Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

US probe into Ukraine 'lobbying' by former EU officials

  • Many Ukrainians sought closer ties to the EU (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Speculation is rising some former EU officials were paid a total of €2 million to lobby a Russian-backed government in Ukraine by Donald Trump's disgraced campaign chief Paul Manafort.

The allegations were brought forward on Friday (24 February) in an indictment by US prosecutors probing Trump's entourage following accusations of Russian meddling in the US presidential race.

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The indictment says Manafort "secretly retained a group of former senior European politicians to take positions favourable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States".

Manafort is said to have paid the officials, or the so-called Hapsburg Group, in an effort to drum up support in 2012 and 2013 for the Moscow-backed president of Ukraine and Soviet-style leader Viktor Yanukovich.

While people are not directly named, the Hapsburg Group is said to have involved and been led by a former chancellor, believed to be Austria's Alfred Gusenbauer.

Gusenbauer has denied it all, according to the BBC.

"I was not aware of the fact Mr Manafort was financing this activity and of course I was also not connected to his activities within the Ukraine," he told the BBC in a statement.

Gusenbauer said he had instead been working to secure better trade relations between Ukraine and Europe.

Others reportedly include former European commission president Romano Prodi, who was quoted in the New York Times as saying that he had "never been paid from any lobby group in America."

Instead, he says he had been paid by Gusenbauer.

Pat Cox, the former president of the European parliament, has also denied any wrong doing, telling the Irish Times newspaper that he had worked at the time to secure the release of people imprisoned by Yanukovich. Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of the Orange revolution, was among those jailed.

Cox said he had never heard of the Hapsburg Group, had broadly opposed Yanukovich, and is willing to hand over records of his work to US authorities.

The EU at time were pushing to deepen trade ties with Ukraine but were rebuffed by Yanukovich in late 2013, which helped trigger a popular uprising among pro-Western Ukrainians ahead of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Yanukovich fled to Russia three months later in 2014 after having presided over Ukraine since 2010.

Manafort is accused of hiding away the earnings from the lobbying in off-shore accounts. He had also, according to the indictment, failed to register his lobbying work, casting a long shadow over any secret dealings he may have had with the Hapsburg Group.

The group was allegedly hired by the Brussels-based European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a think tank said to promote Yanukovych, according to Politico.

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