.. his time on the witness stand provided an invaluable public lesson in how tax evasion, money laundering, and political corruption work.
.. The ability of rich people such as Manafort and his oligarchic clients to shuffle money across borders, beyond the purview of tax collectors and law-enforcement authorities, is a huge and intractable problem. In many places, these practices are
- denuding tax bases,
- corrupting a large class of professional enablers, and
- undermining public confidence in the political and financial systems.
.. roughly $7.6 trillion, or eight per cent of the world’s financial wealth, was held in offshore tax havens. In some countries, the proportion is much higher; in the case of Russia, it is more than half.
.. . In the United States, he has estimated, the annual tax loss is about thirty-five billion dollars.
.. It is only when there is a prominent court case or a leak—such as the 2016 Panama Papers, which exposed the dealings of the law firm Mossack Fonseca—that a light is shined on this system’s hidden mechanics. What Gates provided this week was a firsthand account of how the illicit game is played.
.. Manafort’s consulting firm was paid by Ukrainian businessmen close to Viktor Yanukovych, who was elected President in 2010. Many of these figures already had bank accounts in Cyprus
.. Gates described how he and Manafort used a Cypriot law firm to establish bank accounts in the name of shell companies that they controlled but weren’t publicly associated with.
“Did these companies sell a product?” Andres asked Gates.
“No,” he replied.
“Did they have any employees?” Andres asked.
“No,” Gates repeated. “The purpose of the companies was to accept payments and to make payments.”
.. The Cypriot law firm Chrysostomides “handled everything,” Gates said, including listing the names of locals, rather than the two Americans, as the directors of the shell firms into which the fees from Ukraine flowed.
.. he arranged to have money wired from the Cypriot accounts to vendors in the United States from whom Manafort had bought expensive clothes
.. problems arose, Gates said. So, again using the Cypriot law firm, he and Manafort transferred some money to bank accounts in the Grenadines, a chain of small islands in the Lesser Antilles. But, when the banks in the Grenadines were asked to transfer money to companies in the United States, they demanded invoices for the payments—something that the Cypriot banks hadn’t bothered with. At Manafort’s direction, Gates said, he created “modified invoices” and gave them to the banks... “About 50% of the wealth held in tax havens belongs to households with more than $50m in net wealth,” Zucman, of Berkeley, noted in an article last year. “These ultra-rich represent about 0.01% of the population of advanced economies.”These were the type of people whom Manafort was working for in Ukraine, and it’s pretty clear from the life style he adopted that he wanted to join their ranks... he allegedly resorted to bank fraud rather than modify his spending patterns.Gates described how, in 2015, together with Manafort’s accountants, he helped put together bogus financial documents that Manafort then used to obtain bank loans.
.. toward the end of Andres’s questioning of Gates, the prosecutor showed the witness an e-mail that Manafort wrote to Gates in November, 2016, shortly after Trump was elected. By that stage, Gates was working for Trump’s Presidential transition team. “We need to discuss Steve Calk for Sec of the Army,” Manafort’s e-mail said. “I hear the list is being considered this weekend.”
.. When he joined the Trump campaign, he’d long been known as the ultimate swamp creature. Thanks to Mueller and Gates, we now know more about how that swamp operates.
testified that he knew about what the prosecutors allege is a multiyear tax and bank fraud scheme by Mr. Manafort because “I was the one who helped organize the paperwork.”
.. Mr. Manafort’s allies argue that Mr. Gates can be discredited as a morally bankrupt and untrustworthy narrator who owes his professional career to Mr. Manafort, yet siphoned millions from his accounts. Then, faced with the prospect of prison and huge fines, Mr. Manafort’s allies say, he blamed Mr. Manafort for financial machinations that he himself executed. The defense also signaled Monday that it may allege extramarital affairs by Mr. Gates in a further attempt to attack a man who Mr. Manafort’s friends say took advantage of his boss.
