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Ex-Trump aide Manafort faces charges in first trial of Russian Federation probe

Ex-Trump aide Manafort faces charges in first trial of Russian Federation probe

The charges against Manafort are being prosecuted by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who uncovered the alleged wrongdoing during his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and suspected collusion with Trump's campaign.

Despite a focus on financial crimes, the trial could yield politically damaging headlines about a man who ran Trump's campaign for three months and attended a June 2016 meeting with Russians offering damaging information on Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton that is now a focal point of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 14-month-old investigation.

Instead, federal prosecutors will try to prove Manafort laundered more than $30 million in Ukrainian political consulting fees and concealed the money from the IRS.

Prosecutors also accuse him of lying to USA banks to obtain real estate loans in a bid to maintain a lavish lifestyle after his client, former pro-Russia Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, fell from power in 2014 and the money stopped.

Manafort's trial promises tales of lavish spending, secret shell companies and millions of dollars of Ukrainian money flowing through offshore bank accounts and into the political consultant's pocket.

"Paul Manafort traveled in circles that most people will never know and he's gotten handsomely rewarded for it", Zehnle said.

At the centre of all this will be another Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine and is also accused of helping him falsify paperwork used to obtain the bank loans.

But prosecutors' star witness is likely to be Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump's campaign as deputy chairman.

"On the basis of the record presented thus far, there is no reason to believe that fair and impartial jurors can not be found in the Eastern District of Virginia", the judge concluded. Manafort then asked the federal appeals court in Washington, DC, to review her decision.

Zehnle accused Gates of having an "evolving" story about his dealings with Manafort, and pointed out that as part of his plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the prosecutors during plea negotiations. The indictment says he and associate Rick Gates moved money from Ukraine through foreign bank accounts to hide it from the Internal Revenue Service.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis made several jokes during the jury selection process, including about the quality of the lunches jurors will be provided.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud related to his lobbying activities on behalf of the former Russian-backed government of Ukraine. There are also four alternates, three women and a man.

On Tuesday morning, he was set to travel about 100 yards, from the Alexandria Detention Center to the Albert V Bryan courthouse in Virginia, for the first day of his trial on multiple felony charges including tax fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy.

The trial, starting with selection of a 12-member jury, coincides with growing speculation that Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen may cooperate with federal investigators against the president.

This is the first of two trials for Manafort. That was an apparent reference to one of the expensive purchases Mr. Manafort allegedly made which prosecutors said they planned to describe at trial. And they won't learn that Manafort's co-defendant in the Washington case is a business associate named Konstantin Kilimnik, who lives in Russia and who USA authorities assert has connections to Russian intelligence.

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