Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort to be sentenced, could face life in jail

Paul Manafort was convicted by a Virginia jury in August of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.
Paul Manafort was convicted by a Virginia jury in August of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President Donald Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort faces spending the rest of his life behind bars when a judge sentences him on Thursday (March 7) for tax crimes and bank fraud.

Manafort, who turns 70 in April, was convicted by a Virginia jury in August of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.

He is one of a half dozen former Trump associates and senior aides charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

The sentencing guidelines for Manafort's crimes call for between 19 and 24 years in prison, but his defence attorneys have urged Judge T.S. Ellis to impose a "substantially" lower jail term.

In a filing with the judge, they said Manafort is "truly remorseful" and is in poor health after spending the past nine months in prison.

They pointed out that Manafort, who suffers from gout, is a first-time offender and said the sentencing guidelines are "clearly disproportionate" for the crimes he committed.

Mr Mueller's team issued a scathing rebuttal, stating that Manafort had breached a plea agreement reached with the government and lied repeatedly to investigators.

He is accused of lying about various matters including his contacts with a suspected Russian operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, with whom he reportedly shared polling data about the 2016 presidential election.

"The defendant blames everyone from the Special Counsel's Office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices," prosecutors said.

Most of the tens of millions of dollars Manafort was accused of hiding from the US tax authorities were paid as consulting fees for work he did for Russian-backed Ukranian politicians between 2004 and 2014.

None of the charges against Manafort are connected to his role in the Trump campaign, which he headed for a couple of months in 2016.

In arguing for a lighter sentence, Manafort's attorneys said the veteran Republican political consultant has been "devastated personally, professionally and financially".

Mr Mueller's office countered that it was "Manafort's own criminal actions that have led to these consequences".

Mr Trump has repeatedly denied any election collusion with Moscow and denounced the probe by Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, as a "political witch hunt". The President has also dangled the possibility of pardons for some of those indicted - including Manafort, who he has praised as a "good man" who has been treated unfairly.

Manafort has also been charged in Washington with money laundering, witness tampering and other offences, and faces separate sentencing in that case.

Manafort, in addition to Mr Trump's campaign, worked on the White House bids of Mr Gerald Ford, Mr Ronald Reagan, Mr George H. W. Bush and Mr Bob Dole.

After making a name for himself in domestic politics, he turned his talents to the lucrative practice of lobbying on behalf of questionable foreign leaders such as Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Somalia's Mohamed Siad Barre and Angola's Jonas Savimbi.

But it was his work for Mr Viktor Yanukovych, who served as president of Ukraine from 2010 to 2014, when he fled to Russia amid corruption allegations, which got Manafort in trouble.

Prosecutors alleged during his trial that Manafort used offshore bank accounts to hide tens of millions of dollars from Ukrainian politicians from the Internal Revenue Service.

The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle which included purchases of luxury homes and cars, antique rugs, and expensive clothes, including an US$18,500 (S$25,100) python jacket.