Buried deep in Robert Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort is a new link between Donald Trump’s former campaign and Russian organized crime.
The indictment (PDF), unsealed on Monday, includes an extensive look into Paul Manafort’s byzantine financial dealings. In particular, it details how he used a company called Lucicle Consultants Limited to wire millions of dollars into the United States.
The Cyprus-based Lucicle Consultants Limited, in turn, reportedly received millions of dollars from a businessman and Ukrainian parliamentarian named Ivan Fursin, who is closely linked to one of Russia’s most notorious criminals: Semion Mogilevich.
Mogilevich is frequently described as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.” Currently believed to be safe in Moscow, he is, according to the FBI, responsible for weapons trafficking, contract killings, and international prostitution. In 2009, he made the bureau’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
“Ivan Fursin was a senior figure in the Mogilevich criminal organization,” Taras Kuzio, a non-resident fellow at Johns Hopkins-SAIS’ Center for Transatlantic Relations and a specialist on the region told The Daily Beast.
Martin Sheil, a retired criminal investigator for the IRS, said the indictment, with its connections to Fursin, helps illuminate the murky world Manafort operated in before taking the reins of Trump’s presidential bid.
“This indictment strongly indicates the existence of a previously unknown relationship between an alleged Russian organized crime leader and Mr. Manafort,” Sheil told The Daily Beast.
According to the indictment, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, used Lucicle to avoid paying taxes on money which they then spent on a variety of pricey items: clothes, antiques, and at least one Mercedes-Benz.
Paul Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, told reporters on Monday that the idea that anyone would engage in such a scheme is laughable.
“The second thing about this indictment that I, myself, find most ridiculous is a claim that maintaining offshore accounts to bring all your funds into the United States, as a scheme to conceal from the United States government, is ridiculous,” he told a scrum of reporters on the steps of a D.C. courthouse.
But the indictment alleges otherwise. According to Mueller’s team, from April 2012 to March 2013, Lucicle transferred more than $1.3 million to a home improvement company in the Hamptons, where Manafort owns property.
Lucicle also sent more than $200,000 to a New York men’s clothing store from March 2012 to February 2013. In that same window of time, it also sent more than $100,000 to a New York antique dealer, more than $340,000 to a Florida contractor, $88,000 to a landscaper in the Hamptons, and a comparatively paltry payment of $7,500 to a clothing store in Beverly Hills.
On Oct. 5, 2012, Lucicle wired in $62,750 to pay for a Mercedes-Benz. And on Valentine’s Day of 2013, it sent $14,000 to a Florida art gallery. In total, according to Mueller’s indictment, Lucicle wired more than $5 million into the U.S. for Gates and Manafort.
At least some of the money Manafort and Gates used to pay for all those goodies appears to have come from Fursin. The New York Times reported in July that Lucicle and Fursin are tied to an “offshore entity, Mistaro Ventures, which is registered in St. Kitts and Nevis and listed on a government financial disclosure form that Mr. Fursin filed in Ukraine.”
According to the Times, “Mistaro transferred millions to Lucicle in February 2012 shortly before Lucicle made the $9.9 million loan to Jesand L.L.C., a Delaware company that Mr. Manafort previously used to buy real estate in New York.” It was one month after that transfer that Lucicle started shelling out millions to pay for cars, clothes, and real estate, according to the indictment.
That isn’t Fursin’s only connection to Manafort. He is also a lawmaker for the Party of Regions, which paid at least $17 million to Manafort’s firm.
In addition, Fursin’s longtime business associate, Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, has an off-again, on-again partnership with Manafort. Together, they tried to buy the Drake Hotel in Manhattan for a cool $850 million. Firtash also bankrolled Ukraine’s Party of Regions.
Firtash has his own legal complications. He is currently under indictment in U.S. federal court for allegedly orchestrating an international titanium mining racket. The acting U.S. attorney in Chicago recently dubbed him an “organized-crime member” and an “upper-echelon associat[e] of Russian organized crime.” His attorneys say those charges are mere “innuendo,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
A December 2005 report from the Austrian Federal Criminal Investigation Agency said the FBI described Fursin and Firtash as senior members of the Semion Mogilevich Organization.
Ken McCallion, a former federal prosecutor who represented Yulia Tymoshenko in a civil case against Manafort and Firtash, told The Daily Beast that Fursin and Firtash are close.
“It was very similar to the relationship between Manafort and Gates,” he said. “Gates was a significant player in the criminal activities that Manafort engaged in... He played a major role, he was a major lieutenant in Manafort’s organization. By the same token, Fursin was one of the chief lieutenants of Firtash.”