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European Ex-Officials Deny Being Paid by Manafort to Lobby for Ukraine

But Mr. Prodi said the funds he had been paid by Mr. Gusenbauer did not come, to his knowledge, from Mr. Manafort.

The compensation from Mr. Gusenbauer was a result of the “normal private relations I had with him.” Mr. Prodi said, but “not any money from external sources.” He added: “I tell you I have never been paid from any lobby group in America.”

In a statement to the BBC, Mr. Gusenbauer, who led Austria from January 2007 to December 2008, denied any involvement in Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine but acknowledged that he had met him twice and talked to European and American politicians about Ukraine, as Mr. Prodi had also done.

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

“I always had the point of view that it was important to move Ukraine closer to Europe,” Mr. Gusenbauer told the BBC. “It would have been extremely positive if Ukraine could have agreed” to closer ties, he said. “I was talking to E.U. and U.S. politicians to make that point clear.”


Alfred Gusenbauer, then the chancellor of Austria, left, and Romano Prodi, then the prime minister of Italy, in Rome, in 2007. Credit Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

Mr. Gusenbauer added: “I stopped this activity when I had the impression that Ukraine was moving in the wrong direction.”

In an interview on Saturday with the Austrian Press Agency, Mr. Gusenbauer said that he had been “remunerated” for his work on behalf of Ukraine, but he 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 several members of Congress in June 2013 on behalf of Ukraine, according to a federal filing last year by Mercury Public Affairs, a political strategy group that Mr. Manafort had hired.

Mr. Prodi recalled meeting members of Congress interested in Ukraine, but said he had not heard of Mercury. Asked who scheduled the meetings in Washington, Mr. Prodi said, “I imagine it was Gusenbauer.”

A second Washington lobbying firm hired by Mr. Manafort, the Podesta Group, also said last year that it had “arranged meetings and media opportunities” for visiting European leaders regarding Ukraine, starting in 2012, including for 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 the European politicians were being paid for their efforts, according to people familiar with the work done by the two firms, who said the lobbyists had presented the European politicians as unbiased validators of Mr. Yanukovych’s efforts.

The group of senior former politicians, according to the indictment, was informally called the Hapsburg Group, after the Austro-Hungarian dynasty, the Habsburgs. The plan, according to the indictment, was for the group to “appear to be providing their independent assessments of Government of Ukraine actions, when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine.”

In the interview on Saturday, Mr. Prodi said that he had never heard of any Hapsburg Group. “It was Gusenbauer heading the group; we did all our efforts to have peace in Ukraine,” Mr. Prodi said, saying that the group of “experts and former politicians” had met at several conferences but soon disbanded when it became clear that “a stronger relationship with the European Union was impossible.”

In 2012 and 2013, Mr. Yanukovych was trying to negotiate an “association agreement” with the European Union, which was made difficult by his jailing of political opponents, like Yulia V. Tymoshenko, Valery Ivashchenko and Yuri V. Lutsenko in 2011 and 2012.

European officials were keen to secure the agreement, and tried to get Mr. Yanukovych to release the detainees, arguing that their captivity was damaging his reputation and making closer ties to Brussels hard to swallow.


Anti-government demonstrators in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2014. Credit 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 issue.

Mr. Kwasniewski and Patrick Cox of Ireland, a former president of the European Parliament, said that they were working at the suggestion of the parliament’s president at the time, Martin Schulz of Germany, to get Mr. Yanukovych to release political opponents from jail to improve his standing with the Europeans as they debated the association agreement.

Asked if the money Mr. Gusenbauer received came from Mr. Manafort, Mr. Prodi seemed skeptical but said that he didn’t know. “Go ask Gusenbauer,” he said, adding that he thought that it was more likely that the money came 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 to try to convince Mr. Yanukovych to release the jailed political opponents.

Mr. Cox said that he had never heard of the Hapsburg Group, had never been paid by anyone for his efforts in Ukraine, and had had no 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 some 25 trips, all done “pro bono,” Mr. Cox said, to try to get the detainees released.

“The view in Western capitals was that these were the victims of selective justice,” Mr. Cox said. After meetings with Mr. Yanukovych and prosecutors, Mr. Cox and Mr. Kwasniewski were successful in obtaining the release of Mr. Ivashchenko and Mr. Lutsenko, who is now Ukraine’s prosecutor-general.

“We were not successful with Yulia Tymoshenko,” who was Mr. Yanukovych’s prime political opponent at the time, Mr. Cox said. “But we did ensure that Charité hospital in Berlin would have access to her in prison and she not be subject to further trials,” he added.

Mr. Cox made clear his distaste for Mr. Yanukovych, adding: “I wouldn’t lobby for him.”

In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Kwasniewski said, “I did meet Manafort two or three times during our mission in Ukraine in 2012 and 2013, but that’s it. At the time, he was an adviser to President Yanukovych, whom I also met, and it was only natural that our paths had to cross a couple of times.”

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

The release of some of the detainees did help 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, started the demonstrations that led to Mr. Yanukovych’s downfall, the Russian seizure of Crimea and the current conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Source: NYT > World

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