More than $12 million in undisclosed payments were earmarked for Donald Trump’s campaign manager by the pro-Russian political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, according to a Ukrainian official.
Paul Manafort’s name was recorded in a so-called “black ledger,” a log of under-the-table payments from Yanukovych’s political party to hundreds of people, including government officials, investigators said, according to Darya Manzhura, a spokeswoman for the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.
From 2007 until 2012, the sum of the alleged disbursements next to Manafort’s name total more than $12.7 million. The investigators did not specify the reason the money was earmarked. Manafort was a political consultant for Yanukovych at the time, although his salary has not been made public. The ledger does not say whether Manafort was paid, and he denies having received any money.
The earmarked payments were first reported by the New York Times.
Manafort, who did political consulting for Yanukovych, strongly denied that he ever received an off-the-books payment and said that any political payment directed toward him was for his campaign staff and services including election integrity and polling.
“The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical,” Manafort said in a statement released Monday morning. He denied ever doing work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia. Manafort said he stopped working in Ukraine after the October 2014 elections there; Yanukovych was ousted from office in February 2014.
“The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. It is well-known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well,” Manafort said in the statement. He asserted that he has “never received a single ‘off-the-books’ cash payment.”
Manafort said that “every government official interviewed said I have done nothing wrong, and there is no evidence of ‘cash payments’ made to me by any official in Ukraine.”
The ledgers, discovered in the Party of Regions headquarters following the 2014 revolution that forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia, were given to investigators by Viktor Trepak, a former Ukrainian domestic intelligence official, Manzhura said. He received the documents from an undisclosed source.
The “black ledger” includes more than 20,000 line items, and investigators are sifting through the names, primarily seeking proof that government officials were receiving bribes. The anti-corruption bureau cannot make indictments but must pass on any evidence to prosecutors, who can decide whether to file charges. Manzhura said that processing the list will take a long time, as will matching signatures to individuals and proving that money actually changed hands.
For investigators, she said, Manafort is not the priority.
“He’s not a Ukrainian government official, so taking into account the role and tasks of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Paul Manafort is not the number-one priority to investigate on this list,” Manzhura said.
It did not appear that Manafort had signed the ledger himself, she added.
“The signatures against his surname probably don’t belong to him; they belong to other people,” she said, adding they may have been intermediaries. “So this information needs to be checked separately.”
The Times reported that Ukrainian officials are also investigating numerous offshore companies that allegedly funded the high-rolling lifestyles of Yanukovych and those close to him. The deals made by these companies include a multimillion-dollar plan to sell Ukrainian cable television assets that involved Manafort and a Russian oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, though the Times reported that Manafort is not a target in the Ukrainian investigation of offshore companies.
Manafort is no stranger to controversy, controversial figures or global dealmaking. His friends have labeled him “the Count of Monte Cristo,” the hero of a 19th century novel.
Manafort once tried to build a high-rise in Manhattan with money from a billionaire ally of Yanukovych; the project failed. In his lobbying work, Manafort took on clients few others would touch, including the corrupt dictators Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, both of whom stole billions of dollars from their countries.
The cable deal ended up in court in the Cayman Islands and Virginia. The Russian tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, accused Manafort of taking $19 million and of failing to account for the money, return it or respond to questions about where it went.
Attorneys for Deripaska at one point said they could not locate Manafort or his partner, Richard Gates, according to a petition filed in a Cayman Islands court.
“It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared,” the petition stated.
According to court records filed in August 2015, seven years after Deripaska asked for his money back, the businessman still had not received it.
The Times reported that Manafort’s lawyer denied his client received management fees from the partnership making the investments in the Cayman Islands, but Gates, who is also now working for Trump, received a “nominal” sum.
Manafort’s ties to Russia and Ukraine are now receiving more scrutiny after Trump called on Russia to meddle in the presidential election by finding and releasing thousands of emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. U.S. officials said there is strong evidence that Russia was involved in a hack of emails and voice mails at the Democratic National Committee.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during a news conference in July. He added later: “They probably have them. I’d like to have them released.”
When asked if he was concerned about Russia spying on Clinton’s correspondence, Trump said: “No, it gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them.”
Trump has offered words of praise for Putin. In December, Putin said Trump was a “colorful and talented” person, praise Trump said was an “honor.”
Trump came under fire earlier this month when he appeared to be unfamiliar with Russia’s actions regarding Ukraine and its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“He’s not going into Ukraine, okay,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to Putin. “He’s not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down.”
Trump then appeared to contradict himself when George Stephanopoulos, the host of the program, responded that “he’s already there, isn’t he?”
“Okay, well, he’s there in a certain way,” Mr. Trump replied.
Trump is slated to make a speech on foreign policy on Monday, specifically on terrorism and how he will combat the Islamic State.
Clinton’s campaign criticized Manafort and Trump’s past statements about Putin and Russia ahead of the speech.
“On the eve of what the Trump campaign has billed as a major foreign policy speech, we have learned of more troubling connections between Donald Trump’s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement emailed to reporters overnight.
“Given the pro-Putin policy stances adopted by Donald Trump and the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records, Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them.”
Clinton also released a new video Monday featuring Republicans criticizing Trump’s foreign policy stances.
Democrats see foreign policy as a major weak point for Trump. In particular, Clinton and her allies decry Trump’s public admiration for Putin, the GOP nominee’s suspicion of U.S. alliances and his apparent unfamiliarity with tenets of post-war nuclear weapons safety.
Roth reported from Moscow. Anne Gearan in Scranton, Pa., contributed to this report.