Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort provides a wide range of services to his clients. For Vladimir Putin, Manafort put together a $10 million-a-year plan to influence American politics and slant news coverage. For Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, Manafort landed both the presidency of Ukraine and arranged protests that provided an excuse for the invasion of Crimea. He also lobbied for his clients in the United States while failing to register as a foreign agent. For Manafort, at home in Trump Tower, it’s built up a nice pile of what his daughter called blood money.
Apparently among the services that Manafort offered his clients was laundering money looted from Ukraine through accounts in notoriously shady Cypriot banks. And it’s this last “service” that’s getting some fresh scrutiny.
Banking sources said some transactions on Manafort-associated accounts raised sufficient concern to trigger an internal investigation at a Cypriot bank into potential money laundering activities. After questions were raised, Manafort closed the accounts, the banking sources said.
What kind of actions are enough to trigger a raised eyebrow at a bank in Cyprus? One involved a massive check from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a top Putin lieutenant, to Manafort’s own firm, PEM. It was Deripaska who actually came to Manafort for the plan to help Putin affect Western politics.
He paid PEM $18.9 million to buy a television and media network in Ukraine, according to the Cayman Island court documents. But the deal fell through and the money was never accounted for, the documents say.
In other words, it certainly appears that Manafort pocketed $18.9 million for … other purposes.
That score was notable because of the size, but there were a number of others that set off alarms because of their speed.
Banking sources said that in October 2009, one of the 15 Manafort-associated bank accounts in Cyprus received a payment of a million dollars and left the account on the same day. Experts said the way the multiple accounts and companies were used suggests they were set up to deliberately make it difficult for auditors to track the movement of funds.
Manafort maintained an office on Cyprus, staffed by a former member of the Cypriot government, to smooth out such bank activity.
Manafort’s most active accounts started out at the Cyprus Popular Bank. When that bank asked Manafort for more details on what he was doing, he closed the accounts rather than provide the information. The remaining accounts and other Manafort assets events eventually landed at the Bank of Cyprus, the bank where now Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was vice-chairman.
While at the bank, Ross personally oversaw some deals that also tie him to the activity of Russian oligarchs.
In 2015, while he served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Ross’ involvement with the bank itself seemed to be a bet on what was known to be a lot of semi-legal and flat out illegal activity to make a profit.
It put him at the centre of the biggest financial institution in a country that was widely considered to be a tax haven for Russian oligarchs, even as the US and EU were imposing sanctions on Russia. In 2014, the year he made his investment, the US State Department considered Cyprus an area of “primary concern” for money laundering, according to its official assessment.