COMMENT: The Manafort Pardon: a finger in the collective eyes of Ukrainians

COMMENT: The Manafort Pardon: a finger in the collective eyes of Ukrainians
Paul Manafort, one-time adviser to former President Viktor Yanukovych and soon-to-be former President Donald Trump, was pardoned by Trump, but won't be forgiven by Ukrainians
By Robert Homans in Washington DC January 6, 2021

Paul Manafort, one-time adviser to former President Viktor Yanukovych and soon-to-be former President Donald Trump, recently received a full presidential pardon. What this means, in practice, is that as far as the United States is concerned, Manafort’s crimes never happened. Such is not the case in Ukraine.

In Manafort’s case, the Pardon means that the United States will now have to return all the property taken from Manafort, on the basis that the property, real estate, cash and other items, was acquired by Manafort using proceeds of a crime.

Much of that money came from Ukraine, and its citizens, in the form of payments made by Yanukovych as well as other acting on Yanukovych’s instructions. All of this money, money that the United States extracted from Manafort as part of his criminal settlement, will now have to be returned to Manafort, along with property confiscated from Manafort by the US Government. However, since Manafort’s crimes included income tax evasion, it is possible that the United States will assess an income tax bill, equal to the amount that Manafort has never paid, plus interest. However, that now becomes a civil matter, and no longer criminal.

Another beneficiary of a presidential pardon is Alex van der Zwann who, when working for the law firm of Skadden Arps, helped write the legal justification for the prosecution and imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko. Van der Zwann will get his law licence restored, and any fines he paid to the US government as part of his plea agreement for lying to the FBI must be returned to him. Van der Zwann is the son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan, co-founder of the Alfa Group.

Individuals like Manafort, van der Zwann, Hunter Biden, Rudy Giuliani, and many others like them, see Ukraine as not much more than a trough of money, ready for them to slop. If the Mueller Investigation accomplished one thing, it was to expose the activities of US individuals and professional service firms helping themselves to often illicit Ukrainian cash. Other than the GRU Officers and Michael Flynn, all of the indictments arising from the Muller Investigation were for people who were working for Ukrainians, almost all of whom were, or are, crooked.

With the Pardons of Manafort, van der Zwann and likely others prior to the end of President Trump’s Term, there is nothing more that Americans can legitimately tell Ukrainians on the need to end corruption in Ukraine. That may even apply to President-elect Joe Biden, who likely knew, or should have known, of his son Hunter’s activities on the Board of Burisma, possibly including attempts by Biden junior to convince the UK to un-freeze accounts belonging to Mykola Zlochevsky, Burisma’s chairman.

However, the US can continue to play a significant role in supporting the unquestioned desire of Ukrainians to rid their country of corruption by:

  • Continuing prosecution of Ukrainian oligarchs Dmitry Firtash and Ihor Kolomoisky, and perhaps others, perhaps with the help of new anti-money-laundering legislation included in the recently passed United States Defence Authorization Act, and thereby neutralising their toxic influence within Ukraine.
  • To the extent they and those who sponsored them can be identified, apply Magnitsky Sanctions against Ukrainians who attacked and in at least one occasion murdered other Ukrainians for their efforts to eradicate corruption in their Country: people like Vataliy Shabunin and Valeria Gontareva, anti-corruption advocates whose houses were burned down and lives threatened, and Kateryna Handziuk, who was murdered in an acid attack.
  • With new leadership coming in the US State Department, let experienced foreign service officers do their work, behind the scenes, in supporting Ukrainian anti-corruption activists. They don’t need, or don’t ask for recognition, but only to do their job free of unwanted interference.

There are many extremely competent and brave Ukrainians who know what to do, to take down corruption in their Country, and they don’t need the United States to tell them to “do more.”

The days of the President and/or Vice-President of the United States coming to Ukraine and publicly haranguing Ukraine to “do more” to end corruption should be over. After all, there is enough to answer for in the United States.


Robert Homans is an International Financial Sector Consultant based in Washington DC and tweets at @rhomansjr