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Turkish FM was recruited by jailed US lobbyist to promote Ukraine gov’t at PACE: report

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was recruited during his membership in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by US lobbyist Paul Manafort, as part of a collective campaign to advocate on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who later fled to Russia after his overthrow in a popular uprising, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported on Monday.

According to the report, based on thousands of leaked emails obtained by OCCRP, Çavuşoğlu was one of the people recruited by Manafort for the purpose of lobbying along with a trio of former European leaders and well-known American journalist Alan Friedman to promote an important free trade and association agreement that the Yanukovych administration hoped to sign with the EU despite the imprisonment of a prominent opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Çavuşoğlu and other advocates were on the payroll of Serhiy Lovochkin, the then-chief of staff to Yanukovych, who was the funder behind the lobbying campaign orchestrated by Manafort.

Çavuşoğlu was secretly lobbying while serving as a member of a PACE mission to observe Ukraine’s 2012 parliamentary elections which took place while Tymoshenko was behind bars.

He 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 the media, contrary to assessments by international observation groups – including his own – that noted serious irregularities.

Andreas Gross, who led the PACE observation mission, was critical of the electoral process and vocal about Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, arguing that she had been jailed on political grounds without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Çavuşoğlu publicly condemned those comments, telling news agency Interfax Ukraine that Gross was “neither fair nor objective.”

Gross told OCCRP that Çavuşoğlu “often had controversial assessments” of elections, but he was unaware that he 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.”

The leaked emails revealed that the lobbying group occasionally had problems due to belated payments, and one email said Çavuşoğlu needed a “separate” transfer of €230,000.

Çavuşoğlu did not respond to request for comment, OCCRP said.

Paul Manafort is now serving a prison sentence in the US for tax and bank fraud as well as for failing to register as a lobbyist on behalf of Yanukovych’s government while attempting to influence American politicians.

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