The former campaign manager of US President Donald Trump and another aide have been charged with conspiracy against the US and money laundering, the first charges stemming from an FBI probe into alleged Russia meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates surrendered to the FBI early on Monday.
The Department of Justice announced the pair were being charged on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the US, money laundering and other financial charges.
These are the first charges in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and collusion with Trump’s team.
Both Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to the Associated Press.
Manafort was released on a $10m bond, while Gates’ bond was set at $5m. They were both placed on house arrest.
There were no charges related to specifically to the Trump campaign.
According to the indictment, Manafort and Gates hid “tens of millions of dollars” from their work in Ukraine from 2006 through at least 2016 by laundering “the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts”.
The news comes after reports last week that a grand jury had approved the first criminal charges in Mueller’s investigation.
The charges had been expected since August when the FBI seized documents from Manafort’s home.
Trump steps in
Despite charges that relate to dealings in 2016 and 2017, Trump tweeted on Monday that “this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign”.
He added that there “is no COLLUSION!” – a statement he has repeatedly said in reference to the probe into Russia’s alleged meddling.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that Monday’s announcement “has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity”.
The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected allegations that it tried to influence the US presidential election.
The Department of Justice also said on Monday that George Papadopoulos, who served on the Trump advisory team during the 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty on October 5 to “making false statements to FBI agents”.
‘The beginning of a process’
Al Jazeera Kimberly Halkett, reporting from the White House, described the charges as “pretty significant”.
“We’ve known for some time that Paul Manafort was the focus of Robert Mueller’s investigation,” she said.
Laura Brown of George Washington University, told Al Jazeera that these charges mean the investigation is “moving from a political story into a legal one”.
“It is very disconcerting for anyone who is involved in the Trump presidential campaign in terms of what was done to make sure that President Trump could secure the nomination,” Brown said.
“What we have to realise is that this is a beginning of a process starting with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, but it certainly could extend to some of those we have heard throughout the summer and over the year that Robert Mueller is investigating.”
Who is Paul Manafort?
Manafort served as Trump’s former campaign manager from March 2016 until he was reportedly forced out in August 2016 after coming under fire for allegedly taking millions of dollars of undisclosed payments for lobbying efforts on behalf of a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party.
He became a key figure in the investigations into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Manafort has been cooperating in the investigations surrounding the Russia probe.
Much of the media attention on Manafort focuses on a meeting he had with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian government lawyer, who claimed to have incriminating information against Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic challenger in the last year’s election.
According to the Associated Press, Manafort has been a subject of a long-standing FBI probe into his dealings in Ukraine and the work he has done for the country’s former President Viktor Yanukovych.