Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort ‘paid senior former European politicians to lobby for Ukraine’
Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chief paid a secret group of former senior European politicians to lobby on behalf of the pro-Russian government of Ukraine, according to US special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mr Mueller, who is leading the probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, made the allegation in a court filing which brought new charges against Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman.
Mr Manafort “retained a group of former senior European politicians to take positions favourable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States,” according to the indictment.
The group was nicknamed the “Hapsburg Group” after the former Austrian royal family which dominated Europe for hundreds of years.
Mr Manafort allegedly ran the group in 2012 and 2013 while working as a consultant to Victor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian president who was ousted from power during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.
The court filing alleges that the group was “managed by a former European Chancellor, Foreign Politician A”. It does not name the politician.
The indictment does not name other members of the group or say how many former politicians were involved. But it alleges that Mr Manafort paid them more than 2 million euros for their services.
In a June 2012 “EYES ONLY” memo, Mr Manafort allegedly described his “SUPER VIP” effort to “assemble a small group of high-level European highly influencial [sic] champions and politically credibly friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine”.
The indictment states: “The plan was for the former politicians, informally called the ‘Hapsburg Group,’ to appear to be providing their independent assessments of Government of Ukraine actions when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine.”
The allegations were included in a new indictment against Mr Manafort which charged him with conspiracy against the US, conspiracy to launder money, and making false statements. He was charged with money laundering in an initial indictment in October.
Mr Manafort denies wrongdoing. His business partner, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to charges of financial fraud this week and is expected to cooperate with Mr Mueller’s investigation.
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The allegations against Mr Manafort so far predate his involvement with the Trump campaign. He was chairman of the campaign from June until August 2016 but resigned amid controversy over his work in Ukraine.