ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — Rick Gates, once Paul Manafort’s right-hand man, now seems intent on showing how his former boss could afford that infamous $15,000 ostrich jacket.
Gates hopped back on the witness stand Tuesday to continue a second day of testimony that could send Manafort, President Trump’s ex-campaign chief, to prison for the rest of his life.
Gates switched from detailing the crimes the pair committed together to talking about wealthy Ukrainians. Specifically, those who paid Manafort for his campaign-consulting and policy work. After Manafort led the successful campaign of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, Manafort signed a $4 million annual advisory agreement to help the administration translate campaign pledges into reality, Gates said.
Gates said that:
- Their shell companies in Cyprus had transferred money between themselves in payments disguised as loans
- Manafort crafted a policy for Yanukovych aimed at bringing Ukraine into the European Union called “Engage Ukraine”
- Manafort recruited top former European politicians to help out with that effort
- Manafort’s income fell precipitously after Yanukovych stepped down in 2014
- Manafort then had trouble paying his bills
- Manafort then worked briefly advising Ukraine’s current president, Petro Poroshenko
A day after describing a web of 15 secret shell companies that Gates said he and Manafort used to receive payments from Ukraine — and conceal the income from U.S. authorities — he rattled off about a dozen more offshore entities he said were used by wealthy, powerful Ukrainians to pay the American consultants millions.
Gates said those companies were controlled by men including Borys Kolesnikov, a Ukrainian politician and former Ukrainian Minister of Transportation; and Serhiy Lyovochkin, who at one point served as Yanukovych’s chief of staff.
Gates said that one of those companies was controlled by a Ukrainian businessman who later reportedly paid President Trump $150,000 to give a speech ahead of the 2016 election. That Ukrainian tycoon is named Victor Pinchuk, and the company he used to pay Manafort was called Plymouth Consultants Ltd, Gates said.
The payments from Pinchuk to Manafort were specifically related to a legal project, Gates said, without immediately giving further details.
One of the companies was dedicated to making payments that “funded a lobbying campaign in the United States and EU,” Gates said.
Gates also detailed how Manafort planned to help Ukraine enter the EU, through his project, “Engage Ukraine.”
“Engage Ukraine became the strategy for helping Ukraine enter the European Union,” he told prosecutors Tuesday..
As Gates dove into specifics, Manafort, 69, watched his former deputy with a mixture of bottled rage and contempt, occasionally turning to the screen in front of him, which displayed the contracts Gates said they had arranged with Ukrainian politicians.
Prosecutors have said Manafort earned $60 million while advising Yanukovych, but that he only declared, or paid taxes on, a fraction of it. Manafort faces a number of federal tax and bank-fraud charges in Alexandria, VA.
Money shuffled between shell companies in Cyprus were declared loans, but were really payments, Gates said.
“In Cyprus, they were classified as loans,” Gates said. “In reality, it was money moving between these accounts.” He said many of the documents involved were written out later and “back-dated.”
Gates also related some details about the time when he and Manafort were interviewed by the FBI in 2014. He said Manafort dispatched him to tell Lyovochkin that the interview was happening. But Gates said he didn’t think, at the time, that he or his boss were actually the targets of an investigation.
“The majority of the Cypriot accounts had been closed by the time of the interview,” Gates said.
Gates said that after Yanukovych stepped down and fled to Russia in 2014 amid political chaos, Manafort’s income stream dried up because his Ukrainian backers were no longer running the country.
“They were out of power, so the income streams were more difficult to come by,” Gates said. That fits with an argument by the prosecution that after Manafort’s “golden goose” in Ukraine, Yanukovych, fell from Grace, Manafort began borrowing heavily from U.S. banks using fraudulent applications .
Gates also pushed back against the notion, floated by Manafort’s defense team in their opening argument, that Manafort had been frequently hard to reach while he traveled. That view has been put forward by Manafort’s team as evidence that Gates himself was responsible for any financial misdeeds at their consultancy, as an untrustworthy deputy who took advantage when his boss’s back was turned.
Manafort’s team has signaled they plan to attempt to undermine Gates’ reputation by portraying him as a liar who has already admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former boss.
That onslaught is expected to kick off later Tuesday during Gates’ cross-examination. But in the hands of the prosecution, Gates has left seemingly no stone unturned. By the time his testimony wraps, he’ll likely have spent at least 5 hours being questioned by prosecutors.
Cover image: Rick Gates, former campaign aide to U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts