Name of Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort surfaces in Ukraine corruption probe

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort speaks at the Republican Convention in Cleveland in July.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort speaks at the Republican Convention in Cleveland in July.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Corruption investigators in Ukraine say an illegal, off-the-books payment network earmarked US$12.7 million ($17 million) in cash payments for Donald Trump's presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the New York Times reported Monday.

It is not clear if Manafort actually received any of the money designated for him from 2007 to 2012 while working as a consultant for pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych's party, the Times said.

The report was confirmed in Kiev Monday by the head of Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnyk, who said the money earmarked for payment to Manafort totalled more than US$12 million.

"The presence of Manafort's name on this list does not mean that he really received this money, since other signatures appeared under his name, and the purpose for which the money was issued was not stated. At the moment, the investigation continues," Sytnyk said.

Manafort issued a statement vehemently denying any wrongdoing, saying he had "never received a single 'off-the books cash payment'," or worked for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.

"The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, non-sensical and silly," the statement says, according to NBC News.

Manafort's name appears 22 times in 400 pages of handwritten Cyrillic taken from ledgers found at the headquarters of Yanukovych's Regions Party, the Times said. The article includes a scan of one of the pages but that page does not include Manafort's name. Those assigned payments totalled US$12.7 million.

The ledgers were obtained by Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators say the network was used to raid Ukrainian assets and influence elections while Yanukovych was in power.

Yanukovych was ousted in a 2014 pro-Western revolt, after which Russia seized the Crimean peninsula, fuelling a separatist uprising in the country's east which has claimed some 9,500 lives.

The Times said investigators are also probing a group of offshore companies that helped people close to Yanukovych finance lavish lifestyles.

One was a cable TV deal involving a partnership assembled by Manafort and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the newspaper reported.

Manafort is not a focus of this separate probe.

But the Times said it was clear that shady things were happening in Ukraine at the time and Manafort must have known this.

"He understood what was happening in Ukraine," Vitaliy Kasko, a former senior official with the general prosecutor's office in Kiev, told the Times.

"It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption." In his statement Monday, Manafort attacked the Times.

"Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report," he said.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign, meanwhile, deplored the "troubling connections between Donald Trump's team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine".

In a statement, it demanded that the Republican nominee disclose Manafort's ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, given Trump's "pro-Putin policy stances" and "the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records".