.. “Rick Gates owes everything to Paul. Paul made Rick a lot of money,” said Hector Hoyos, a longtime friend and former business partner of Mr. Manafort’s who remained in contact with him after his indictment. “But Rick is not the strong-valued guy that Paul is. Rick will go wherever the wind takes him, and it just goes to show you that there is no such thing as loyalty and friendship anymore,” Mr. Hoyos said in June
.. The men spent countless hours together traveling the world, and by all accounts got along quite well. But in some ways they are a study in contrasts. Prosecutors have detailed the lavish lifestyle on which Mr. Manafort spent his riches, while Mr. Gates, by contrast, lived less ostentatiously. When he wore a suit, he still carried a backpack.
.. Even as he detailed Mr. Manafort’s financial crimes, Mr. Gates worked in a bit of praise for his former boss.
“Probably one of the most politically brilliant strategists I’ve ever worked with,” he said of Mr. Manafort.
.. While Mr. Gates was the one who demanded accountants give him copies of financial statements in PDF format so he could convert them to Word and alter them, some of the falsified documents bear Mr. Manafort’s signature.
.. Mr. Manafort told the accountants that he had no foreign bank accounts, although prosecutors claim that millions of dollars flowed through his accounts in Cyprus and St. Vincent and the Grenadines
.. Judge T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria said prosecutors had proved both that Mr. Manafort personally denied that those accounts existed and that he controlled them.
.. Mr. Manafort left the firm the year Mr. Gates arrived. But they continued traveling in the same circles as Mr. Gates impressed remaining partners, whom he occasionally chauffeured between the firm’s Alexandria offices and meetings in Washington.
“Very smart. Good work ethic. He was a guy I thought would go places someday,” said Charlie Black, a co-founder of the firm, who offered Mr. Gates the internship at the recommendation of a friend, and then hired him full-time afterward. “I didn’t know where he would end up, but I always liked him. I still do.”
.. The accountant, Cynthia Laporta, testified that in 2006, Mr. Manafort received a $10 million loan from Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir V. Putin. Ms. Laporta said she saw no evidence it was ever repaid.
And Mr. Gates testified that Konstantin V. Kilimnik, a Russian who prosecutors claim is tied to Russian intelligence, had signatory authority over some of Mr. Manafort’s accounts in Cyprus.
there’s a great value to Giuliani’s appearances. They tell us what the president is thinking about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into the Russia scandal — and what he’s afraid of.
.. Four months, they’re not going to be colluding about Russians, which I’m not even [sure] if that’s a crime, colluding about Russians. You start analyzing the crime, the hacking is the crime, the hacking is the crime. Well, the president didn’t hack! He didn’t pay them for hacking!
.. I’ve been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find “collusion” as a crime. Collusion is not a crime.
.. In a very strict sense, Giuliani is right that there isn’t a particular crime called “collusion.” But that’s kind of like saying that if you walked into an Apple Store, stuffed an iPhone in your pants and walked out, you’re innocent because the criminal code makes no specific reference to “stuffing an iPhone in your pants.”
.. Now it’s possible that Trump himself, or someone on the Trump campaign, could have “colluded” with Russia to commit an act that is not illegal and, therefore, they wouldn’t be guilty of any crime. For instance, they could have colluded to find the best taco truck in Manhattan. They could even have discussed some kind of policy initiative that they would cooperatively pursue if Trump became president. But the real problem with the “collusion is not a crime” argument is that if they cooperated to do almost anything that helped Trump in his election campaign, then it would have been illegal.
.. there are multiple crimes under which any cooperation between the Russian government and the Trump campaign could potentially fall. If the campaign sought and/or received damaging information on its opponent from sources connected to the Russian government, it would almost certainly be in violation of this statute, which prohibits “a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution” from a foreign national for the purpose of a political campaign. A contribution could be money, but it could also be any other “thing of value,” and dirt on your opponent would seem to qualify. In addition to the crime of accepting the contribution, they could also be charged with conspiracy to violate election laws, or with aiding and abetting another person’s crime.
