In a piece of information that is no doubt of major interest to federal investigators, Paul Manafort was tens of millions in dollars in debt to Russian interests before he joined the Trump campaign in 2016, according to financial filings newly uncovered by the New York Times.
The existence of this debt raises an array of serious questions right off the bat. Federal investigators have been on the lookout for financial connections to Russia on the part of Trump and his associates for some time, because those connections are what may have held Trump team/ Russia collusion efforts together.
Did these tens of millions of dollars in debt influence Manafort’s decision-making while he served as Donald Trump’s campaign manager? Are there decisions he made that we don’t even know about yet that were sparked by the existence of this debt? How was the debt resolved, if it, in fact, is resolved? Did Russian interests offer kickbacks to Manafort in the form of forgiving his debt in exchange for steering the Trump campaign in a certain fashion?
The $17 million in debt at play here wasn’t owed by Manafort personally. Rather, it was, in the years before Manafort joined the Trump campaign, owed by “shell companies” connected to Manafort’s European business ventures.
The New York Times approached a spokesperson for Manafort about the financial records that they uncovered, but the spokesperson, Jason Maloni, dismissed their significance.
He insisted that the financial records in question are “stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements.”
‘Manafort is not indebted to Mr. Deripaska or the Party of Regions, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign. The broader point, which Mr. Manafort has maintained from the beginning, is that he did not collude with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.’
Oleg Deripaska is a Russian oligarch who claimed in 2015 that Manafort owed him almost $20 million, and the Party of Regions is the political party of former Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine, whom Manafort worked for in the years before joining the Trump campaign. In February 2014, the staunchly pro-Putin Yanukovych was ousted from power. Concerned parties have long accused Manafort of accepting large secret payments from Yanukovych’s political party, and there are documents to back up the allegations, although those documents’ authenticity has been questioned.
One of the debts in the documents uncovered by the New York Times, which come from the offshore tax haven of Cyprus, was owed to a shell company, which was in turn owned by Deripaska, and there is no indication in the documents that it has ever been repaid. That debt was worth $7.8 million.
The other debt was worth $9.9 million and was owed to Lucicle Consultants, a shell company “whose precise ownership is unclear,” according to the New York Times. This company, however, “appears to have ties to a Party of Regions parliamentarian, Ivan Fursin,” and “is linked to Mr. Fursin through another offshore entity, Mistaro Ventures, which is registered in St. Kitts and Nevis and listed on a government financial disclosure form that Mr. Fursin filed in Ukraine.” Mistaro made a large loan to Lucicle at one point before Lucicle made the loan to Manafort’s shell company.
For now, federal investigators continue to try and unravel the web that Trump and his associates have woven for themselves. Manafort will testify before an open Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week.
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