Money-Laundering Charge Against Manafort Advances

WASHINGTON (CN) – Paul Manafort failed to sway a federal judge Friday that, even if he should have registered as a foreign agent, the pro-Russia lobbying work at issue cannot sustain the money-laundering count he faces.

In addition to the money-laundering charge, Manafort had asked the Washington court to strike a related forfeiture allegation concerning tens of millions of dollars he was paid to lobby on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in the Ukraine.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller first indicted Manafort in October of last year, but the former chairman for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has since faced two superseding indictments as well as a separate set of charges in Virginia.

In his March 14 motion to dismiss, Manafort argued that the Foreign Agent Registration Act does not prohibit acting as a foreign agent, only failing to register as one with the Department of Justice. As Manafort read the law, it is not unlawful to act as a foreign agent, even if unregistered.

Manafort said the money he made from his lobbying work “could not have promoted the specified unlawful activity that is alleged. (emphasis in original)

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson disagreed Friday.

“While defendant is correct that FARA does not prohibit being a foreign agent, undertaking activities on behalf of a foreign client, or ‘acting’ as a foreign agent per se, it is illegal to act as an undisclosed foreign agent,” the 9-page ruling says, abbreviating the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

A close reading of the statute, Jackson found, indicates that an individual must register before acting as a foreign agent. Failure to register within 10 days puts one outside the parameters of the law, the ruling says.

Jackson also refused to dismiss the forfeiture allegation, which targets any proceeds traceable to the alleged money-laundering scheme and Foreign Agent Registration Act violations.

According to the second superseding indictment filed Feb. 23, Manafort and Rick Gates, his former co-defendant and longtime business associate, made misleading and false statements when the Department of Justice inquired in 2016 about their lobbying work in Ukraine.

Manafort maintains that the focus of the Ukrainian lobbying work on behalf of the pro-Russia Party of Regions was in Europe – not the U.S. – and has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him.

In total, Mueller alleges that Manafort and Gates laundered some $30 million in lobbying income, which they concealed from the Departments of Treasury and Justice.

Gates pleaded guilty on Feb. 21 to lying to the FBI and conspiracy, and has since been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

On June 15 Jackson revoked Manafort’s bond and pretrial release based on the grand jury’s finding of probable cause that he tried to influence the testimony of two potential witnesses while out on bail.

Manafort is being held at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia. The first of Manafort’s trials is set to begin in July in Virginia, with the Washington case set to begin in September.

In addition to money laundering, Manafort faces charges of conspiracy, failure to register as a foreign agent, and bank and tax fraud.

Mueller submitted jury instructions on Friday to U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III, who is presiding over Manafort’s trial in Alexandria.

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