Documents released last year reveal that former Trump aide Paul Manafort from the party of Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed former President, the Party of Regions, reportedly worked for Russian-leaning political organizations in the Ukraine for well over ten years before taking the help of Trump’s presidential campaign in the summer of 2016. He was eventually removed from this position after Ukrainian authorities disclosed that he may have been paid upwards of $12 million from an illegal slush fund maintained by the Party of Regions.
The scandal intensified in March when Manafort’s name first surfaced in relation to dubious transactions. A member of the Ukrainian parliament, Serhiy A. Leshchenko, released documents that he claimed showed that Manafort took steps to hide payments related to his work for former Ukrainian president Viktor F. Yanukovych, who is currently living in Russia and wanted in Ukraine for corruption charges. The documents included an invoice for $750,000 that appears to have been siphoned through an offshore account using a shell company in Belize, Neocom Systems, and disguised as a payment for computers.
The payment of $750,000 was just one of many payments in a “black ledger” that shows a number of suspicious cash payments designated for Manafort. It has been reported that officials in both the US and Ukraine are investigating the former Ukrainian president for corruption, including payments that have appeared in the ledger.
Manafort, however, is adamant that the documents are a forgery and that Leshchenko is out to blackmail him, pointing to a letter in which Leshchenko appears to threaten him. Moreover, while what appears to be Manafort’s signature does appear on the invoice for $750,000, he insists it is a fake. Leshchenko, for his part, says that letter is a fake and denies any involvement in any kind of blackmail scheme.
These latest documents were released just hours after FBI Director James B. Comey was questioned by Congress about the possibility of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Comey, however, declined to comment on the Manafort payments and did not say whether the FBI was investigating them.
Manafort reportedly has a long and illustrious history of making millions by boosting the images of controversial foreign leaders, including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, and also advising Republican presidential campaigns. In the mid-2000s he was reportedly called in to help a struggling President Yanukovych, who had lost the 2004 presidential election to a pro-European candidate and was in need of political help. After Yanukovych regained the presidency, he continued to act as an advisor until Yanukovych was ousted in 2014.
All in all, however, it remains unclear whether Manafort was involved in money laundering — though the affair certainly is suspicious. Ongoing investigations will hopefully provide more answers.