Paul Manafort, a former advisor on the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign, along with his colleague Rick Gates, have pleaded not guilty after a grand jury approved 12 charges for him.
The charges are signed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia.
But the million-dollar question is whether or not these charges mean the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia.
There is, so far, no direct connection between Trump’s campaign and Russian government officials. The charges relate to Manafort and Gates’ work with the Ukrainian government and their handling of foreign banks accounts. None of these allegations have been proven in court.
While certain charges stem from as early as 2006, the charge of giving false statements to U.S. government officials is from 2016-2017, and therefore covers the time Manafort was with the Trump campaign — between March and August 2016.
Manafort potentially faces up to 80 years in prison, according to a review of the federal charges and the relevant statutes by The Associated Press. Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, faces up to 70 years.
They are serious charges, which suggest a pattern of illegal behaviour, Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, explained to CNN.
“Taken together, it seems to me that this is a very important interim development in the Mueller investigation, but only as an appetizer,” Vladeck said.
He said there would need to be more if Russian collusion is going to be proven.
“It’s a tantalizing step, but only if it’s the first — and not the last.”
Manafort’s lawyer said on Monday there was no evidence Manafort colluded with the Russian government while working for the campaign and, in fact, his work on behalf of Ukraine had ended two years earlier.
The indictment says both Manafort and Gates were “unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine” for the Party of Reasons, a pro-Russia political party in the country who was in power during 2010-2014.
The party, along with the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, were clients of Manafort’s companies DMP International and DMI.
The indictment claims Manafort directly communicated with Victor Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of Reasons, in person and in writing, starting in 2012.
Manafort and Gates lobbied multiple members of Congress and staff about Ukrainian issues, including U.S. sanctions on Ukraine.
Failure to disclose these connections is illegal.
READ MORE: Who is Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman charged with conspiracy?
The special council also says the pair actively mislead them about their connections.
The indictment says that “after numerous press reports concerning Manafort,” the Department of Justice informed Manafort and Gates it was investigating them for not registering with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
While investigating the charges, the pair, along with Manafort’s company, provided letters to the Department of Justice distancing themselves from the Ukrainian government, Mueller said in the indictment.
But documents found while the FBI raided Manafort’s home prove otherwise, he wrote.
WATCH: FBI agents raid Paul Manafort’s home as Trump/Russia investigation continues (Aug. 2017)
Money laundering and Manafort’s lavish lifestyle
There are also facing seven charges related to money laundering.
According to Mueller, the pair allegedly made tens of millions of dollars in income, which was laundered through other U.S. and foreign companies and not disclosed on their taxes.
“In total, more than $75,000,000 flowed through the offshore accounts,” the indictment read.
These dealings apparently had been going on since at least 2011, according to the document.
It also said Manafort and Gates used the money to live lavish lifestyles.
Manafort’s purchases include over $900,000 spent at an antique rug store, nearly $850,000 spent on men’s clothing, at four Range Rovers and a Mercedes Benz, along with millions spent renovating and landscaping his homes in New York and in Florida.
“[Manafort] spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services for himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to United States vendors,” it read.
The indictment also says they funnelled millions of dollars into foreign “nominee companies and bank accounts” to falsify their income statements.
They also allegedly lied about property and companies in the states, with the intent to defraud and obtain money from banks and other financial institutions.
“As part of the scheme, Manafort and Gates repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants, and legal counsel, among others,” the statement read.
*With a file from the Associated Press
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