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Paul Manafort’s indictment on charges related to his international consulting work could change how firms manage overseas relationships.
Manafort is accused of laundering $18 million, which was used to fund a “lavish lifestyle” in the United States. The money stemmed from his work in Ukraine from 2006 through 2015 for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president, and his political party, the Opposition Bloc, also known as the Party of Regions.
In order to hide the payments from the federal government from 2006 through “at least” 2016, Manafort and his business partner, Richard Gates, “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts,” according to the feds’ indictment. A total of $75 million flowed through entities in Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.
In addition to the $18 million Manafort is accused of laundering, Gates transferred $3 million to accounts he controlled, the feds allege. Both Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Moreover, despite directing an approximately $2.2 million lobbying effort in DC on Yanukovych’s behalf, Manafort didn’t register as a foreign agent until June 2017, an alleged violation of federal disclosure laws. During the investigation, Manafort and Gates told the FBI that they did not “recall meeting with or conducting outreach” to U.S. government officials and media outlets on their Ukrainian client’s behalf.
“This could put greater scrutiny on international consulting,” acknowledged Jordan Lieberman, president of Audience Partners, who previously worked for Viktor Yushchenko, who defeated Yanukovych during Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election. In September 2004 a month before voting started, Yushchenko said he was poisoned in an assassination attempt he linked to Russia.
Of course, Manafort’s international work may never have led to an an indictment had he not worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. That work led to intense media attention and untimely his entanglement in the probe of the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But GOP consultant Reed Galen doesn’t think Manafort’s indictment is likely to inspire soul searching by international consultants.
“Some of these places not only pay really well, but they pay in cash,” he said. “I think more likely what you’ll see is a little more caution. If you’re a DC-based consultancy who does work overseas who has a half decent lawyer, you should probably register as a foreign agent just to be safe.”
That trend appears to have already started. In April, the Podesta Group filed foreign lobbying disclosures related to its work with the European Centre for Modern Ukraine. The Centre was the “nominal client” of the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC while they were being directed by Manafort and Gates to lobby for Yanukovych’s interests, according to the indictment.
Also on Monday, the plea agreement between former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos and federal prosecutors was made public. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians.