World News

‘The Hapsburg Group’: Indictment Says Manafort Secretly Paid European Leaders

Posted February 23, 2018 8:32 p.m. EST

For five centuries, the Habsburgs dominated much of Central Europe, reaching from their ancestral base in Austria to eventually encompass a multiethnic and multilingual empire that collapsed only at the end of World War I.

The name of the dynasty that ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire quickly became a trending topic Friday evening, after the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election in the United States accused Paul Manafort Jr., President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, of secretly paying a group of former European officials to lobby for Ukraine in 2012 and 2013, when its government was pro-Russian.

Around 2012, according to the indictment released Friday, Manafort and his colleague Rick Gates “secretly retained a group of former senior European politicians to take positions favorable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States.”

They were informally called the Hapsburg Group, according to the indictment, which used an alternative spelling for the Habsburgs.

Although the former politicians purported to provide “independent assessments,” according to the indictment, “in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine.” Manafort used at least four offshore accounts to wire more than 2 million euros to pay the group of former politicians, according to the indictment.

In a June 2012 memorandum labeled “Eyes Only,” Manafort described a “Super VIP” effort, which aimed to “assemble a small group of high-level European highly influential champions and politically credible friends who can act informally and without any visible relationship with the Government of Ukraine.”

The group was managed by “a former European chancellor” — identified in the indictment only as Foreign Politician A — in coordination with Manafort. In 2013, that politician and other former politicians quietly lobbied members of Congress and officials in the Obama administration on behalf of Ukraine, which was then led by Manafort’s client, President Viktor Yanukovych.

The former chancellor was not named in the indictment. The head of government in both Germany and Austria is known as the chancellor.