Ukraine cheers Manafort’s indictment
KYIV, Ukraine — The news of Paul Manafort’s indictment on Monday elicited cheers in Ukraine, where activists and politicians seeking to root out political corruption had seethed at the American political operative’s counsel to the country’s ousted leader, Viktor Yanukovych.
Reports of the millions of dollars Manafort had been paid under the table by Ukraine’s former ruling party were particularly galling — and Ukrainians learned from the indictment Monday that those payments may have been even larger than thought.
But while Washington is wondering where the probe led by Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections will lead next, people here are wondering more about what this means for the investigation into the millions of dollars in oligarch wealth that have stubbornly slowed the country’s program of reform.
“It’s great news. There should be a precedent of punishment for the lobbyists who served these corrupt figures,” said Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament and investigative journalist who published documents showing secret payments to Manafort by the ruling party under Yanukovych and then invoices to Manafort consulting companies on the same day. “Manafort worked for a long time so that Yanukovych could come to power, and use that power for his own corrupt schemes, not for reform.”
The investigation, as he saw it, is far from finished.
“I want investigations into all of Manafort’s connections and the people who paid him this money,” he added, naming several prominent Ukrainian oligarchs.
In a decades-long career, Manafort made tens of millions of dollars far beyond the borders of established democracies, working for despotic leaders and their allies in countries like the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But his work in one country, Ukraine, caught up with him on Monday in a criminal indictment describing illicit earnings, offshore bank accounts and lavish expenditures funded in part by nearly a decade of work for Ukraine’s Party of Regions and Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after his regime was toppled by protesters in 2014.
Despite numerous reports of secret payments, Monday’s 12-count indictment against Manafort and a former business partner still yielded new accusations for Ukrainian prosecutors investigating the former Yanukovych administration.
Among them: Lobbying members of Congress for the Ukrainian government, in one case using an offshore account to secretly funnel $4 million to commission a report about the trial of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“This was new information for us,” Serhiy Gorbatyuk, the head of special investigations for the prosecutor’s office, said in a telephone interview.
It took an unlikely confluence of events: The 2014 political revolution in Ukraine that ousted Yanukovych, the discovery of secret campaign finance documents at the headquarters of Ukraine’s ruling Party of Regions, and then Manafort’s leading role as campaign manager for Donald Trump, for Mueller to zero in on Manafort’s alleged schemes to launder money, evade U.S. taxes, and engage in “conspiracy against the United States.”
In Kyiv, where politicians have been careful not to antagonize the Trump administration, Manafort remains just a witness as prosecutors pursue corruption charges against the Yanukovych administration. Gorbatyuk said his requests to the U.S. Department of Justice to cooperate had not yet received a response.
“In order for the case to move forward better, we need answers to our questions. So far, we haven’t received any. Manafort at this moment is a witness in the case,” he said.
On Monday, allies and associates of Manafort’s in Ukraine, where he remains a deeply divisive figure, brushed off the allegations, calling them the result of a political motivated witchhunt following Trump’s unexpected ascendency to the presidency.
Robert Mueller has been pursuing allegations about Russian interference in the U.S. election.