In the New York Times's recent report on Trump aide Paul Manafort's possibly illegal payoffs from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine, there's this curious detail:
Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.
Per the Washington Post, Manafort got $7.5 million for orchestrating this nearly $19 million deal, which seems like a disproportionate amount of money relative to the size of the initial investment. Allegedly, the money from the TV deal was to be the first of a series of investments in a private equity firm set up by Manafort in the Cayman Islands. In 2008, Deripaska sued Manafort in the Cayman Islands because the money had not been invested. The case dragged on, and the Cayman Islands pursued it in federal court, where Manafort was questioned.
Also worth noting: Deripaska is barred from traveling to the United States because of supposed ties to organized crime. So why was Manafort doing business with Deripaska, and why would Manafort seemingly be so foolish as to rob a mobster of millions of dollars?
On Twitter, Andrew Trabulsi, author of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur,raises an interesting possibility: the lawsuit is money laundering hiding in plain sight. The following is pulled from Trabulsi's Twitter thread directly, but I've formatted it to make it readable (and "org" is shorthand for "organized"):
DISCLAIMER: The following is speculation, and may not bear out, but worth diving into further. So there's this thing called "the Russian Laundromat"… A practice commonly used by Russian org crime to launder money. It's also used, however, to make payments for illicit activities and off-the-book political favors. Let me describe the process. X agrees to do some off-the-books business activity for Y. Y is an org crime and politically connected figurehead. Y is also connected to Z. Z is also an org crime and politically connected figurehead, though likely higher up than Y. X needs to be paid for work for Y. Remember, though, this is off-the-books, so X can't be paid in the usual way. Z backs work for Y by agreeing to separate contract with X. Now X and Z have a contract. On the books it has no relationship to X's work for Y. This contract is invariably set up in a tax haven or a state with weak judicial authority/reach. X and Z go into business together. X does work for Y. Z puts money into joint venture with X. X disappears with money. To make it look good Z sues X in tax haven with weak judicial authority/reach. Can't recover money. Case fades. Now Z has paid X for illicit/politically unsavory work with Y, completely off-the-books, but still in way that doesn't overtly look illegal.
Again, this is all speculation. But the recent revelations surrounding Manafort's dealings in Ukraine do raise many questions about whether his dealings were legal.