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Mueller accuses Manafort of secretly paying $2.5mn to EU politicians

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse for a hearing on December 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued a new indictment against Paul Manafort, accusing US President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman of secretly paying $2.5 million to former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.

The charges, which Mueller filed in a Washington federal court on Friday, said Manafort retained the so-called Hapsburg Group of onetime politicians to "take positions favorable to Ukraine, including by lobbying the United States."

The group was managed by a former European chancellor, according to the indictment.

Manafort used offshore accounts to pay the former politicians, who covertly pushed positions favorable to Ukraine as paid lobbyists.

They were to "appear to be providing their independent assessments of government of Ukraine actions, when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine," according to the indictment.

The indictment came less than two hours after Manafort's longtime business partner Rick Gates pleaded guilty to two criminal charges in federal court and pledged to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.

Mueller, a former FBI director, has been appointed as the Justice Department’s special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia and whether Trump or his associates colluded with Moscow. 

As part of his guilty plea, Gates admitted Friday that he and Manafort had sent letters to the Justice Department, falsely rejecting any notion that they had lobbied in the US on behalf of Ukraine.

Gates also confessed he had conspired to defraud the US by concealing the money he and Manafort earned working in Ukraine.

Manafort has been accused of money laundering, tax fraud and banking fraud connected to work he did for Viktor Yanukovych from 2006-2014.

Yanukovych was Ukraine's president beginning in 2010.

After Yanukovych was overthrown in 2014 and exiled to Russia, Manafort returned to the United States and joined Trump's presidential campaign in 2016.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence.

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