What to know about the US indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

Paul Manafort (left) and his associate Rick Gate were indicted by a federal grand jury.
Paul Manafort (left) and his associate Rick Gate were indicted by a federal grand jury.PHOTO: REUTERS, EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US businessman and longtime Republican Party operative Paul Manafort surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Monday (Oct 30) to face the first charges produced by a special counsel investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury. The 12-count indictment included conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, making false and misleading statements and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign banks and financial accounts. 

Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Here's what to know about the case:

WHO IS PAUL MANAFORT?

Manafort is a veteran Republican operative who has worked as a Washington lobbyist and international political consultant. His former clients include authoritarian leaders such as the late Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, as well as Russian and Ukrainian businessmen and politicians.

He joined the Trump presidential campaign in March 2016 and later became campaign manager. But he was forced to resign in August as questions emerged about his previous work for the political party of the Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Business Insider reported that Manafort and President Donald Trump have been connected since the 1980s, when Trump hired Manafort's lobbying firm to help the Trump Organisation.

In 2006, Manafort and his wife bought an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, which he still owns and where he lives when he is in Manhattan, Business Insider reported.

WHO IS RICK GATES?

Rick Gates was Manafort's deputy and business associate. According to two former high-level Trump staffers, Gates essentially functioned as the Trump campaign manager for more than two months, all the while not collecting a paycheck.

He survived Manafort's exodus from the campaign and went on to have a central role in Trump’s inaugural committee and a lobbying group that was formed to advance the president’s agenda. But he was forced out of that group in April amid questions about Russia’s interference in the presidential election. 

The New York Times reported in June that the Trump transition team had been ordered to preserve materials related to ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election. According to the Times, the memo from the special counsel's office to the former transition team also sought specific information on five people including Manafort and Gates.

WHAT ARE THE CHARGES?

The indictment against Manafort and Gates says they both generated tens of millions of dollars of income from Ukraine work and laundered money through scores of US and foreign entities to hide payments from US authorities between 2006 and through at least 2016.

In June, they retroactively registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents, in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing that showed they earned US$17.1 million (S$23.3 million) for lobbying on behalf of the Party of Regions, a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, between 2012 and 2014. The party backed former pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who has been living in exile in Russia since he was ousted by mass street protests in Kiev in 2014.

The indictment says Manafort and Gates concealed from the United States their work and revenue as agents of Ukrainian political parties. They used their wealth to lead a "lavish lifestyle" without paying taxes on the income.

The indictment says that more than US$75 million flowed through Manafort's and Gates' offshore accounts. Manafort laundered more than US$18 million.

The indictment also alleges that Manafort and Gates, along with others, conspired to defraud the US by "impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions" of the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department between 2006 and 2017.

The indictment says Gates aided Manafort in obtaining money from offshore accounts and that Gates used that money to pay for personal expenses including "his mortgage, children's tuition, and interior decorating of his Virginia residence".

Manafort was indicted on nine counts and Gates was indicted on eight counts.

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE PENALTIES?

Charges of conspiracy against the United States carry a maximum sentence of five years, while conspiracy to launder money carries a maximum 20-year sentence,.

Most of the counts against Manafort and Gates involve their alleged failure to report foreign bank accounts to the tax-collecting US Internal Revenue Service. Each charge carries a maximum five-year sentence.

They are also charged with failing to register with the US Department of Justice as agents of Yanukovich and making false statements about their work. Those counts are punishable by up to five years in prison. 

HOW DO THE CHARGES RELATE TO TRUMP?

"It has nothing to do with the campaign or the allegations of collusion with Russia," said Washington attorney John Dowd, who represents Trump in the Russia probe.

A Trump confidante said: "As it relates to the president, this is nothing. All of the 12 counts of the indictment that came down today, all of it predates their tenure at the campaign."

HOW SIGNIFICANT IS GATES' ARREST?

The indictment lays out the extent of Gates' involvement with Manafort going back years. That could potentially open the door for Gates to testify against Manafort and others in the future.

David Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School and former federal prosecutor, said Gates could feel pressure to cooperate and provide testimony against Trump.