Ukrainians unhappy about Trump pardon of Manafort
As his presidency comes to an end, U.S. President Donald Trump has pardoned 26 people and commuted the sentences of three more.
In most cases, that wouldn’t be big news in Ukraine. But one of the recipients of a pardon is Paul Manafort, 71, Trump’s former campaign chief and a long-time consultant to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a massively corrupt authoritarian who was ousted in the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.
In 2017, Manafort was convicted of tax evasion, bank fraud and illegal foreign lobbying and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. He served just two years of his sentence before being pardoned on Dec. 23. He pleaded guilty.
In some ways, he even got lucky with his prison sentence. Since May 2020, Manafort has been under home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His attorneys successfully argued that his age and health conditions put him at “high risk” from the virus.
“Mr. President, my family and I humbly thank you for the Presidential Pardon you bestowed on me. Words cannot fully convey how grateful we are,” Manafort wrote on Twitter in his first post since 2016.
But while Manafort’s pardon may be joyous news for Trump and his supporters, it is distinctly negative for Ukraine. For years, Manafort profited from Yanukovych’s kleptocratic regime, growing wealthy on money stolen from ordinary Ukrainians living in what is today the poorest country in Europe.
The White House regards Manafort’s conviction as politically motivated. In a Dec. 23 statement, the White House press secretary said the lobbyist was convicted and sentenced on charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, “which was premised on the Russian collusion hoax.”
“Mr. Manafort has endured years of unfair treatment and is one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history,” the statement said.
But Trump’s opponents argue that the controversial, eleventh-hour pardons are an attempt to roll back Mueller’s investigation and reward people who could have testified against the U.S. president, according to USA Today.
In Ukraine, few people viewed Manafort’s pardon as positive news.
“He raped and robbed our country with the help of Yanukovych and other Russian agents,” Euromaidan PR, an English-language media outlet about Ukraine, wrote on Twitter.
Because of the pardon, it will also be harder to investigate Manafort’s connections to the Kremlin and Russia,” Ukrainian journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk wrote on Facebook. “It covers up the findings of (Robert Mueller’s) investigation.”
Initially, Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. But then, in November 2018, prosecutors declared that he had lied to them in violation of his plea agreement. Trump said that prosecutors had mistreated Manafort and suggested he would later grant him clemency. As a result, the pardon wasn’t a surprise.
Still, many hoped to find out more about Manafort’s shady connections to Ukrainian and Russian politicians after Trump left the White House on Jan. 20, according to Gumenyuk.
Manafort spent nearly a decade in Ukraine consulting for Yanukovych’s party and trying to change its image. He directly advised Yanukovych, teaching him how to give a speech and even coming up with the party slogan “A better life today,” former Ukrainian lawmaker Taras Chornovil told NBC News.
Manafort also led a lobbying campaign called “Engage Ukraine” that aimed to create a more positive image about the Ukrainian government in the U.S.
From 2007 to 2012, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions paid Manafort bribes and under-the-table handouts worth nearly $12.7 million, according to a story by the New York Times. Six other Ukrainian oligarchs and public officials, including Rinat Akhmetov, Serhiy Lovochkin and Dmytro Firtash also financed Manafort’s work in Ukraine.
Manafort concealed the money Yanukovych paid him. He also didn’t pay taxes of $6 million for five consecutive years and held over $55 million in multiple currencies in 31 overseas bank accounts.
After Yanukovych’s ouster in 2014, Ukraine started investigating Manafort, but never pressed charges against him.