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As White House seeks distance, former campaign chairman Manafort faces new allegations

| Tuesday, March 21, 2017, 9:18 p.m.

KIEV — A Ukrainian lawmaker on Tuesday released a document that he said links Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to attempts to hide a $750,000 payment from a pro-Russia political party — a claim strongly denied by Manafort's spokesman.

Lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko published a 2009 invoice purportedly signed by Manafort that shows a $750,000 payment for 501 computers to a company called Davis Manafort. The money came from a Belize-registered offshore company via a bank in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

Leshchenko said the contract was a cover for payments made to Manafort for work he did for the pro-Russian Party of the Regions in Ukraine, which backed former Russia-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country amid anti-government protests in 2014.

The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the document.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, called the allegations “baseless” and said they should be “summarily dismissed.”

Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), which was set up to investigate official corruption, told the AP that it is not going to look into the reports, since Manafort is not a Ukrainian citizen.

Manafort left Trump's campaign in August following revelations about his work for Yanukovych's party. He's one of the Trump associates now under scrutiny for possible contacts with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. His name came up repeatedly Monday during the House intelligence committee hearing on that topic.

Manafort defended himself Tuesday against suggestions he played a role in Russia's efforts to interfere with the U.S. vote, saying in a statement that he had “no role or involvement” in the cyberhacking of the Democratic National Committee and the disclosure of stolen emails. He also insisted that he's never spoken to any Russian officials or others who claimed to be involved in the hacking attack.

Leshchenko said that the 2009 invoice was one of about 50 pages of documents, including private paperwork and copies of debit cards issued for employees, which were found in Manafort's Kiev office by a new tenant.

“This is quite a typical scheme to hide the nature of money using jurisdictions like Kyrgyzstan, because it's in the middle of nowhere (and) it's almost impossible to investigate there,” Leshchenko said, speaking in English. “I think it was an international fraud scheme and my sources in the Party of Regions say Kyrgyzstan was regularly used as a jurisdiction for money-laundering.”

Leshchenko said the amount and date of the payment — Oct. 14, 2009 — matches one of the entries on the so-called Black Ledges, the handwritten accounting books of the Party of Regions, where Manafort's name stood next to several entries as receiving the party's funds.

Leshchenko argued that the documents found in Manafort's office and the invoice in particular show the mechanics of money-laundering that should be investigated by U.S. authorities.

“Paul Manafort is an American citizen. NABU has enough to do with corrupt Ukrainian officials. I think they can be party to a bigger international investigation,” he said. “First of all, it's up to American officials to investigate, because we're talking about American citizens. Money (was) transferred to an account in the United States from Belize opened with an account in Kyrgyzstan, so Ukraine is almost not involved in this.”

Leshchenko would not say whether he has shared his findings with U.S. authorities.

Alexander Baunov, an analyst with Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank, said Manafort was advising Yanukovych on relations with the U.S. and its Western allies as the Ukrainian leader was maneuvering between Russia and the West. Manafort's job was to “improve Ukraine's relations with the United States, to advise the Party of Regions, which was quite clumsy in international affairs, in dealing with the Europeans and the Americans,” he said.

Yanukovych was driven from power in February 2014 by mass protests triggered by his decision to spike a trade deal with the EU under the pressure from Moscow.

“It's a strong simplification to think that Yanukovych was acting as the Kremlin's puppet and followed all the instructions coming from the Kremlin,” Baunov said in Moscow.

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