Politician: Ex-Austrian chancellor part of Manafort lobbying

Politician: Ex-Austrian chancellor part of Manafort lobbying
FILE - In this file photo dated Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych gestures as he speaks at a news conference in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Ukrainian opposition lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko, who helped uncover off-the-books payments to President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, said Saturday Feb. 24, 2018, a one-time Austrian chancellor was among the European politicians secretly paid to lobby for Ukraine and its then president Yanukovych. (AP Photo, FILE)

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — A Ukrainian opposition lawmaker said Saturday that a former Austrian chancellor was among the European politicians who were allegedly secretly paid to lobby for Ukraine by Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Serhiy Leshchenko’s comment to The Associated Press came a day after a grand jury in the United States indicted Manafort for allegedly paying former politicians to lobby on behalf of his client at the time, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Leshchenko, who says he helped uncover off-the books payments from Yanukovych to Manafort, said Saturday that he saw the information about a former Austrian chancellor in a ledger of payments to Manafort.

“I don’t remember the name, but I remember the position,” Leshchenko told the AP.

The U.S. indictment handed down Friday doesn’t name the European politicians who were paid, although it notes they worked in coordination with Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates and two Washington lobbying firms — the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs — to lobby U.S. officials and lawmakers.

But attention quickly turned to former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. They were named last year in public filings by the two lobbying firms, which listed them as being involved in U.S. speaking events and meetings with officials in the U.S. to promote Ukraine.

Those filings did not disclose any payment to the former officials, and it’s unclear if they are the same politicians referenced in the indictment.

That’s important because U.S. law requires people who are lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of foreign governments or political parties to register, and a Justice Department database doesn’t show that those former European officials did.

That said, it’s unclear from the U.S. indictment how much the former politicians knew about their funding or if they could be covered by some exemption in the law.

The lobbying by the political figures, identified in the indictment as the “Hapsburg Group,” allegedly took place in 2012-13, when Ukraine was moving toward integration with the European Union.

Leshchenko said Gusenbauer had lobbied for Ukraine when the Russia-friendly Yanukovych was in power.

“He lobbied for the interests of Yanukovych right after his election,” Leshchenko said. Yanukovych was elected in February 2010 and fled the country amid massive anti-government protests four years later.

However, Gusenbauer told the Austrian national news agency APA that he never acted on Yanukovych’s behalf.

“I never undertook activities for Mr. Yanukovych” or his party, the news agency quoted Gusenbauer as saying. He said his interests in 2012 and 2013 were bringing Ukraine closer to Europe.

“In public events in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, I advocated for the European Union concluding an association agreement with Ukraine,” he said.

The EU integration issue eventually led to the Ukrainian leader’s downfall.

Yanukovych had been expected to sign an “association agreement” with the EU that would allow freer movement of goods between Ukraine and EU member countries. The agreement was seen as a step toward EU membership, but Russia opposed any tilt to the west by Ukraine.

At the last minute, Yanukovych backed off on signing the agreement, sparking a protest rally in Kiev in 2013. Police brutally dispersed the demonstrators, which galvanized opponents to call larger protests that developed into a huge, ramshackle village of tents and huts in the center of the capital, Kiev.

The protests persisted for months and descended into violence, which climaxed with the shooting deaths of scores of people by still-unidentified snipers in Kiev. Faced with growing chaos, Yanukovych fled Ukraine in late February 2014 and ended up in Russia.

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Jim Heintz in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Chad Day in Washington contributed to this story.