The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a non-governmental organization, has claimed that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was among paid lobbyists against a jailed Ukrainian opposition leader while he was a senior member of European election watchdog.
The OCCRP cited on Nov. 4 leaked emails on a team under now disgraced U.S. lobbyist Paul Manafort, which aimed at convincing diplomats that Ukraine’s jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko should not prevent the country from signing a trade deal with the European Union.
Manafort, who later became the chairman of U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, is now serving jail time for tax and bank fraud charges.
The lobbyists recruited by Manafort included Çavuşoğlu, a former president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as part of his “Strategy to offset Tymoshenko trial,” OCCRP claimed, again citing leaked memos.
“Çavuşoğlu was also secretly lobbying while serving as a member of a PACE mission to observe Ukraine’s 2012 parliamentary elections,” it said.
“Çavuşoğlu publicly advocated for the association agreement, while urging politicians not to criticize Ukraine’s government over the Tymoshenko case. He also gave positive reviews of the elections to media, contrary to assessments by international observation groups – including his own – that noted serious irregularities.”
Andreas Gross, who led the PACE observation mission at the time, had a public dispute with Çavuşoğlu.
Gross told OCCRP that Çavuşoğlu “often had controversial assessments” of elections, but he was unaware that Çavuşoğlu had been “engaged by the [Ukrainian] president’s lobby.”
“When you are indirectly or directly engaged and paid by the government or his consultants, you can never sign up for an observation mission in this same country,” Gross said.
“The conflict of interest of Mevlüt is obvious.”
Manafort’s funder was Serhiy Lovochkin, who is today an opposition leader in Ukraine. From 2010 to 2013, he was chief of staff to then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was later removed from seat during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
To coordinate the campaign, Manafort worked with Alan Friedman, former U.S. journalist, who is a well-known political commentator and public relations consultant in Italy, the NGO said.
“Friedman was not charged over his role in the lobbying campaign,” it said.
Manafort also recruited the “Hapsburg Group,” a shadowy informal outfit that consists of former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who previously served as European Commission President, the claims include.
In one leaked email Gusenbauer reportedly complains Freidman of “unjustified delays” in promised payments to the lobbyists.
“Çavuşoğlu needed a ‘separate’ transfer of 230,000 euros,” Friedman told Manafort, who had his assistant, Konstantin Kilimnik, send the email chain to Lovochkin on the day he received it.
Ukraine signed the mentioned economic association agreement with the EU on June 27, 2014.