instruction… periodically sent [Konstantin] Kilimnik polling data via WhatsApp”.

Gates would go on to tell the Special Counsel’s Office and the FBI that he would receive “psychological polling data” conducted by Cambridge Analytica and would pass this on to Kilimnik.

It is unknown exactly what Kilimnik did with this data but, in April 2021, the Treasury Department upgraded sanctions on Kilimnik arguing that he “provided the Russian intelligence services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” during the 2016 Presidential Election.

Paul Manafort would go on to use this sensitive polling data as leverage to try to resolve his million-dollar disputes with Russian oligarchs.


What’s Next?

It is unclear what’s next for Paul Manafort. Every few months he seems to be embroiled in yet another investigation relating to the 2016 US Presidential Election. But ongoing law enforcement action appears to keep the former foreign political consultant and lobbyist busy – mostly because of his relationship to Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik.

When the Treasury Department upgraded sanctions last April, NBC News reported that the “US came into possession of the new intelligence about Kilimnik”, meaning that the intelligence community continues to probe the dealings of 2016.

The democracy-destabilisation efforts undertaken by the individuals and the administration under the presidency of Donald Trump have repercussions, as the 6 January insurrection and the invasion of Ukraine have shown.

If they are not properly prosecuted and held to account, the same individuals will continue to pull the strings in an effort to undermine fragile democracies so long as it’s for the right price.

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