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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

New charges brought against ex-Trump campaign associates

The filing adds allegations of tax evasion and bank fraud and significantly increases the legal jeopardy facing Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort, in pink tie, and Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be president at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Paul Manafort, in pink tie, and Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be president at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Dramatically escalating the pressure and stakes, special counsel Robert Mueller filed additional criminal charges Thursday against president Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and his business associate.

The filing adds allegations of tax evasion and bank fraud and significantly increases the legal jeopardy facing Paul Manafort, who managed Mr Trump’s campaign for several months in 2016, and long-time associate Rick Gates. Both had already faced the prospect of at least a decade in prison if convicted at trial.

The two men were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October that accused them of a multimillion-dollar money-laundering conspiracy tied to lobbying work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party. Both men, who also worked on the Trump campaign, both pleaded not guilty after that indictment.

The new charges, contained in a 32-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia, allege that Manafort and Gates doctored financial documents, lied to tax preparers and defrauded banks — using money they cycled through offshore accounts to spend lavishly, including on real estate, interior decorating and other luxury goods.

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Former Trump campaign manager Manafort faces criminal charges

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The new criminal case, assigned to US district judge TS Ellis III, comes a week after a separate Mueller indictment charged 13 Russians and three companies in a conspiracy to undermine the 2016 presidential election through a hidden social media propaganda effort. The charges against the pair don’t relate to any allegations of misconduct related to Trump’s campaign, though Mueller is continuing to investigate potential ties to the Kremlin.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Mr Manafort, said in a statement that the former Trump campaign chairman is innocent and stressed that the charges “have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion.”

Mr Manafort “is confident that he will be acquitted of all charges,” according to Mr Maloni.

The charges against the Trump affiliates arise from their foreign lobbying and efforts that prosecutors say they made to conceal their income by disguising it as loans from offshore companies. More recently, after their Ukrainian work dwindled, the indictment also accuses them of fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million in loans from financial institutions.

The new indictment increases the amount of money that Mr Manafort, with the assistance of his deputy, is accused of laundering to $30 million. It also charges them with filing false tax returns from 2010 through 2014 and in most of those years concealing their foreign bank accounts from the IRS.

The indictment contains references to other conspirators who are accused of helping them in obtaining fraudulent loans. It doesn’t name the conspirators but notes that one of them worked at one of the lenders.

In a document that accompanied the new indictment, prosecutors said they had filed the charges in Virginia, rather than Washington where the other case is pending, because the alleged conduct occurred there and one of the defendants objected to them being brought in Washington. It did not say which defendant objected.

The indictment comes amid ongoing turmoil in the pair’s defence camps. Mr Manafort has been unable to reach an agreement with prosecutors over the terms of his bail and remains under house arrest, while Mr Gates’ lawyers withdrew from the case after acknowledging “irreconcilable differences” with their client. A new lawyer, Thomas Green, entered an appearance Thursday on his behalf.

Mr Green confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday evening that he represented his client but did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new charges.

The special counsel was appointed in May to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He took over an ongoing FBI investigation into Mr Manafort’s foreign lobbying work.

After a two-month stretch that produced no charges, the new indictment is part of a flurry of activity for Mr Mueller’s team within the past week.

Besides the charges against the Russians, on Tuesday Mr Mueller’s team unsealed a guilty plea from a Dutch lawyer who admitted he lied to investigators about his contacts with Mr Gates.

Two other people who aided the president in the campaign or in the White House — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their foreign contacts. Neither man has been sentenced. Both are cooperating with the investigation.

Mr Mueller is also examining whether Trump obstructed justice through actions including the firing last May of FBI director James Comey. His team has expressed interest in interviewing the president.