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Politician: Ex-Austrian chancellor part of Manafort lobbying

Manafort

Matt Rourke / AP

In this July 17, 2016, file photo, then-Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland as Rick Gates listens at back left.

KIEV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian opposition lawmaker said Saturday that a former Austrian chancellor was among the European politicians who were allegedly secretly paid to lobby for Ukraine by Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Serhiy Leshchenko spoke to The Associated Press a day after a grand jury in the United States indicted Manafort for allegedly paying former politicians to lobby on behalf of his client at the time, the pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Leshchenko, who says he helped uncover off-the books payments from Yanukovych to Manafort, said Saturday that he saw the information about a former Austrian chancellor in a ledger of payments to Manafort.

"I don't remember the name, but I remember the position," Leshchenko told the AP.

The U.S. indictment handed down Friday doesn't name the European politicians who were paid, although it notes they worked in coordination with Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates and two Washington lobbying firms — the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs — to lobby U.S. officials and lawmakers.

But attention quickly turned to former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. They were named last year in public filings by the two lobbying firms, which listed them as being involved in U.S. speaking events and meetings with officials in the U.S. to promote Ukraine.

Those filings did not disclose any payments to the former officials, and it's unclear if they are the same politicians referenced in the U.S. indictment.

That's important because U.S. law requires people who are lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of foreign governments or political parties to register, and a Justice Department database doesn't show that those former European officials did.

Still, it's unclear from the U.S. indictment how much the former European politicians knew about their funding or if they could be covered by some legal exemption.

The lobbying by the political figures, identified in the indictment as the "Hapsburg Group," allegedly took place in 2012-13, when Ukraine was moving toward integration with the European Union.

Leshchenko, speaking in an interview with the AP, said Gusenbauer had lobbied for Ukraine when the Russia-friendly Yanukovych was in power.

"I really believe that Paul Manafort could pay money to ousted European leaders to launder the reputation of Yanukovych in Europe, especially I mean Mr. Gusenbauer, who was engaged in some activity. It is clear this activity was in the interest of the Party of Regions (Yanukovych's party)," Leshchenko said.

"I remember there were a number of events that took place in Europe with the engagement of Mr. Gusenbauer and other former European politicians to present Mr. Yanukovych in better lights in Europe and I also remember Mr. Prodi was engaged in this activity as well," he said.

Gusenbauer, however, told the Austrian national news agency APA that he never acted on Yanukovych's behalf.

"I never undertook activities for Mr. Yanukovych" or his party, the news agency quoted Gusenbauer as saying. He said his interests in 2012 and 2013 were in bringing Ukraine closer to Europe.

"In public events in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, I advocated for the European Union concluding an association agreement with Ukraine," he said.

The EU integration issue eventually led to the Ukrainian leader's downfall.

Yanukovych had been expected to sign an "association agreement" with the EU that would allow freer movement of goods between Ukraine and EU member countries. The agreement was seen as a step toward eventual EU membership, but Russia strongly opposed any tilt to the west by Ukraine.

At the last minute, Yanukovych backed off from signing the EU agreement amid pressure from Russia, sparking a protest rally in Kiev in 2013. Police brutally dispersed the demonstrators, which galvanized opponents to call larger anti-government protests that developed into a huge, ramshackle village of tents and huts in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

The protests persisted for months and descended into violence, which climaxed with the February 2014 shooting deaths of scores of people by still-unidentified snipers in Kiev. Faced with growing chaos, Yanukovych shortly fled Ukraine and ended up in Russia.

Jim Heintz in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Chad Day in Washington and Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed to this story.