Ukraine denies freezing corruption cases to win Trump's favour
Ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort under suspicion in US and Ukraine
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump: quit in August 2016, amid claims that between 2007-2012 he received more than $12 million in secret payments from Viktor Yanukovich. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Ukrainian prosecutors have denied halting investigations into Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for US president Donald Trump, so as not to jeopardise relations and a landmark weapons deal with Washington.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, effectively froze several corruption cases involving Mr Manafort to help soothe ties with the White House and ensure that Kiev secured US anti-tank missiles for its war with Russian-led separatists. Ukraine confirmed delivery of the rockets this week.
For nearly a decade, Mr Manafort was an adviser to Ukraine’s pro-Moscow Regions Party, which was led by president Viktor Yanukovich until he fled to Russia in February 2014, after his security forces had killed scores of protesters in Kiev.
Mr Manafort quit as Mr Trump’s campaign chief in August 2016, amid claims that between 2007-2012 he received more than $12 million in secret payments from Mr Yanukovich.
The spin doctor is a prominent figure in the investigation of US special counsel Robert Mueller into possible Russian collusion with Mr Trump’s team during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
Mr Mueller has accused him of laundering more than $30 million in proceeds from his work in Ukraine and failing to register as a foreign agent while lobbying for Mr Yanukovich. Mr Manafort denies the charges and insists there was no collusion.
Mr Manafort’s links to both Mr Yanukovich and Mr Trump put Ukraine’s authorities in a tricky position: while they claim to be committed to uncovering the rampant corruption of the Yanukovich era, they also desperately need the support of an unpredictable US leader who has called for a rapprochement with Russia.
Earlier this month, as Ukraine was waiting for delivery from the US of a first batch of high-tech Javelin anti-tank missiles, Mr Lutsenko ordered a halt to investigations into Mr Manafort, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
In response, Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general Yevhen Yenin insisted that “there exist no ‘bans’ on complying with requests for international legal help from the United States”.
Nothing to ‘ban’
“American law enforcers, including the FBI and Mueller, have not made a single request [to Kiev] for legal help in connection with the Manafort case. So in principle there was nothing to ‘ban’.”
Mr Lutsenko said on Thursday “the ball is on the US side” as regards Mr Manafort and that his team of prosecutors “can’t finish our investigation without their results, because we need some information”.
“I am going to have negotiations with FBI officials and will talk about a joint investigation group with them,” he told Reuters in London.
Kiev has leaned heavily on US financial and diplomatic support since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,300 people and displaced some 1.6 million.
Last December, the White House approved the sale of lethal “defensive” weapons to Ukraine, and its army was due to start training with the powerful Javelin rockets this week.