Manafort's hustle

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Franklin Foer's lengthy Atlantic piece on Paul Manafort starts with his low point--2015 intimations of suicide, and then backtracks through his association with Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and hints of millions stashed in overseas tax havens. "Nine months after the Ukrainian revolution," Foer notes, "Manafort's family life also went into crisis:"

The nature of his home life can be observed in detail because Andrea's text messages were obtained last year by a "hacktivist collective"--most likely Ukrainians furious with Manafort's meddling in their country--which posted the purloined material on the dark web. The texts extend over four years (2012-16) and 6 million words. Manafort has previously confirmed that his daughter's phone was hacked and acknowledged the authenticity of some texts quoted by Politico and The New York Times. Manafort and Andrea both declined to comment on this article. Jessica could not be reached for comment.

Foer writes that "The previous November, as the cache of texts shows, his daughters had caught him in an affair with a woman more than 30 years his junior. It was an expensive relationship." Manafort saw the campaign of Donald "TEN BILLION DOLLARS" Trump campaign as a way back into the game:

When Paul Manafort officially joined the Trump campaign, on March 28, 2016, he represented a danger not only to himself but to the political organization he would ultimately run. A lifetime of foreign adventures didn't just contain scandalous stories, it evinced the character of a man who would very likely commandeer the campaign to serve his own interests, with little concern for the collective consequences.

Over the decades, Manafort had cut a trail of foreign money and influence into Washington, then built that trail into a superhighway. When it comes to serving the interests of the world's autocrats, he's been a great innovator. His indictment in October after investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller alleges money laundering, false statements, and other acts of personal corruption. [...] That he would be accused of helping a foreign power subvert American democracy is a fitting coda to his life's story.

The story goes back some three decades:

When Congress passed tax-reform legislation in 1986, the firm [Manafort and Stone] managed to get one special rule inserted that saved Chrysler-Mitsubishi $58 million; it wrangled another clause that reaped Johnson & Johnson $38 million in savings. Newsweek pronounced the firm "the hottest shop in town."

Whether the thug in question was Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi or Lebanese arms dealer Abdul Rahman Al Assir, Manafort was their PR man:

Manafort's exploration of the outermost moral frontiers of the influence business had already exposed him to kleptocrats, thugs, and other dubious characters. But none of these relationships imprinted themselves more deeply than his friendship and entrepreneurial partnership with Al Assir. By the '90s, the two had begun to put together big deals. One of the more noteworthy was an arms sale they helped broker between France and Pakistan, lubricated by bribes and kickbacks involving high-level officials in both countries, that eventually led to murder allegations. [...]

Manafort's lifestyle came to feature opulent touches that stood out amid the relative fustiness of Washington. When Andrea expressed an interest in horseback riding, Manafort bought a farm near Palm Beach, then stocked it with specially bred horses imported from Ireland, which required a full-time staff to tend. John Donaldson, Manafort's friend, recalls, "He was competing with the Al Assirs of the world--and he wanted to live in that lifestyle."

Rumors swirled about the effects of that hunger:

Stories about Manafort's slipperiness have acquired mythic status. In the summer of 2016, Politico's Kenneth Vogel, now with The New York Times, wrote a rigorous exegesis of a long-standing rumor: Manafort was said to have walked away with $10 million in cash from Ferdinand Marcos, money he promised he would deliver to Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign (which itself would have been illegal). [...] His unrestrained spending and pile of debt required a perpetual search for bigger paydays and riskier ventures.

"Of all Paul Manafort's foreign adventures," Foer continues, "Ukraine most sustained his attention, ultimately to the exclusion of his other business:"

Yanukovych's party succeeded in the parliamentary elections beyond all expectations, and the oligarchs who'd funded it came to regard Manafort with immense respect. As a result, Manafort began spending longer spans of time in Ukraine. One of his greatest gifts as a businessman was his audacity, and his Ukrainian benefactors had amassed enormous fortunes. The outrageous amounts that Manafort billed, sums far greater than any he had previously received, seemed perfectly normal. [...]

Meanwhile, a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska had been after Manafort to explain what had happened to an $18.9 million investment in a Ukrainian company that Manafort had claimed to have made on his behalf.

The 2008 financial crisis hit, and then "in 2011, Manafort stopped responding to Deripaska's investment team altogether:"

Deripaska wouldn't let go of the notion that Manafort owed him money. In 2015, his lawyers filed a motion in a Virginia court. [...] But it was one thing to hide from reporters; it was another to hide from Oleg Deripaska. Though no longer the ninth-richest man in the world, he was still extremely powerful. [...]

For years, according to his indictment, Manafort had found clever ways to transfer money that he'd stashed in foreign havens to the U.S. He'd used it to buy real estate, antique rugs, and fancy suits--all relatively safe vehicles for repatriating cash without paying taxes or declaring the manner in which it had been earned.

But in the summer of 2014, in the wake of the revolution that deposed Viktor Yanukovych, the FBI began scrutinizing the strongman's finances.

"To finance his expensive life," Foer continues, "he began taking out loans against his real estate--some $15 million over two years:"

This is not an uncommon tactic among money launderers--a bank loan allows the launderer to extract clean cash from property purchased with dirty money. But according to the indictment, some of Manafort's loans were made on the basis of false information supplied to the bank in order to inflate the sums available to him, suggesting the severity of his cash-flow problems. [...]

With the arrival of Donald Trump, Manafort smelled an opportunity to regain his losses, and to return to relevance. It was, in some ways, perfect: The campaign was a shambolic masterpiece of improvisation that required an infusion of technical knowledge and establishment credibility.

"All of Manafort's hopes," notes Foer, "proved to be pure fantasy:"

Instead of becoming the biggest player in Donald Trump's Washington, he has emerged as a central villain in its central scandal. An ever-growing pile of circumstantial evidence suggests that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian efforts to turn the 2016 presidential election in its favor. Given Manafort's long relationship with close Kremlin allies including Yanukovych and Deripaska, and in particular his indebtedness to the latter, it is hard to imagine him as either a naive or passive actor in such a scheme--although Deripaska denies knowledge of any plan by Manafort to get back into his good graces. Manafort was in the room with Donald Trump Jr. when a Russian lawyer and lobbyist descended on Trump Tower in the summer of 2016, promising incriminating material on Hillary Clinton. That same summer, the Trump campaign, with Manafort as its manager, successfully changed the GOP's platform, watering down support for Ukraine's pro-Western, post-Yanukovych government, a change welcomed by Russia and previously anathema to Republicans. When the Department of Justice indicted Paul Manafort in October--for failing to register as a foreign agent, for hiding money abroad--its portrait of the man depicted both avarice and desperation, someone who traffics in dark money and dark causes.

"Helping elect Donald Trump," Foer concludes, "represents the culmination of Paul Manafort's work:"

The president bears some likeness to the oligarchs Manafort long served: a businessman with a portfolio of shady deals, who benefited from a cozy relationship to government; a man whose urge to dominate, and to enrich himself, overwhelms any higher ideal.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on January 29, 2018 10:57 AM.

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