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Manafort plans to plead guilty to second set of charges

Devlin Barrett Reporter focusing on national security and law enforcement September 14 at 9:42 AM President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes at a hearing Friday morning, ending his long losing battle with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The planned plea, if accepted by a judge,…

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Manafort plans to plead guilty to second set of charges

Devlin Barrett

Reporter focusing on national security and law enforcement

President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes at a hearing Friday morning, ending his long losing battle with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The planned plea, if accepted by a judge, would short-circuit his second trial scheduled to begin this month in the District on charges of money laundering and lobbying violations. He is expected to enter his guilty plea this morning in federal court.

It was not immediately clear if, as part of the plea deal, Manafort would cooperate and provide any information to the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

People familiar with the plea discussions have previously said that Manafort has no intention of cooperating with Mueller, so it’s possible any prospective agreement could allow him to admit guilt without providing information to investigators.

A criminal information — a legal document filed by prosecutors to detail the criminal conduct to be admitted by the defendant — was filed in advance of the plea. The document shows Manafort intends to plead guilty to two crimes of the seven he faced at trial: conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct justice.

The document indicates he will admit to funneling millions of dollars in payments into offshore accounts to conceal his income from the Internal Revenue Service. “Manafort cheated the United States out of over $15 million in taxes,” the document states.

The filing also offers new details about the various ways in which Manafort sought to surreptitiously lobby the U.S. government and influence American public opinion toward Ukraine.

In 2012, Manafort set out to help his client, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, by tarnishing the reputation of Yanukovych’s political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, according to the document.

“Manafort stated that ‘[m]y goal is to plant some stink on Tymo’,” according to the document. At the time he made that statement, he was trying to get U.S. news outlets to print stories that Tymoshenko had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official, according to the criminal information.

The document also says Manafort “orchestrated a scheme to have, as he wrote in a contemporaneous communication, ‘[O]bama jews’ put pressure on the administration to disavow Tymoshenko and support Yanukovych,” the document said.

Manafort set out to spread stories in the U.S. that a senior American Cabinet official “was supporting anti-Semitism because the official supported Tymoshenko,” according to the document. “At one point, Manafort wrote to an associate, “I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom.” The document does not identify the then-Cabinet official and it wasn’t immediately clear if any such story was published.

As part of his deal, the government plans to seize four properties, including a nearly $2 million house in Arlington, Virginia, owned by one of Manafort’s daughters. The deal also calls for forfeiture of four financial accounts and a life insurance policy.

The move toward a guilty plea is another reversal for Manafort, who has fought vociferously — but unsuccessfully — against Mueller’s probe. The 69-year-old political consultant was convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on charges of bank and tax fraud.

In-person jury selection for his Washington trial was set to start Monday, with opening statements scheduled for Sept. 24 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Any deal would not be final until Manafort admits guilt before the judge, who would need to approve the plea.

Another conviction would cap a dramatic fall for the international power broker and confidant of Republican presidents dating to Ronald Reagan. Manafort’s decision could be mixed news for Trump, who tapped the consultant to serve as his campaign chairman in June 2016 as he was securing the GOP presidential nomination.

If Manafort were to cooperate with Mueller, that could provide investigators new evidence or leads to chase; a guilty plea, however, would prevent weeks’ worth of headlines about the trial in the month before congressional elections.

The longtime lobbyist resigned from his position as campaign chairman in August 2016 amid increasing scrutiny of his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.

Over a 40-year career, Manafort redefined and expanded Washington’s influence industry domestically and internationally, parlaying successful campaigns into lobbying opportunities. But by the mid-2000s, there were signs that his consulting career had slumped, and at times his finances appeared to be shaky. It was in Ukraine that he revived both — in ways prosecutors say violated the law.

Both cases brought against Manafort by the special counsel stem from his work in Ukraine. The jury in Virginia found that Manafort hid millions of dollars he made in Ukraine to avoid paying taxes and then lied to get loans when the political party that was paying him was ousted from power and the funding dried up.

In the trial scheduled in Washington, Manafort faces charges of conspiring against the United States, money laundering, failing to register as a lobbyist, making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice by trying to influence witnesses.

Manafort had the choice to consolidate both cases into one but declined. He had been jailed since June as a result of the witness-tampering charges.

He has yet to be sentenced in Virginia, where legal experts say he faces eight to 10 years in prison under federal guidelines on the eight of 18 counts on which he was convicted. A mistrial was declared on the remaining 10 charges after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

It is unclear how a guilty plea might alter his ultimate sentence, and some lawyers have questioned whether he is focused on winning a reprieve elsewhere. Law enforcement officials have come to suspect that Manafort hopes he will be pardoned by the president, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.

Trump has sought advice from his attorneys on the possibility of pardoning Manafort and other aides accused of crimes, his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani previously told The Washington Post, and was counseled against pardoning anyone involved in the ongoing Mueller probe. The president agreed to wait at least until the investigation concludes, Giuliani has said.

Several defendants have cooperated or pleaded guilty in connection with the special counsel probe, including Manafort’s former right-hand man Rick Gates; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who worked with Manafort; W. Samuel Patten, who admitted arranging for a Ukrainian businessman to illegally donate to Trump’s inauguration; and former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail last week after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.

The decision by Trump’s onetime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to plead guilty last month in a federal investigation in Manhattan particularly angered the president, who denounced him as a “flipper.”

[How Trump adviser Manafort revived his career — and business fortunes — in Ukraine]

Earlier this year, Manafort derided Gates, his former business partner, for striking a deal with prosecutors that provided him leniency in exchange for testimony against his former partner.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort said in February.

Kevin M. Downing, an attorney for Manafort, also said this summer that there was “no chance” his client would flip and cooperate with prosecutors.

That posture drew plaudits from Trump, who praised his former campaign chairman for his unwillingness to cooperate with the special counsel.

Prosecutors “applied tremendous pressure on him and . . . he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’ ” the president tweeted last month. “Such respect for a brave man!”

Rosalind S. Helderman and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

The Azeri Times

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

 Police halt rally of family members of dead soldiers in Baku, one arrested

 Where is the red line for Azerbaijan’s journalists?

Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

The Azeri Times

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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