Manafort to help Mueller probe as part of plea deal

US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, above, pleaded guilty to two charges linked to crimes committed by him as political consultant in Ukraine and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in 2016 presidential election.

Manafort agreed on the plea deal to avoid a second trial set to begin on Sept 17 and to get the charges reduced. The prosecutors dropped five charges.

Manafort was convicted for bank and tax fraud by a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, last month.

He had quit as presidential campaign chairman in August 2016 after questions were raised over his work in Ukraine.

Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Friday that Manafort has agreed to cooperate but did not go into the details.

Trump said the practice of trading information for lighter sentence should be banned.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Manafort’s plea deal has nothing to do with Trump or his presidential campaign.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, echoed her view adding that Trump did nothing wrong and Manafort will tell the truth.

As part of the deal, the government will seize four of Manafort’s homes and money in four bank accounts and a life insurance policy.

How he laundered money

Manafort’s Ukraine connection started in 2012 when he became consultant to the then pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

His job was to tarnish the image of Yanukovych’s political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, according to the criminal information filed by Mueller’s office. For this, he used some US news outlets to plant stories of how Tymoshenko had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official.

Using media, Manafort also spread lies about a senior American Cabinet official who supports anti-Semitism just because the official backs Tymoshenko and her views. The document did not name the official.

According to criminal information, Manafort generated more than $60 million through his Ukraine job. To hide the money from US authorities, he sought the help of Richard William Gates, a former US political consultant and lobbyist, and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian political consultant and suspected Russian intelligence operative.

Between 2006 and 2016, he laundered money through many US and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.

When the department of justice enquired about his alleged activities, he made false and misleading statements.

Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the US without paying taxes on that income.

He spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services for himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to US vendors. He also used these offshore accounts to purchase multi-million dollar properties in the US.

Manafort then borrowed millions of dollars in loans using these properties as collateral, thereby obtaining cash in the US without reporting and paying taxes on the income.