.. the Trump defense on Russia has gone through numerous iterations, ranging from outright lies to laughable assertions.
- First they said nobody on the campaign ever talked to any Russians.
- Then they said they may have talked to Russians but didn’t have any planned meetings.
- Then they said that they had a planned meeting with Russians but didn’t collude with Russians.
- And now they’re saying that even if they did collude with Russians, that’s okay because collusion isn’t a crime.
.. let’s remember that two days before the meeting with the Russians, which would be June 7, 2016, is also when Trump told a crowd, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.” After the Russian meeting was a bust, his “major speech” laying out Clinton dirt never took place.
.. It’s possible on one hand that nothing happened at the June 7 meeting or, on the other hand, that the participants all agreed that Trump was being kept up to date about the whole thing. If Rick Gates (Paul Manafort’s deputy) was there, we could find out, because he’s now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
prosecutors charged that his personal fortune was propped up by years of lies to tax authorities and banks.
.. “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told the jury. “Not tax law, not banking law.”
.. The defense, in rebuttal, said that Manafort was a victim of the deceptions of his former partner, now a government witness, and that any failure to pay taxes was inadvertent.
.. Manafort faces 18 charges of financial fraud, as prosecutors say he failed to pay taxes on some of the millions of dollars he made working as a strategist for a political party in Ukraine, and then lied to banks to get loans when those payments stopped.
.. Manafort collected more than $60 million between 2010 and 2014 from his Ukraine work, where President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of the Kremlin
.. When Yanukovych had to flee Ukraine for Russia in 2014, Manafort’s “cash spigot” was shut off, the prosecutor said, and the political strategist set out to generate money by lying to banks on loan applications.
.. Asonye’s efforts to paint Manafort as a free-spending tax cheat were interrupted more than once by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who noted “it isn’t a crime to be profligate in your spending.”
.. The prosecutor said the charges boil down to “one simple issue: Paul Manafort lied.”
.. Manafort’s defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle said the case was about “taxes and trust,” and that the real liar was not Manafort, but his former right-hand man, Rick Gates.
.. “Mr. Manafort placed his trust in the wrong person,” Zehnle said, arguing that his client built “one of the most successful political consulting and government relations shops in Washington,” while also working on “the global stage.”
.. Zehnle said Manafort’s work for Yanukovych was to “bring the country closer to Western democracies after decades of Soviet rule” — toward the European Union and away from Russia. That comment was met with audible sneers from a few members of the gallery. Protests in Ukraine were first triggered in late 2013 by Yanukovych’s decision to not sign an E.U. association agreement, an embrace of the West that Russia opposed.
.. Zehnle said Manafort also never intentionally deceived the IRS about his income and that his client made mistakes, not realizing he needed to file certain forms and make certain declarations.
“This is not a case where someone flew to Switzerland and stashed money in an account,” Zehnle said. The lawyer also said that earlier in the investigation, Manafort willingly sat down with FBI agents investigating the misuse of funds in Ukraine
.. Manafort’s defense strategy appears aimed at the credibility of Gates, the star witness against him, by accusing Manafort’s onetime protege and partner of embezzling millions of dollars.
“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar, and he couldn’t take the risk that his boss might find out,” Zehnle said. He said Gates prevented other people involved in Manafort’s finances — accountants and bookkeepers — from sharing information about the accounts with each other.
.. Manafort had hired great people, he said, and had “substantial resources. . . . I was really impressed by him.”
Devine said Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010 because of the “excellent campaign that Paul ran.” Devine said he produced TV commercials and wrote speeches for Yanukovych, earning $500,000 and a bonus of $100,000 when Manafort’s client won.
.. While working on the campaign, Devine met other Manafort associates who have since come under investigation, including Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen. At the time, Devine said, Kilimnik worked as a translator. Prosecutors have said Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, and they accused him and Manafort of trying to tamper with witnesses earlier this year.
Devine said Manafort was clearly the boss in his relationship with Gates, though they were partners.
“Paul was in charge,” Devine said. “Rick worked for Paul.”