KYIV – Ukrainian authorities have published excerpts from secret accounting ledgers of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s political party documenting more than $12.7 million in under-the-table payments that were earmarked for Paul Manafort, who chaired U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign until his resignation on August 19.
Some of the 22 line items posted on the website of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) show payments of more than $1 million for Mr. Manafort’s “services,” while others describe the payments as being for “Manafort exit poll in real time,” “personal computers for Manafort” and simply “sociology” – possibly a reference to opinion surveys.
The handwritten entries span nearly five years, from November 20, 2007, to October 5, 2012, when Mr. Manafort was working for Mr. Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions in Kyiv. Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014, after being pushed from power by protests over his decision to scrap plans for a landmark cooperation pact with the European Union and forge closer ties to Moscow instead.
Mr. Manafort has come under fire over the revelations, first reported by The New York Times on August 14. He was removed from day-to-day management of the Trump campaign on August 17 but retained his title until August 19, when Mr. Trump issued a statement via his official website in which he described Mr. Manafort as “a true professional.”
“This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign,” the statement read, adding that the Republican nominee was “very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today….”
NABU said the presence of Mr. Manafort’s name in the ledger did not mean that he actually received the money designated for him, because the signatures that appear in the column of recipients belong to other people.
Mr. Manafort has said he never received any illegal payments and his lawyers have denied that he participated in any illegal activities in Ukraine.
But Sergii Leshchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker and anti-corruption campaigner who has studied the ledger, is convinced that Mr. Manafort received the payments listed.
“Manafort didn’t work for free in Ukraine, he served the Party of Regions for over 10 years and it is clear that his work was paid,” Mr. Leshchenko said, holding up copies of the ledger items at a news conference in Kyiv on August 19. “The money was transferred in cash and it is impossible to trace the transactions, but I have no doubt as to the authenticity of these documents.”
”We know that people who were mentioned in these books… they confirmed they were involved in this activity and money [was] taken,” Mr. Leshchenko added.
Money ‘funneled’ to D.C. firms
His belief is bolstered by the fact that the signatories for the payment orders include top former Party of Regions lawmakers Vitaliy Kalyuzhny, who served as chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament’s International Relations Committee, and Yevhen Heller, who Mr. Leshchenko said was considered to be the party’s “cashier.”
Mr. Heller is also one of the founders of the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based non-profit organization that Associated Press reports say was used to funnel money from the Party of Regions to two U.S. lobbying firms.
AP reports said the news agency obtained e-mails showing that Mr. Manafort – using his own firm, run with help from his deputy Rick Gates – helped route at least $2.2 million through the European Center for a Modern Ukraine to lobbying firms Mercury and the Podesta Group in order to sway American public opinion in the interest of Mr. Yanukovych and his party.
The AP said Messrs. Manafort and Gates failed to disclose their roles as foreign agents by registering as such with the federal government. Under U.S. law, people who lobby on behalf of foreign political leaders must provide detailed accounts of their work to the Justice Department. Failure to do so is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Mr. Manafort has denied ever performing “direct lobbying support” for the Ukrainian government.
Mr. Manafort is not the only American whose name appears in the party ledger. In his presentation on August 19, Mr. Leshchenko also revealed for the first time that veteran U.S. journalist and longtime CNN television host Larry King’s name is listed in the accounting book.
‘Larry King payment’
In an entry dated October 11, 2011, Mr. King is listed as the recipient of a $225,000 advance for an “interview.” His signature is not on the page. As with the entries referring to Mr. Manafort, Mr. Heller signed for the payment.
Mr. Leshchenko’s colleague Sevhil Musayeva-Borovyk, an investigative reporter and editor-in-chief of the independent news site Ukrayinska Pravda, said she believes the payment was for Mr. King to conduct an interview with then-Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, a Yanukovych ally and senior Party of Regions member.
Mr. King visited Kyiv and interviewed Mr. Azarov weeks after the date of the entry, on November 28, 2011, at the government headquarters in Kyiv.
At a news conference following the interview, Mr. King called Mr. Azarov a straightforward and honest person. He said that after the interview he had told his wife, who joined him in Kyiv, that Mr. Azarov “would have been a successful U.S. politician.”
“He’s a bit like Jimmy Carter. He looks good, and it’s easy to meet with him,” Mr. King said when asked with whom of the world’s politicians he would compare Mr. Azarov, according to the Interfax news agency.
Mr. King’s representatives could not be reached for comment.
The Azarov interview did not air on CNN, and it is unclear whether it was broadcast elsewhere.
King’s CNN show “Larry King Live” was canceled in 2010, but he was still hosting CNN special programs at the time the interview was conducted.
CNN cut ties with King in February 2012. In 2013, he signed on to host a new program on state-funded Russian channel RT.
Copyright 2016, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; www.rferl.org (see http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-secret-payments-evidents-manafort/ 27933901.html).