Mueller Finds Plenty Of Crimes In Ukraine, In Con­trast To Na­tion’s Hap­less Law En­forcers

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY JOSH KOVENSKY KOVENSKY@KYIVPOST.COM

Un­like Ukrainian law en­force­ment, U.S. spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller is find­ing plenty of crimes con­nected to Ukraine. He's also charg­ing sus­pects, ne­go­ti­at­ing plea agree­ments and tak­ing the ev­i­dence to move up the chain of al­leged wrong­do­ing.

The last week has shown big move­ment in the case against Paul Manafort, the for­mer cam­paign man­ager to U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump and a long­time ad­viser to ex-Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, ousted by the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion in 2014.

Among the rev­e­la­tions from Mueller's team are al­le­ga­tions that Manafort en­gaged in a covert lob­by­ing push on Yanukovych's be­half by pay­ing off Euro­pean politi­cians to act as "in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts." The lob­by­ing push ap­pears to have co­a­lesced around a Vi­enna com­pany be­long­ing to the son of Mykola Azarov, the for­mer Ukrainian prime min­is­ter and chair­man of the for­mer rul­ing Party of Re­gions.

Records and con­ver­sa­tions with for­mer of­fi­cials show that much of this push had to do with an at­tempt to con­vince Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials to stop pres­sur­ing the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment to re­lease po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing Batkivshch­yna Party leader and ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko.

Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion has yielded six guilty pleas so far un­der his man­date to in­ves­ti­gate Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Manafort de­nies the al­le­ga­tions against him, and has en­tered not guilty pleas to all charges filed. more Manafort on page 10

EU con­di­tions

Many of the new charges fo­cus on al­le­ga­tions from 2011 to 2013. Af­ter his elec­tion, Yanukovych moved quickly to ar­rest and im­prison Ty­moshenko, who came within 3.5 per­cent­age points of be­ing elected pres­i­dent in 2010. She was quickly pros­e­cuted, con­victed, and sen­tenced to prison in 2011 for al­leged abuse of power and em­bez­zle­ment in­volv­ing a 2009 nat­u­ral gas agree­ment with Rus­sia.

The 2011 con­vic­tion was widely viewed as po­lit­i­cal ret­ri­bu­tion for op­pos­ing Yanukovych. Ty­moshenko served more than two years of a seven-year prison sen­tence, re­leased only af­ter Yanukovych fled Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014.

But her im­pris­on­ment dur­ing the Yanukovych years proved to be a sore point in EU-Ukraine re­la­tions.

Mueller’s in­dict­ment al­leges that Manafort or­ga­nized a covert lob­by­ing op­er­a­tion, cre­at­ing “a non­govern­men­tal agency” that would “as­sem­ble a small group of high-level Euro­pean… cham­pi­ons and po­lit­i­cally cred­i­ble friends who can act in­for­mally and with­out any vis­i­ble re­la­tion­ship with the Gov­ern­ment of Ukraine.”

One ex-Yanukovych of­fi­cial who worked with Manafort told the Kyiv Post that the ob­jec­tive was to con­vince Euro­pean diplo­mats to drop de­mands to re­lease Ty­moshenko and other po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in ex­change for sign­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment. “The West could have sac­ri­ficed Yu­lia to get Ukraine in its or­bit,” said the of­fi­cial, who would only speak on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Pat Cox, an Irish politi­cian, was ap­pointed to an EU mis­sion on po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers in Ukraine in 2012 with Alek­sandr Kwas­niewski, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Poland. Cox re­called in a let­ter pro­vided to the Kyiv Post that a re­port com­piled by law firm Skad­den Arps Slate Meagher and Flom ap­peared to be part of the lob­by­ing push.

In the let­ter, Cox wrote that Yanukovych pre­sented a let­ter to him from “Skad­den et al, the U.S. le­gal com­pany that pre­pared opin­ions for the Yanukovych regime… in de­fense of his pos­ture.”

Sus­tain­able Ukraine

The in­dict­ment al­leges that Manafort's re­cruits in­cluded an un­named ex-chan­cel­lor as part of a group that re­ceived more than 2 mil­lion eu­ros. A U.S. reg­u­la­tory fil­ing by the Euro­pean Cen­ter for a Mod­ern Ukraine, a Brus­sels-based non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that lob­bied for Party of Re­gions in­ter­ests in the West, states that “speak­ers at these events in­cluded… Alek­sander Kwas­niewski, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Poland, Al­fred Gusen­bauer, the for­mer chan­cel­lor of Aus­tria, and Ro­mano Prodi, Italy's for­mer prime min­is­ter."

The fil­ing states the lob­by­ing ef­fort’s pur­pose as “Ukraine's en­try into the EU, the sign­ing and rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment be­tween Ukraine and the EU, and the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the deep and com­pre­hen­sive free trade agree­ment.”

