Robert Mueller Probe: Manafort 'Suspicious' Wire Transfers Focus of FBI Trump-Russia Investigation

Paul Manafort
Paul Manafort listens during a roundtable discussion on security at Trump Tower on August 17, 2016. There are many ties linking Team Trump to Team Putin, and Manafort and his protégé, Rick Gates are central to them. Reuters/Carlo Allegri

President Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been the subject of an FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election for months because of suspected ties to pro-Russian entities.

But another focus of the probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is a series of suspicious wire transfers, made by companies linked to him, into the U.S., BuzzFeed News reported on Sunday, citing federal law enforcement officials and a former Treasury official who worked on the matter.

Offshore companies tied to the Trump associate moved over $3 million around the world between 2012 and 2013 and U.S. authorities took notice, scrutinizing the source, motive and destination of the payments.

Investigators are looking at 13 transfers in total, the report said, and five offshore companies linked to Manafort that exhibited unusual behavior: Global Endeavour Inc., Lucicle Consultants Ltd., and three more that remain unidentified.

Some of the transactions came from two prime money-laundering destinations: Cyprus and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Lucicle Consultants, based in Cyprus and which has links to Manafort, the sources told BuzzFeed—transferred as much as $2.5 million, including some to Manafort's accounts.

But the news site could not find any contact information for the business or any information about the individuals that work there. There was also evidence of "layering" in the transactions, a money-laundering technique to shield payments of unaccounted and unexplained funds by using multiple companies.

Authorities are investigating whether Manafort was helping the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych, whom he worked for as a political consultant, launder money. Yanukovych fled to Moscow during mass protests against his rule in February 2014 and is accused of embezzling state funds and running a mafia-like government.

Manafort did not respond to BuzzFeed's story, and his spokesperson Jason Meloni did not respond to a request for comment at the time of writing. But Manafort has previously denied all wrongdoing and any connection between him and Russian entities as "absurd."

Two of the payments show that Manafort's offshore company sent $53,000 to a Kiev-based political operative Konstantin Kilimnik. He studied at a military school that is suspected of being a hub of Russian intelligence activity and a training base for Russian spies. He helped Manafort run the Ukraine office of his international political consultancy and is the man who asked Manafort to provide "private briefings" to a Russian billionaire during Trump's election campaign.

Four of the payments linked to Manafort and being investigated came from Global Endeavor, Manafort's political consulting company in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Yanukovych hired the firm to lobby for him.

Some of the suspicious transfers included as much as $750,000 sent out of Ukraine in the months when Yanukovych was on the brink of being removed as the country's leader. No reason for the money's movement was disclosed, according to the report, which has disclosed the payments for the first time.

The payments have not indicated any wrongdoing as yet but suspicions among officials were so strong that they worked on and created "intelligence reports" about Manafort's financial activity.

The FBI investigation focuses on the allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, based on an intelligence assessment, and is probing the possibility that the Trump campaign team colluded with the Russian government.

On top of the latest financial suspicions surrounding Manafort, the political consultant has been accused of offering private briefings to a Putin associate during the Trump campaign, according to reports. He was forced to resign as Trump's campaign manager in August 2016 just three months into the role for his ties to the pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

As part of the wider investigation, FBI agents raided his home in Alexandria, Virginia, in July to search for evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to influence the presidential election's outcome.

Manafort is yet to be charged, and he may never be, but reports have emerged that the first charges relating to the FBI investigation have been issued to at least one individual and could be put into custody as early as Monday.