KIEV, Ukraine — The news of Paul Manafort’s indictment on Monday elicited cheers in Ukraine, where activists and politicians seeking to root out political corruption had seethed at the American political operative’s counsel to the country’s ousted leader, Viktor Yanukovych.
Reports of the millions of dollars Manafort had been paid under the table by Ukraine’s former ruling party were particularly galling — and Ukrainians learned from the indictment Monday those payments may have been even larger than thought.
But while Washington is wondering where the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections will lead next, people here are wondering more about what this means for the investigation into the millions of dollars in oligarch wealth that have stubbornly slowed the country’s program of reform.
“It’s great news. There should be a precedent of punishment for the lobbyists who served these corrupt figures,” said Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament and investigative journalist who published documents showing secret payments to Manafort by the ruling party under Yanukovych and then invoices to Manafort consulting companies on the same day. “Manafort worked for a long time so that Yanukovych could come to power and use that power for his own corrupt schemes, not for reform.”
The investigation, as he saw it, is far from finished.
“I want investigations into all of Manafort’s connections and the people who paid him this money,” he added, naming several prominent Ukrainian oligarchs.
In a decades-long career, Manafort made tens of millions of dollars far beyond the borders of established democracies, working for despotic leaders and their allies in countries such as the Philippines and Congo.
But his work in one country, Ukraine, caught up with him on Monday in a criminal indictment describing illicit earnings, offshore bank accounts and lavish expenditures funded in part by nearly a decade of work for Ukraine’s Party of Regions and Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after his regime was toppled by protesters in 2014.
Despite reports of secret payments, Monday’s 12-count indictment against Manafort and a former business partner still yielded new accusations for Ukrainian prosecutors investigating the former Yanukovych administration.
Among them: lobbying members of Congress for the Ukrainian government, in one case using an offshore account to secretly funnel $4 million to commission a report about the trial of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“This was new information for us,” Serhiy Gorbatyuk, the head of special investigations for the prosecutor’s office, said in a telephone interview.
It took an unlikely confluence of events — the 2014 political revolution in Ukraine that ousted Yanukovych, the discovery of secret campaign finance documents at the headquarters of Ukraine’s ruling Party of Regions, and then Manafort’s leading role as campaign manager for President Trump — for Mueller to zero in on Manafort’s alleged schemes to launder money, evade U.S. taxes, and engage in “conspiracy against the United States.”
In Kiev, where politicians have been careful not to antagonize the Trump administration, Manafort remains just a witness as prosecutors pursue corruption charges against the Yanukovych administration. Gorbatyuk said his requests to the U.S. Justice Department to cooperate had not received a response.
“In order for the case to move forward better, we need answers to our questions. So far, we haven’t received any. Manafort at this moment is a witness in the case,” he said.
While corruption allegations were already well-known in Kiev, the extent of Manafort’s wealth was not. Monday’s indictment alleged that more than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, maintained, and that Manafort sent more than $5.4 million to vendors for home improvements and $934,350 to an antique rug store. It alleged, as well, that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more on antiques, landscaping, Range Rovers and home entertainment systems.
He made that money while working for some of the region’s richest men, including Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska in a 2014 Cayman Islands court filing had accused Manafort and Gates of absconding with $19 million of his money earmarked for investments. Yet in 2016, Manafort had suggested providing Deripaska with private briefings while he was Trump’s campaign chairman.
But the focus of Monday’s indictment was the money Manafort made working as a political adviser in Ukraine — developing the election strategies that helped revive the political career of Yanukovych from a bitter defeat in a contested 2004 presidential election, up until his ouster by pro-European street demonstrators in 2014.
Party allies recalled that Manafort coached unpolished politicians from the country’s industrial regions, streamlining their talking points and improving their choice in suits. Others said he helped parse demographic polls to take advantage of the deep divide between the country’s regions.
On Monday, allies and associates of Manafort’s in Ukraine, where he remains a deeply divisive figure, brushed off the allegations, calling them the result of a politically motivated witch hunt following Trump’s unexpected ascendancy to the presidency.
“I have every confidence that Paul and Rick will be vindicated by the judicial process currently ongoing in the U.S.,” said Philip Griffin, Manafort’s longtime representative in Ukraine. “I am quite taken by the fact that this has nothing to do with the president or any alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia — and that this is the result of a politically driven fishing expedition.”
Previous records from a recovered “black ledger” of payments to Manafort from Ukraine’s Party of Regions detailed payments of $12.7 million, but Monday’s indictment said Manafort had laundered a larger amount, more than $18 million. Manafort pleaded not guilty Monday to the 12 counts brought against him.
While Manafort allies focused on the absence of collusion allegations in the indictment, the charges still sent shock waves through his network of partners and associates. Speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly, one associate called them “a punch to the gut.”