Friday, November 03, 2017

What's Paul Manafort Really Like?


Back in July, we looked into Trump's ties to the Russian Mafia in general and Semyon Mogilevich-- Russia organized crime's boss of bosses-- in particular. Mogilevich is back in the news... this time tied to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Betsy Woodruff broke the story at the Daily Beast. Manafort "didn’t just do business with accused gangsters," she wrote. "One of them transferred millions into a Manafort account, allegedly used for money laundering." Mueller's indictment revealed that Manafort was using Lucicle Consultants Limited to wire millions of dollars into the United States. "The Cyprus-based Lucicle Consultants Limited, in turn, reportedly received millions of dollars from a businessman and Ukrainian parliamentarian named Ivan Fursin, who is closely linked to one of Russia’s most notorious criminals: Semion Mogilevich."
Mogilevich is frequently described as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.” Currently believed to be safe in Moscow, he is, according to the FBI, responsible for weapons trafficking, contract killings, and international prostitution. In 2009, he made the bureau’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

“Ivan Fursin was a senior figure in the Mogilevich criminal organization,” Taras Kuzio, a non-resident fellow at Johns Hopkins-SAIS’ Center for Transatlantic Relations and a specialist on the region told the Daily Beast.

Martin Sheil, a retired criminal investigator for the IRS, said the indictment, with its connections to Fursin, helps illuminate the murky world Manafort operated in before taking the reins of Trump’s presidential bid.

“This indictment strongly indicates the existence of a previously unknown relationship between an alleged Russian organized crime leader and Mr. Manafort,” Sheil told the Daily Beast.

According to the indictment, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, used Lucicle to avoid paying taxes on money which they then spent on a variety of pricey items: clothes, antiques, and at least one Mercedes-Benz.

Paul Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, told reporters on Monday that the idea that anyone would engage in such a scheme is laughable.

“The second thing about this indictment that I, myself, find most ridiculous is a claim that maintaining offshore accounts to bring all your funds into the United States, as a scheme to conceal from the United States government, is ridiculous,” he told a scrum of reporters on the steps of a D.C. courthouse.

But the indictment alleges otherwise. According to Mueller’s team, from April 2012 to March 2013, Lucicle transferred more than $1.3 million to a home improvement company in the Hamptons, where Manafort owns property.

Lucicle also sent more than $200,000 to a New York men’s clothing store from March 2012 to February 2013. In that same window of time, it also sent more than $100,000 to a New York antique dealer, more than $340,000 to a Florida contractor, $88,000 to a landscaper in the Hamptons, and a comparatively paltry payment of $7,500 to a clothing store in Beverly Hills.

On Oct. 5, 2012, Lucicle wired in $62,750 to pay for a Mercedes-Benz. And on Valentine’s Day of 2013, it sent $14,000 to a Florida art gallery. In total, according to Mueller’s indictment, Lucicle wired more than $5 million into the U.S. for Gates and Manafort.

At least some of the money Manafort and Gates used to pay for all those goodies appears to have come from Fursin. The New York Times reported in July that Lucicle and Fursin are tied to an “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.”

According to the Times, “Mistaro transferred millions to Lucicle in February 2012 shortly before Lucicle made the $9.9 million loan to Jesand L.L.C., a Delaware company that Mr. Manafort previously used to buy real estate in New York.” It was one month after that transfer that Lucicle started shelling out millions to pay for cars, clothes, and real estate, according to the indictment.

That isn’t Fursin’s only connection to Manafort. He is also a lawmaker for the Party of Regions, which paid at least $17 million to Manafort’s firm.

In addition, Fursin’s longtime business associate, Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, has an off-again, on-again partnership with Manafort. Together, they tried to buy the Drake Hotel in Manhattan for a cool $850 million. Firtash also bankrolled Ukraine’s Party of Regions.

Firtash has his own legal complications. He is currently under indictment in U.S. federal court for allegedly orchestrating an international titanium mining racket. The acting U.S. attorney in Chicago recently dubbed him an “organized-crime member” and an “upper-echelon associat[e] of Russian organized crime.” His attorneys say those charges are mere “innuendo,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

A December 2005 report from the Austrian Federal Criminal Investigation Agency said the FBI described Fursin and Firtash as senior members of the Semion Mogilevich Organization.

Ken McCallion, a former federal prosecutor who represented Yulia Tymoshenko in a civil case against Manafort and Firtash, told the Daily Beast that Fursin and Firtash are close.

“It was very similar to the relationship between Manafort and Gates,” he said. “Gates was a significant player in the criminal activities that Manafort engaged in... He played a major role, he was a major lieutenant in Manafort’s organization. By the same token, Fursin was one of the chief lieutenants of Firtash.”
On Wednesday K. Riva Levinson, CEO of strategy consultancy KRL International, published a first-person OpEd for the Washington Post about her time working for Manafort: I worked for Paul Manafort. He always lacked a moral compass. She wrote that he was "strategic, canny and demanding" but that no one who knows him will have been surprised to see him indicted. She wrote that "he played by his own rules, in an industry where you usually got away with it. I was young and wanted to do right by the world, but my boss lacked a moral compass. Working for him nearly broke my spirit."
A few years out of college, in 1987, I landed a job as an international field operative for BMS&K-- Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, the capital’s first bipartisan lobbying firm. Manafort himself hired me after I promised that “there is no place in the world I will not go.” And I got what I signed up for: In more than a decade working for him, there was no place that Manafort would not send me.

According to a Newsweek cover story in 1985, BMS&K was “the hottest shop in town.” The service it provided to clients was part politics, part public policy and part commerce, a curious mix of self-interest, selflessness and opportunism that could exist only in Washington. BMS&K got paid to change policy and alter opinions. It could be for something as narrow as a modified export regulation or as all-encompassing as building strategic alliances against America’s enemies, real or perceived.

...You never knew what would come at you at BMS&K. It felt random and totally unpredictable. One autumn afternoon in 1989, Manafort summoned me to his office and announced that he was dispatching me and my colleague John Donaldson to Somalia. We had three days to prepare.

The mission: Meet with the country’s ruler, Mohamed Siad Barre, and have him sign a contract for $1 million, with $250,000 up front. The deal had been pre-sold to Siad Barre by one of Manafort’s shady intermediaries. We just had to collect the signature. Our assignment would then be to clean up Siad Barre’s international reputation, which needed plenty of soap. The Africa Watch Committee and other human rights organizations, including our own State Department, had documented a long list of barbaric acts carried out by Siad Barre and his ruthless cadre of Red Berets.

I told Manafort it didn’t seem like a promising strategy to march into a murderous dictator’s office and point out to him and his lieutenants that he had a public relations problem. “Are we sure we want this guy as a client?” I asked, in a garish display of naivete. Manafort sounded annoyed, as if I had asked the right question at the wrong time. He waved off my concerns as he settled into his large leather armchair in his spacious corner office overlooking the Potomac River, the walls adorned with photos of past presidents, senators, congressmen and other notables. It was intimidating, and meant to be. Manafort was regarded by my colleagues and me as a master geopolitical strategist. He was one of those rare individuals who could cut through the noise, get to the heart of a problem and hit on a solution. And he didn’t care about the collateral damage. I eventually learned that the hard way.

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