US Elections 2016

Top Trump aide in spotlight over Ukraine links

The Ukrainian connections of Mr Manafort (above) were highlighted at last month's Republican convention, when the party platform committee weakened language that would have called for US military support of Ukraine. His ties with fallen Ukrainian lea
The Ukrainian connections of Mr Manafort (above) were highlighted at last month's Republican convention, when the party platform committee weakened language that would have called for US military support of Ukraine. His ties with fallen Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych have now come under scrutiny.PHOTO: REUTERS

Over $16m earmarked for him by party of Ukrainian ex-president but he denies any wrongdoing

WASHINGTON • Mr Paul Manafort, the smooth-talking, sharply dressed 67-year-old campaign chairman for Mr Donald Trump, who was thrust into the headlines this week in connection with a Ukrainian corruption probe, is a formidable Republican strategist who spent years as a lobbyist.

More than US$12 million (S$16.1 million) in undisclosed cash payments was earmarked for Mr Manafort by the party of Ukraine's former president, Mr Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Moscow after being ousted in 2014, according to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

Mr Manafort denied any improper payments, saying in a statement he has "never received a single 'off-the-books' cash payment".

He has become the public face of the most controversial US presidential campaign in living memory: a professional spokesman who never strays off message as he bats aside allegations of a campaign in disarray or a candidate going off the rails.

He has advised the Republican presidential campaigns of Mr Gerald Ford, Mr Ronald Reagan, Mr George H.W. Bush and Mr Bob Dole. He or his firms have been paid millions to lobby for or burnish the reputations of foreign clients including then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and the late Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

  • CONTROVERSIAL CUSTOMERS

  • In a 40-year career, Mr Paul Manafort has worked on Republican presidential campaigns, including those for Mr Gerald Ford, Mr Ronald Reagan, Mr George H.W. Bush and Mr Bob Dole. He was a founding partner in two lobbying and consulting firms- Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly founded in 1980, and Davis Manafort - both of which are now defunct. Here is a look at some of their clients and what they are said to have paid.


  • 1   Ferdinand Marcos, former Philippine president: US$900,000 a year in 1986

  • 2  Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin former president of Ukraine: Allegedly earmarked more than US$12 million for payment to Manafort from 2007 to 2012

  • 3 Lynden Pindling, former Bahamian prime minister of a drug-linked Bahamian government: US$800,000

  • 4 Jonas Savimbi, Angolan warlord, whose rebel group got US$250 million under Reagan and Bush: US$600,000 initial contract

  • 5  Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire dictator: US$1 million in 1985

  • 6 Lebanese-born businessman who paid for campaign advice to Mr Edouard Balladur, French presidential candidate: US$90,000

  • 7 Siad Barre, former Somalia dictator and military ruler: US$450,000

  • 8 Kashmiri American Council, named in 2011 by prosecutors as allegedly a front organisation for Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency: Yahoo News says the council paid Manafort's firm US$700,000 between 1990 and 1995

  • 9 Kenyan government: More than US$1.4 million between 1990 and 1993 to lobby the US government for more aid.

    •Sources: Spy Magazine, Agence France-Presse, Ukraine National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Washington Post, Telegraph UK, Daily Beast, Yahoo News 9

But the client who has landed the Trump campaign in hot water is Mr Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin former president of Ukraine whom Mr Manafort helped rebrand until the leader fell from power.

His ties with the former Ukrainian leader are under scrutiny as Mr Trump defends Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and calls for a reset in ties with Moscow.

Mr Manafort's Ukraine connections were highlighted at last month's Republican convention, when the platform committee weakened language that would have called for US military support of Ukraine.

His other clients include Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi, whose rebel group got US$250 million under Mr Reagan and Mr Bush to fight Angola's socialist government.

In April, Mr Manafort told Fox News Mr Savimbi was America's man working against a "Soviet dictatorship that was put up in Angola". Mr Manafort added that in the Philippines, he helped a "transition", and in Kiev, he worked to bring Ukraine into Europe.

His name also appears in connection with a French political scandal known as the "Karachi affair", in which two arms contracts that France signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 1994 were believed to have resulted in kickbacks to finance the unsuccessful presidential campaign of France's Mr Edouard Balladur.

In 2013, Mr Manafort admitted he was paid by a Lebanese-born intermediary for advising Mr Balladur.

"The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional," Mr Manafort said in statement on Monday. "It is well known that I do work in the US and have done work on overseas campaigns as well."

His position on Team Trump is a return to Republican presidential politics after 20 years. He was reportedly considered but rejected in 2008 by Mr John McCain, who was allegedly alarmed in part over his Yanukovych ties.

He joined Mr Trump in March, tasked with winning the necessary number of party delegates, but quickly replaced Mr Corey Lewandowski as manager.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has delivered his most aggressive call yet to woo African-American voters, vowing to restore law and order, only days after a fatal police shooting of a black man in Milwaukee sparked more street violence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Top Trump aide in spotlight over Ukraine links'. Print Edition | Subscribe