A former Kremlin spy and state-linked arms dealer claims he acted on behalf of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to chase down a $19 million debt owed by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a “months-long investigation” by TIME magazine.
The ex-spy, Victor Boyarkin, says he was tasked with pressuring Manafort to repay the debt, stemming from a 2014 lawsuit in the Cayman Islands claiming Manafort disappeared with the money. The Russian oligarch said earlier this year from New York that Manafort was part of a group that disappeared with $26 million a decade ago.
“He owed us a lot of money… and he was offering ways to pay it back,” Boyarkin told TIME after the magazine ambushed him at an early October conference in Greece organized by former KGB agent and state railway boss Vladimir Yakunin (“How did you find me here?” Boyarkin repeatedly asked).
And while Manafort was fired from the Trump campaign less than 48 hours after Donald Trump received his first national security briefing as a candidate, TIME is essentially implying that Manafort – indebted to a Russian billionaire – would have promoted a pro-Kremlin agenda from within the Trump camp. What this months-long TIME investigation boils down to is innuendo, as special counsel Robert Mueller – who has approached Boyarkin – has not charged Manafort with anything related to his alleged outstanding debt to Deripaska.
“I told them to go dig a ditch,” Boyarkin said of Mueller’s contact.
But those connections could be potentially important to the Special Counsel’s inquiry. They would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump’s campaign chairman. And they may shed light on why Manafort discussed going right back to work for pro-Russian interests in Eastern Europe after he crashed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, according to numerous sources in the TIME investigation. –TIME
According to the TIME report, Boyarkin was the “friend” referred to 2017 reports by the Washington Post and The Atlantic as “our friend V,” which was initially suspected to be Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Emails sent just two weeks before Trump accepted the GOP nomination revealed that Manafort attempted to offer “private briefings” about the US presidential race to Deripaska – as one of the emails reads to “get whole.”
Boyarkin’s history with Manafort goes back to 2006, according to the former Kremlin operative, who said that Deripaska asked the two of them to “redraw the map of Eastern Europe” according to TIME.
Montenegro, a tiny Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea, was an important testing ground for Manafort’s relationship with Deripaska. The oligarch had invested heavily in that country, buying control of a vast aluminum smelter in 2005 that accounted for roughly half of Montenegro’s exports and a sixth of its entire economy. The following year, he decided to support the Montenegrins’ drive to become an independent country. That meant breaking away from its more powerful neighbor, Serbia – and convincing the world to recognize Montenegro as an independent state.
To get this done, Deripaska offered the help of several of his advisers, including Manafort. “They were a good team,” says a senior official in Montenegro who was involved in that vote. “They helped get the support we needed from our international partners,” both in Russia and the West, says the official, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. After the people of Montenegro voted by a margin slightly above 55% to declare independence from Serbia in May 2006, all the world’s major powers recognized the results. –TIME
In short, Manafort – who was convicted in August on eight charges of bank and tax fraud connected to his lobbying work in Ukraine – helped steer Montenegro towards independence – a move which was likely supported by the Kremlin. “There was never any real resistance from Moscow [to the independence vote],” said a senior official in the tiny country, who added “Better the Russians come here with suitcases of money than with columns of tanks.”
Unfortunately for Deripaska, the deal unraveled after Montenegro seized the aluminum plant he controlled – leading to a massive 2014 lawsuit by the billionaire – after which the country sped up its plans to join the NATO military alliance and seek protection under the West’s wing.
So what did Manafort do? Deeply in debt to the Russian billionaire, Manafort allegedly leveraged his old connections in Montenegro – reconnecting with anti-NATO politician Nebojsa Medojevic to try and scuttle Montenegro’s NATO ambitions.
At first the tip seemed implausible. Why would one of the world’s most prominent political advisers – still fresh from the chairmanship of the Republican presidential campaign – consider working with a group seen as pro-Russian upstarts in a Balkan nation of 600,000 people?
The senior Montenegrin official suggested an answer. “If Manafort got involved here in 2016, it would only be through the Russians,” he said.
At the time, Russian money was indeed flowing into Montenegrin politics. According to the sanctions list posted Dec. 19, Deripaska and Boyarkin were “involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections.” –TIME
Unfortunately for Medojevic and the Anti-NATO faction, “the meeting [with Manafort] was a disappointment, and that no deal came out of it.”
For Medojevic and the rest of the opposition, the elections in Montenegro did not go smoothly. The day before the vote, a group of men was arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of Montenegro, assassinate its leader and seize power by force – all with abundant help from Moscow. The Montenegrin authorities later charged two agents of Russia’s military intelligence service with masterminding the alleged coup. Several of the leaders of the opposition in that country, including Medojevic, are currently on trial for charges that stem from the alleged coup attempt. –TIME
The next year, Montenegro’s parliament ratified its membership in NATO, while pro-Russian demonstrators protested outside. According to Russia’s foreign ministry, lawmakers were “trampling all democratic norms and principles.”
TIME closes by noting that “it remains unclear whether Manafort actually provided any services in Montenegro in 2016. His lawyers deny he did any work for any Montenegrin politicians that year. Nor is it clear whether Manafort owes debts to Deripaska and, if so, how much.”