Saturday, 4 Jul 2020

Trump's ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort jailed for fraud

ALEXANDRIA (Virginia) • US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort has been sentenced to less than four years in prison for tax crimes and bank fraud in the highest profile case yet stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Thursday’s ruling was the stiffest prison sentence given so far to an associate of the President in Mr Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election but was significantly lighter than many expected.

Judge T. S. Ellis said Manafort had committed “very serious crimes” but he rebuffed arguments by prosecutors from the Special Counsel’s office for a longer sentence.

Advisory sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of between 19 and 24 years but Mr Ellis dismissed that as “excessive” and disproportionate to what other defendants have received for similar crimes.

“The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences,” the judge said.

Manafort was convicted last August on five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.

Prosecutors allege that Manafort used offshore bank accounts in Cyprus and other countries to hide more than US$55 million (S$75 million) he earned from political consulting services he provided to Ukrainian politicians.

Other top Trump aides charged


Mr Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Flynn, 60, was investigated over his contacts with Russiaand actions working for Turkey during and after the campaign.


Cohen, 52, Mr Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer, was sentenced to three years in prison last December after pleading guilty to tax evasion, violating campaign finance laws, and making false statements to Congress – implicating Mr Trump and the White House in some of those crimes.


Gates, 46, was Paul Manafort’s business partner, and deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. Threatened with many of the same crimes as Manafort, he reached a plea deal to lesser charges of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and financial fraud, and testified against Manafort.


Mr Papadopoulos, 31, served on Mr Trump’s foreign policy advisory team and tried to set up meetings with Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin. He was jailed for two weeks after admitting he lied to the FBI.


Stone, a longtime Republican campaign consultant and Mr Trump’s friend, was arrested on Jan 25 and charged with seven counts, including obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering. Stone pleaded not guilty.


The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle which included purchases of luxury homes and cars as well as antique rugs and expensive clothes, including an US$18,500 python-skin jacket.

His conviction was the culmination of a stunning downfall for a man who, in addition to Mr Trump’s campaign, worked on the White House bids of Mr Gerald Ford, Mr Ronald Reagan, Mr George H. W. Bush and Mr Bob Dole.

Speaking from a wheelchair and wearing a green prison jumpsuit, Manafort, 69, told the court before sentencing that his “life, professionally and personally, is in a shambles”.

“I feel the pain and shame,” said Manafort, who the defence says suffers from high blood pressure and gout. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said.

Imposing his sentence, Judge Ellis said he did not hear Manafort express regret or remorse but he said the sentencing guidelines were “way out of whack”.

He sentenced Manafort to a total of 47 months in prison for the eight counts and credited him with nine months of time served for the period he has already spent in prison.

He also ordered him to pay millions of dollars in restitution – the exact amount remains to be determined – and a US$50,000 fine.

The charges against Manafort involved work he did for 10 years on behalf of Moscow-allied politicians in Ukraine, and nothing related to the 2016 election – an issue he argued in asking the court for leniency. Defence attorney Kevin Downing, speaking after the sentencing, said Manafort had “made clear he accepts responsibility for his conduct”.

Separately, Manafort has been charged in Washington with money laundering, witness tampering and other offences and faces sentencing in a second case next week, where the maximum penalty is 10 years and the judge has appeared more sympathetic to prosecutors.


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