Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has, for some time now, been seen as a potential suspect in the ongoing investigation into collusion between Russia and Donald Trump. Last week, the Associated Press reported that Manafort worked for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and Putin ally with a plan to "greatly benefit the Putin Government." And today, using documents dug up by 377union.com, WNYC did a deep dive into Manafort's "puzzling real estate deals," which some experts say resemble money laundering.
The whole story is worth a read, but the gist is this: according to transactions found by 377union.com, between 2006 and 2013, Manafort purchased three homes in the city—his apartment in Trump Tower in 2006, a Soho loft in 2012, and a brownstone in Carroll Gardens in 2013. He paid for all three of those properties in cash using shell companies, transferred the properties to his own name, and took out significant mortgages against the properties. Law enforcement and real estate experts noted to WNYC that this pattern is often replicated by money launderers.
Though Manafort claims his "investments in real estate are personal and all reflect arm's-length transactions," there's a lot to dig into. WNYC points out that he purchased his Trump Tower apartment around the same time his firm signed a $10 million contract with Deripaska. The apartment, located just a few stories from Trump's own apartment, was actually purchased by Manafort and his lobbying firm partner Rick Davis under the shell company "John Hannah LLC," then transferred to Manafort's name for no money in March 2015. Not long after that, Manafort began working on Trump's campaign.
It's also noteworthy, according to WNYC, that the loans Manafort borrowed against his Carroll Gardens brownstone in January 2017 were made by a bank run by a Trump fundraiser and economic advisor. The loan actually seems to exceed the value of the property, which David Reiss, a professor of real estate law at Brooklyn College, says "raises yellow flags that are worth investigating."
The real estate deals probably wouldn't seem significant if it weren't for all the other questionable ties that have arisen between Manafort and Russia. The Washington Post and the Times reported last week that Manafort may have laundered payments from a former Ukrainian president who was previously backed by Russia. In the summer of 2016, anti-corruption investigators in the Ukraine found a handwritten ledger documenting $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from a pro-Russia political party to Manafort, whose attorney denied that the cash payments ever occurred.
The Associated Press further reported that Manafort made millions of dollars to help further Putin's agenda when he worked for Deripaska. Manafort claims his work for Deripaska "did not involve representing Russian political interests." FBI Director James Comey was asked about Manafort's connection to Ukraine during a Congressional hearing last week, but declined to comment on it.
Manafort has offered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing investigation into possible collusion between Russian and the Trump campaign. He has previously denied that Trump had any financial relationships "with Russian oligarchs":
Guys, let's hear Manafort's side before we rush to judgement. pic.twitter.com/utIDJCJPZB
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) March 22, 2017