Probe of ex-Trump aide finds its way to Cyprus
Investigators look into Paul Manafort’s work in the island nation, notorious as a haven for Russian money laundering.
The U.S. government investigation of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, crossed the Atlantic earlier this year to the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, once known as a haven for money laundering by Russian billionaires.
Treasury agents in recent months obtained information connected to Manafort’s transactions from Cypriot authorities, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. The request was part of a federal anti-corruption probe into Manafort’s work in Eastern Europe. The Cyprus attorney general, one of the country’s top law enforcement officers, was also aware of the American request.
Manafort was Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman from March until August last year, during the critical run-up to the Republican National Convention. He’s been a leading focus of the U.S. investigation into whether Trump associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Manafort, when asked about the Cyprus transactions on Thursday, characterized them as a normal practice. “Like many companies doing business internationally, my company was paid via wire transfer, typically using clients’ preferred financial institutions and instructions,” he said.
Federal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukrainian assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have been filed in the case.
It was not immediately clear what time period of Manafort’s transactions was covered under the request from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Manafort was known to route financial transactions through Cyprus, according to records of international wire transfers and public court documents filed in a 2014 legal dispute in the Cayman Islands with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
As part of their investigation, U.S. officials were expected to look into millions of dollars’ worth of wire transfers to Manafort. In one case, a Manafortlinked company received a $1 million payment in October 2009 from a mysterious firm through the Bank of Cyprus. The $1 million left the account the same day — split in two, roughly $500,000 disbursements to accounts with no obvious owner.
There is nothing inherently illicit about using multiple companies as Manafort was doing.
But it was unclear why he would have been involved with companies in Cyprus, known for its history of money laundering before joining the European Union, with unclear sources of the money flowing in to them and secrecy surrounding the firms’ connections to him.
The White House said Trump had not been aware of Manafort’s work on behalf of Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort, who is 67, eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006.
“The president was not aware of Paul’s clients from the last decade,” said spokesman Sean Spicer.
“What else don’t we know? I mean, where he went to school, what grades he got, who he played with in the sandbox?”
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is being investigated by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. No charges have been filed in the case.