New Manafort indictment alleges secret payments to European politicians

A new indictment has been unsealed in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFederal judge considers setting ex-Obama counsel's trial for August: reports Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump Ex-Obama counsel pleads not guilty to charges tied to Ukraine lobbying MORE.

The indictment was filed in mid-February and unsealed Friday, shortly after former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

The latest indictment accuses Manafort, with Gates’s help, of secretly retaining a group of former senior European politicians to take positions that were favorable to Ukraine as part of their illegal lobbying work for Kiev’s government. That work included lobbying in the United States.

“Although the former politicians would appear to be providing their independent assessments of Government of Ukraine actions, in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine,” the indictment says. 

Manafort wired more than $2 million from his offshore accounts to pay these former politicians, the indictment alleges. 

The indictment also contains several details about financial-related charges leveled against Manafort that were previously public. The charges are related to the work Manafort and Gates did on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Yanukovych.

The indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates concealed their scheme to avoid registering as a foreign agent in the United States by providing a “false and misleading” statement to two unnamed lobbying firms they retained. They allegedly stated that the European organization they worked with in their lobbying work was not linked or funded in any way by a foreign government.

The organization, known as the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, “was created in or about 2012 in Belgium as a mouthpiece for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions,” his political party, the indictment says.

The U.S. lobbying firms hired by Manafort and Gates, identified only as Company A and Company B, are widely reported to be the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs.

On Friday, Gates pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, D.C., to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of lying to FBI agents investigating Russian interference. His guilty plea paves the way for his cooperation in Mueller’s probe.

Manafort and Gates initially pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s first round of charges in October.

The new indictment removes charges against Gates. It accuses Manafort on five counts: conspiracy against the United States; conspiracy to launder money; failing to register as a foreign agent; making false and misleading statements related to the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA; and making false statements to U.S. officials. 

Manafort has maintained his innocence and on Friday expressed disbelief in Gates's guilty plea.

"I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me,” Manafort said.