FBI Probe of Paul Manafort Focuses on 13 'Suspicious' Wire Transfers Years Prior to Trump Campaign
The FBI's investigation of Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, includes a keen focus on a series of suspicious wire transfers in which offshore companies linked to Manafort moved more than $3 million all over the globe between 2012 and 2013.
Much of the money came into the United States.
These transactions — which have not been previously reported — drew the attention of federal law enforcement officials as far back as 2012, when they began to examine wire transfers to determine if Manafort hid money from tax authorities or helped the Ukrainian regime close to Russian President Vladimir Putin launder some of the millions it plundered through corrupt dealings.
The new revelations come as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is tightening, with reports that an indictment may already have been issued. It is not known if Manafort has been charged, or if he ever will be. Manafort has been the subject of multiple law enforcement and congressional inquiries. A spokesperson for Manafort would not comment for this story about the investigation or any of the specific transactions, but Manafort has previously denied wrongdoing.
Manafort took charge of Trump’s campaign in May 2016 and was forced to resign just three months later, amid intense media scrutiny of his ties to the notoriously corrupt former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was supported by the Kremlin. A political operative for decades, the 68-year-old Manafort has worked for Republicans such as presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, as well as for foreign leaders such as former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos.
He has emerged as a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, in part because of Manafort’s many ties to prominent Russians and his work with Yanukovych. Manafort is reportedly also being investigated for money laundering by federal prosecutors in New York City, but there have been no formal charges from that probe. The FBI searched his home during a predawn raid this summer, reportedly as part of Mueller’s probe. Manafort has consistently maintained his innocence.
Now, BuzzFeed News has learned that investigators have been scrutinizing at least 13 wire transfers between 2012 and 2013. The transfers were first flagged by US financial institutions, which are required by law to tell an office within the Treasury Department about any transactions they deem suspicious. Such “suspicious activity reports” do not prove wrongdoing. Federal law requires financial institutions to file reports on cash transactions that exceed $10,000 in a single day, even if those transactions seem otherwise legitimate. Banks are also required to file the reports whenever they suspect money laundering or other financial crimes.
Bank officers flagged unusual behavior among five offshore companies that authorities say are associated with Manafort: Global Endeavour Inc., Lucicle Consultants Ltd., and three others that appear to have no current contact information.
Law enforcement sources say the companies sent funds in round-dollar amounts without explanation of what the money was to be used for. The countries where these transactions originated — notably Cyprus and the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — are notorious for money laundering. Federal law enforcement officials said they saw evidence of “layering,” the process by which the origin of money is obscured behind many layers of companies. Much of the money ended up in the US, sent to home improvement contractors, a hedge fund, and even a car dealership.
Manafort’s suspicious financial transactions were first flagged by Treasury officials as far back as 2012 and forwarded to the FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the Department of Justice for further investigation in 2013 and 2014, a former Treasury official who worked on the matter told BuzzFeed News. The extent of Manafort’s suspicious transactions was so vast, said this former official, that law enforcement agents drafted a series of “intelligence reports” about Manafort’s financial dealings. Two law enforcement officials who worked on the case say that they found red flags in his banking records going back as far as 2004, and that the transactions in question totaled many millions of dollars.
It’s unknown what became of the FBI’s Manafort investigation; no charges were filed. An FBI spokesperson did not return emails and phone calls this week. One FBI agent who was actively involved in the investigation told BuzzFeed News it “lay dormant” for a while but was never closed.
Then, last January, the Senate Intelligence Committee launched its probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In April, the committee sent the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, a letter requesting a wide range of financial records “related to Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US election or individuals associated with it.” Specifically, the committee asked FinCEN officials for “any actions” they took to support law enforcement or intelligence inquiries; any documents they sent to the FBI; and any requests for information they sent to banks. Details of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request have not been previously disclosed.