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Ex-Trump aide Manafort accused of attempting witness tampering

Manafort and long-time associate Rick Gates are alleged to have repeatedly contacted members of a public relations group of former European officials to give false testimony in the case

world Updated: Jun 05, 2018 23:16 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Paul Manafort,Donald Trump,witness tampering
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for US President Donald Trump, departs after a hearing at US District Court in Washington, DC, US, on April 19, 2018.(Reuters File Photo)

US federal prosecutors have accused President Donald Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort of witness tampering in a case of alleged money laundering and bank and tax fraud.

Manafort and long-time associate Rick Gates are alleged to have repeatedly contacted members of a public relations group of former European officials, only identified as the “Hapsburg Group” in court filings, to give false testimony in the case.

These contacts and attempt to influence witnesses took place between February and April this year, while Manafort was under house arrest on a $10 million bond.

Prosecutors working with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion by Trump campaign aides, told the court that Manafort had violated terms of release and should be committed to jail.

Manafort served as Trump campaign chairman for a few months before he was thrown out over his lobbying work for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. Mueller’s team charged him in October 2017 and February 2018 with bank fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and for violating lobbying laws.

Gates, who had also served on the Trump campaign, was also charged in the 2017 indictment but he has since pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation under a deal. Manafort is contesting the charges. The prospects of being sent to jail pending trial could change his legal strategy, or he may choose to battle on.

Trump has sought to shield himself from his former campaign chair, arguing Manafort’s legal troubles have nothing to do with the campaign and precede it by years and it has still not yielded no evidence either of Russian meddling or collusion..

Mueller’s prosecutors said in court filings on Monday that Manafort had been in touch with two officials of the PR group directly and through a long-time associate who represented him in Ukraine and who has alleged links to Russian intelligence.

Through phone calls and messages on WhatsApp, they tried to persuade the former European officials to testify that their lobbying work on Manafort’s behalf was confined to Europe and not the United States.

“They should say their lobbying and public relations work was exclusively in Europe,” one of the PR group officials told the FBI, according to court documents.

In one WhatsApp message, Manafort’s associate wrote, “Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the U.S., and the purpose of the program was EU.”

Prosecutors have said Manafort engaged the group in 2012 and paid it €2 million till 2013, and it was a part of a secret and undisclosed lobbying activity undertaken by Manafort on behalf of his Ukrainian clients in the US. Manafort is arguing they lobbied only the EU.

This is not the first time prosecutors have complained about Manafort’s activities while he is free pending trial. He had earlier helped draft an opinion piece meant for Ukrainian publications that defended his lobbying work.

First Published: Jun 05, 2018 23:16 IST