In 2012, when these events were al­leged to have taken place, Gusen­bauer chaired a Vi­enna-based com­pany called the Sus­tain­able Ukraine Foun­da­tion. The group’s web­site is down, but archived screen­shots show him listed as the group’s chair, with quotes from Kwas­niewski and Prodi laud­ing Ukraine on the site.

A Septem­ber 2012 event at Vi­enna’s Ren­ner In­sti­tute, first re­ported by the Aus­trian press, fea­tured Gusen­bauer along with Prodi and then-For­eign Min­is­ter of Ukraine Kostyan­tyn Gryschenko.

“I think the present sit­u­a­tion where many in the EU see the Ukraine solely through the lens of the Ty­moshenko case is not cor­rect and is not serv­ing EU in­ter­ests,” Gusen­bauer said at the event.

In a press re­lease one day af­ter the event, Prodi was quoted as say­ing, "We have to work to do ev­ery­thing we can to make Ukraine a bridge be­tween Rus­sia and the EU. Re­la­tions be­tween the EU and Ukraine will even­tu­ally get closer and is­sues such as the Ty­moshenko case will be han­dled with less emo­tion and pas­sion.”

Sus­tain­able Ukraine caused a scan­dal in 2012 af­ter Ukrainian jour­nal­ists re­vealed that it was owned by Olexiy Azarov, the son of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Mykola Azarov.

The group had plas­tered bill­boards around Ukraine show­ing the elder Azarov next to EU politi­cians, in­clud­ing Kwas­niewski and Mar­garet Thatcher pho­to­shopped into the pic­ture, along with the slo­gan “re­forms are in­evitable.”

Prodi and Gusen­bauer deny the ac­cu­sa­tions. Kwas­niewski de­nied that he had worked with Sus­tain­able Ukraine and said, “I never acted within any lobby group!”

“I read a lot in­for­ma­tion about Mr. Manafort and I have the im­pres­sion that these are more in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ad­vo­cates or pros­e­cu­tors than real facts,” Kwas­niewski added.

Sus­tain­able Ukraine’s own­er­ship records fur­ther tie it to Gusen­bauer. The firm is partly owned by Specht As­set Man­age­ment Ser­vices, which be­longs to Vi­enna lawyer Leopold Specht, who con­firmed that he held a stake in Sus­tain­able Ukraine.

"The com­pany has been founded to sup­port ac­tiv­i­ties, within the Ukraine, to foster grass­roots ini- tia­tives in ar­eas like al­ter­na­tive en­ergy, al­ter­na­tive agri­cul­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, cul­tural ini­tia­tives, from a pro­gres­sive Euro­pean po­si­tion," Specht said in a state­ment. "And, it should sup­port ini­tia­tives strength­en­ing the rap­port be­tween Ukraine and the Euro­pean Union.

Gusenabuer’s of­fice is lo­cated in Specht’s law firm, ac­cord­ing prop­erty records and Specht him­self.

A col­lege try

Sus­tain­able Ukraine also in­volved it­self in other projects. The Azarov­con­trolled group gave an un­spec­i­fied amount of money to Har­vard Univer­sity in the sum­mer of 2013 as part of a bid for the univer­sity to set up a Ukrainian stud­ies cen­ter in Kyiv.

Sus­tain­able Ukraine’s Kyiv rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Natasha Sheiko, briefly worked pro bono on Har­vard’s be­half to help “col­lect funds from po­ten­tial Ukrainian donors,” a univer­sity spokes­woman said. Har­vard de­clined to dis­close the amount of money in the gift.

Mikhail Mi­nakov, a Kyiv pro­fes­sor, shep­herded the project, and told the Kyiv Post in 2013 that $4 mil­lion would be needed for the ef­fort.

Nei­ther Mi­nakov nor Sheiko replied to re­peated re­quests for com­ment.

Gates’ guilty plea last week has sparked spec­u­la­tion that he may have juicy in­for­ma­tion to dish on his for­mer busi­ness part­ner Manafort.

Bo­hdan Vitvit­sky, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor, told the Kyiv Post that “If a de­fen­dant in a multi-de­fen­dant case of­fers to plead guilty, which he does for his own rea­sons, the pros­e­cu­tor will de­cide how help­ful that plea would be for the re­main­ing case and per­haps how much help that po­ten­tial plead­ing de­fen­dant can pro­vide against how many other tar­gets etc. and on that ba­sis will ne­go­ti­ate with plead­ing de­fense coun­sel a very en­tic­ing, moder­ately en­tic­ing or only mod­estly en­tic­ing plea agree­ment.”

"Gates now has an op­por­tu­nity to be on the side of the 'good guys,' he added. "It strikes me as be­tween an en­tic­ing and moder­ately en­tic­ing deal."

(AFP)

Ex-Aus­trian Chan­cel­lor Al­fred Gusen­bauer speaks at a Euro­pean Coun­cil sum­mit in Oc­to­ber 2008 in Brus­sels. Gusen­bauer chaired a Vi­ennabased non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Sus­tain­able Ukraine Foun­da­tion, run by ex-Ukrainian Prime Min­is­ter Mykola...

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