WASHINGTON – The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department are investigating possible U.S. links to an alleged corruption scheme involving deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, CNN reported, citing sources from those agencies.
Among those under investigation by U.S. authorities are Paul Manafort, a political consultant who recently resigned as chairman of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign; and prominent lobbyist Tony Podesta, the brother of the chairman of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Last weekend, The New York Times reported that Manafort appeared on a handwritten ledger maintained by the party of Yanukovych, whose government – deposed in a popular uprising in February 2014 – was closely allied with Russia.
Entries showing $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Manafort were made between 2007-2012, the Times reported last Sunday, citing Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
But law-enforcement officials cited by CNN said that neither Manafort nor his firm were the focus of the investigation, which also is examining possible irregularities at the Podesta Group, a Washington-based lobbying firm led by Tony Podesta, and other consulting firms.
After the Times’ report surfaced, Manafort issued a statement Monday vehemently denying any wrongdoing, saying he had worked on overseas campaigns but had “never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.”
“Further, all of the political payments directed to me were for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising. The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly, and nonsensical,” the statement added.
The Podesta Group, for its part, said on Friday that it had hired a law firm to study whether it conducted any improper lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
The FBI’s investigation stems from a probe by Ukraine’s current pro-European administration into the finances of Yanukovych’s deposed government, which they say ran a vast corruption network.
Trump’s opponents have seized on the reports about the undisclosed cash payments to Manafort to bolster their claims about possible Russian interference in the U.S. elections.
Those suspicions have been partly fueled by Trump’s frequent expressions of sympathy and admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.