(Reuters) - The charges announced on Monday against Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager to President Donald Trump, as part of a U.S. probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, include money laundering as well as the lesser-known offence of conspiracy against the United States.
The indictment was the first released by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian efforts to tilt last year’s vote in Trump’s favour. The Kremlin denies meddling. Trump denies colluding with the Russians.
While neither Trump nor his campaign is mentioned in the indictment, Mueller could be aiming to pressure Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, who is also charged, to cooperate in the larger collusion probe.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti voiced surprise at the number of charges as well as the detailed nature of the indictment, saying: “If I were the defence lawyer, I’d be looking into cooperating.”
Here are the major charges against Manafort and Gates, the alleged conduct involved and the maximum sentences.
CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE UNITED STATES
The first count in the indictment against Manafort and Gates is a common federal charge, mainly because it can target a wide range of conduct and can be tacked on to other charges.
Charges of conspiracy against the United States, which carry a maximum sentence of five years, have been brought against al Qaeda militants for planning attacks as well as individuals accused of fraud against the government.
In January the Department of Justice charged Volkswagen AG executives with conspiring to defraud the United States by cheating on U.S. emissions tests.
The charge against Manafort and Gates is related to their alleged failures to report their overseas financial holdings and to report that they were working on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
CONSPIRACY TO LAUNDER MONEY
This second count carries a maximum 20-year sentence, the greatest penalty among the charges levelled against Manafort and Gates.
Money laundering takes place when a person conducts a financial transaction involving the proceeds of a crime with the purpose of concealing details of that crime.
The money laundering case stems from allegations they were illegally working as unregistered lobbyists for the pro-Russian Yanukovich government. They are accused of using multiple offshore accounts and entities to finance their work.
Manafort also allegedly used untaxed money from those accounts to buy several income-generating New York apartments for his own benefit.
Most of the counts against Manafort and Gates involve their alleged failure to report foreign bank accounts to the tax-collecting U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Each charge carries a maximum five-year sentence.
They are also charged with failing to register with the U.S. Department of Justice as agents of Yanukovich and making false statements about their work. Those counts are punishable by up to five years in prison.
Neither Trump nor his campaign is mentioned in the indictment and many of the charges, some of which go back more than a decade, appear related to Manafort’s work for Ukraine’s pro-Russian government and political figures there.
But Mueller could be using the indictment to pressure Manafort and Gates to cooperate in the larger collusion probe.
“Generally speaking, the criminal justice system runs off of cooperation,” said New York criminal defence lawyer Greg Morvillo, “meaning often the government will arrest one or two people, and see if they can get those people to flip and assist the government in prosecuting other people who the government has concluded committed a crime.”
Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, said the indictment sends a message to Manafort that “he needs to cooperate and plead guilty.”
“The indictment of Gates may also send a message to Manafort, because even if Manafort doesn’t cooperate, Gates probably will,” she said.
CONNECTION TO MONDAY’S GUILTY PLEA?
Former Trump campaign worker George Papadopoulos’ guilty plea, announced by Mueller on Monday, may be unrelated, but lawyers said the timing sent a message that the U.S. federal investigation was far from over.
The court documents in the Papadopoulos case are the first out of the Mueller probe to tie Moscow to the campaign.
Papadopoulos is charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the extent and nature of his relationships and interactions with foreign nationals associated with the Russian government.
His conduct, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, does not appear to intersect with that described in the Manafort indictment.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter suggested: “It was to head off any arguments that the case against Manafort and Gates is not about Russia.”
Cotter added: “What they’re saying is, ‘We’ve got Papadopoulos in the bag and he knows about Russia.’ They’re saying, ‘There’ll be more. We’re coming.’”
Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Jon Stempel and Brendan Pierson; Writing by Anthony Lin; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller
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