Home / U.S. / Former European officials deny having been paid by Manafort to the Ukrainian lobby

Former European officials deny having been paid by Manafort to the Ukrainian lobby

But Mr. Prodi said that the funds that Mr. Gusenbauer had paid him did not come, as far as he knows, from Mr. Manafort.

Mr. Gusenbauer's compensation was the result of the "normal private relations I had with him". Mr. Prodi said, but "there is no money from external sources". He added: "I tell you that I was never paid from any pressure group in the United States"

In a statement to the BBC, Mr. Gusenbauer, who ran Austria from January 2007 to December 2008, denied any participation in the Mr. Manafort's work in Ukraine, but he acknowledged that he had met with him twice and had spoken with Ukraine about European and American politicians, as had Mr. Prodi.

In Europe, only Austria and Germany refer to their head of government as chancellor.

"I always had the view that it was important to bring Ukraine closer to Europe," Gusenbauer told the BBC. "It would have been extremely positive if Ukraine could have agreed" with closer ties, he said. "I was talking to the US and American politicians to make this point clear."


Alfred Gusenbauer, then Chancellor of Austria, left, and Romano Prodi, then Prime Minister of Italy, in Rome, in 2007.

Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press

Mr. Gusenbauer added: "I stopped this activity when I got the impression that Ukraine was moving in the wrong direction."

In an interview on Saturday with the Austrian Press Agency, Mr. Gusenbauer said he had been "paid" for his work on behalf of Ukraine, but did not say by whom. He added that he had never worked for Mr. Yanukovych and that he had only met Mr. Manafort two or three times.

Mr. Gusenbauer met with several members of Congress in June 2013 on behalf of Ukraine, according to a federal filing last year from Mercury Public Affairs, a political strategy group that Mr. Manafort had hired.

Mr. Prodi recalled meeting with members of Congress interested in Ukraine, but said he had not heard of Mercury. When asked who scheduled the meetings in Washington, Mr. Prodi said: "I guess it was Gusenbauer."

A second Washington lobby firm hired by Mr. Manafort, the Podesta Group, also said last year that it had "organized meetings and media opportunities" to visit European leaders regarding Ukraine, beginning in 2012, including Mr. Gusenbauer, Mr. Prodi and two former presidents, Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and Viktor A. Yushchenko of Ukraine.

Mr. Manafort did not inform the Washington lobbyists with whom they worked that European politicians were receiving money for their efforts, according to people familiar with the work done by the two firms, who said that the lobbyists had presented European politicians as impartial validators of Mr. The efforts of Yanukovych.

The group of former high-ranking politicians, according to the indictment, was informally called the Habsburg Group, after the Austro-Hungarian dynasty, the Habsburgs. The plan, according to the indictment, was that the group "appeared to provide independent evaluations of the actions of the Government of Ukraine, when in reality they were lobbyists paid by Ukraine."

In the interview on Saturday, Mr. Prodi said he had never heard of any Hapsburg Group. "It was Gusenbauer who led the group, we made all our efforts to achieve peace in Ukraine," said Prodi, and said that the group of "experts and former politicians" had met in several conferences, but that it soon dissolved when it became clear that "the relationship with the European Union was strengthened". impossible. "

In 2012 and 2013, Mr. Yanukovych was trying to negotiate an" association agreement "with the European Union, which became difficult due to his imprisonment of political opponents, such as Yulia V. Tymoshenko, Valery Ivashchenko and Yuri V Lutsenko in 2011 and 2012.

European officials were anxious to secure the agreement, and tried to get Yanukovych to release the detainees, arguing that his captivity was damaging his reputation and making his relationship with Brussels more difficult 19659020] Foto [19659020] Anti-government protesters at the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2014.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Mr. Prodi said that Mr. Gusenbauer was the "coordinator" of a group of like-minded liberal and center-left politicians on the subject.

Mr. Kwasniewski and Patrick Cox of Ireland, a former president of the European Parliament, said they were working at the suggestion of the then speaker of parliament, Martin Schulz of Germany, to get Mr. Yanukovych to release political opponents from prison to improve his Standing with the Europeans while debating the partnership agreement.

When asked if the money Mr. Gusenbauer received came from Mr. Manafort, Mr. Prodi seemed skeptical, but said he did not know. "Go ask Gusenbauer," he said, adding that he thought the money was more likely to come from European businessmen interested in keeping Europe and Ukraine close.

In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Cox said he had worked with Mr. Kwasniewski, Mr. Schulz and others try to convince Mr. Yanukovych to release imprisoned political opponents.

Mr. Cox said he had never heard of the Hapsburg Group, nobody had paid him for his efforts in Ukraine and that he had not had dealings with Mr. Manafort. But in 2012, he said, he had been invited by Mr. Schultz to go to Ukraine with Mr. Kwasniewski, the first of about 25 trips, all made "pro bono", said Mr. Cox, to try to achieve the release of the detainees. .

"The vision in the western capitals was that they were victims of selective justice," said Cox. After meetings with Mr. Yanukovych and prosecutors, Mr. Cox and Mr. Kwasniewski secured the release of Mr. Ivashchenko and Mr. Lutsenko, who is now the General Prosecutor of Ukraine.

"We did not succeed with Yulia Tymoshenko," who was Mr. Yanukovych's main political opponent at the time, "Cox said." But we made sure that the Charité hospital in Berlin had access to her in prison and she did not I would be subject to further evidence. "

Mr. Cox made clear his displeasure for Mr. Yanukovych, adding," I would not press for him. "

In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Kwasniewski said : "I met with Manafort two or three times during our mission in Ukraine. in 2012 and 2013, but that's it. At that time, he was an advisor to President Yanukovych, whom I also met, and it was natural that our roads had to cross a couple of times. "

He added:" The last time I saw Manafort was probably around in the autumn of 2013. He never paid us. I never had any financial relationship with him, and I never heard about the Hapsburg Group. "

The release of some of the detainees helped Ukraine's relationship with Brussels, but then Mr. Yanukovych rejected the association agreement, in favor of a free trade relationship with Russia.

That, in turn, initiated the demonstrations that led to the downfall of Mr. Yanukovych, the taking of Crimea by Russia and the current conflict in eastern Ukraine.

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