Paul Manafort is now under indictment after a grand jury approved tax fraud and money laundering charges against Trump’s former campaign manager, who also happens to be a longtime resident of Trump Tower. In fact, Manafort and Trump have been friends dating all the way back to 1980.
The tax and money laundering case against Mr. Manafort describes a complicated scheme in which he lobbied for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine and its leader, Viktor F. Yanukovych, and hid proceeds in bank accounts in Cyprus, the Grenadines and elsewhere. Prosecutors say he laundered more than $18 million, and spent the money extravagantly. A home improvement company in the Hamptons was paid nearly $5.5 million, according to the indictment. More than $1.3 million more went to clothing stores in New York and Beverly Hills, Calif.
Looking through the detailed records in Manafort’s indictment reveals that the Bank of Cyprus and shady Cyprus-based LLCs were his preferred offshore money laundering venues, and Manafort is not the only one who moved money through Cyprus. Donald Trump and Russian oligarchs favor the venue as well. From Mother Jones:
Many of Trump’s business dealings involve Deutsche Bank or the Bank of Cyprus—both known for their connections with Russian oligarchs. Deutsche Bank is also Trump’s biggest lender; he owes the bank some $300 million, as first reported by Mother Jones‘ Russ Choma and David Corn. The Guardian reported that Deutsche Bank paid $630 million in fines for failing to prevent $10 billion in Russian money laundering between 2012 and 2015.
The Bank of Cyprus is also well known as a money-laundering haven for Russian oligarchs. Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has invested heavily in the Bank of Cyprus (some $424 million in 2014, giving him an 18% stake) and he was once vice-chairman of the bank, according to the Guardian. Ross presided over deals that raise questions about his tenure at the bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs.
Ross shared his vice-chairman post at the bank with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally.
Ross was not the vice chairman during many years of Manafort transactions, but he was there for part of it. Bloomberg notes he was ostensibly there to “turn the bank around,” but he was most certainly there for questionable Russian transactions. Sens. Bill Nelson and Cory Booker were among those raising red flags before his confirmation hearing:
Among other questions, the letter asked Ross if he was “aware of any contacts between any individuals currently or formerly associated with the Bank of Cyprus and anyone affiliated with the Trump presidential campaign or the Trump Organization”. It also asked whether Ross was “aware of any loans made by the Bank of Cyprus to the Trump Organization, its directors or officers, or any affiliated individuals or entities”.
A second letter sent by New Jersey senator Cory Booker said the list of Russian businessmen with ties to both Putin and the Bank of Cyprus was “startling”.
“The American public deserve to know the full extent of your connections with Russia and your knowledge of any ties between the Trump administration, Trump campaign or Trump Organization and the Bank of Cyprus,” Booker wrote. “Americans must have confidence that high-level officials in the United States government are not influenced by, or beholden to, any foreign power.”
Their letters went unanswered by the White House and Ross was confirmed on a partisan vote. Outrageously enough, these topics were not even mentioned in his confirmation hearing, despite the fact Ross has very close ties to Trump’s largest creditor.
During a nearly four-hour confirmation hearing in January before the Senate commerce committee, Ross was not asked any questions about his involvement in a €400m ($424m) investment in the bank in 2014, which gave Ross’s investment group an 18% stake in the bank.
Ross recruited a high-profile banker with close ties to Russia, former Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann, to serve as chairman of the bank. In a 2015 interview with the New York Times, Ackermann suggested his work for the Bank of Cyprus was an effort to “give something back to the people”.
In his letter, Booker asked Ross to explain why he had appointed Ackermann as chairman of the bank, noting that Deutsche Bank is the Trump Organization’s largest creditor.
None of this means Wilbur Ross was directly involved in money laundering, but the absurd number of connections between Manafort, Russian money laundering, Donald Trump, the Bank of Cyprus, and Wilbur Ross cannot and should not go unnoticed. It deserves the kind of scrutiny Congress avoided during Ross’s confirmation hearing. If special counsel Robert Mueller keeps digging, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross might have reason to be shaking in his custom velvet slippers.
Ã¢ÂÂ Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) March 1, 2017