Ukraine froze Manafort probes amid US weapons sales: report

Ukraine froze Manafort probes amid US weapons sales: report
© Greg Nash

Ukraine's chief prosecutor froze four pending investigations into President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE's former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortGiuliani meets with fired Ukrainian prosecutor who pushed Biden, 2016 claims: report Top State Department official tells senators he has not seen evidence of Ukrainian interference Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe MORE as the U.S. finalized a weapons sale to the Eastern European country.

Those cases were put into the "long-term box," one Ukrainian lawmaker, Volodymyr Ariev, told The New York Times, so as to avoid upsetting President Trump, who has bristled publicly and privately at special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials," Ariev told the Times. "We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration."

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The decision to halt the investigations came shortly after the U.S. approved the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 35 launching units to the Ukrainian government, the Times reported. 

The move shows how Ukraine, a country heavily reliant on U.S. assistance, has sought to avoid activities that could irritate Trump. The country receives about $600 million annually in direct aid from the U.S.

The four investigations involving Manafort were initially among roughly 3,000 cases opened by special prosecutor Serhiy Horbatyuk, who is probing alleged corruption in the administration of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014.

The investigations involving Manafort hinged on his consulting work for Yanukovych and his political party.

In April, however, shortly after the Pentagon gave final approval for the weapons sale, an order was issued to effectively halt the Manafort investigations. Horbatyuk told the Times that the order did not end the probes, but barred him from issuing subpoenas or conducting witness interviews. 

"We have no authority to continue our investigation," he said. 

In the U.S., Manafort has emerged as a key figure in Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He is facing charges of money laundering, tax evasion and failing to register as a foreign agent in that probe.

Trump has blasted Mueller's investigation as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt," and has insisted that no one on his campaign conspired with Moscow to help sway the result of the 2016 election. Mueller is seeking to interview Trump as part of the probe. 

The Times previously obtained a list of questions Mueller's team is hoping to ask the president in a potential interview. One of those questions touches on what Trump may have known about Manafort's outreach to Russia during the campaign.