Larry King got $225,000 to interview Ukraine PM, says politician
Friday 19 August 2016 15.13 BST
The TV host Larry King accepted $225,000 (£173,000) to interview Ukraine’s pro-Russian prime minister, according to a politician investigating a “black ledger” detailing alleged secret payments to the US from Ukraine’s former ruling party.
King flew to Kiev in November 2011 to interview Ukraine’s then prime minister Mykola Azarov. Azarov was a key figure in the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, whom Ukrainian prosecutors accuse of massive corruption.
Weeks before the interview Yanukovych had jailed his main political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko. After the interview King lavished praise on Azarov, describing him in flattering terms as a “straightforward and honest person with a deep knowledge of world affairs”.
Speaking to journalists in Kiev at the time, King said: “After the interview I told my wife that he [Azarov] would have been a successful US politician. As for who he reminded me, he’s a bit like Jimmy Carter. He looks good, and it’s easy to meet with him.”
During the encounter King asked Azarov a series of softball questions, including: “What do you like most about your job?”, “Why are you interested in politics?” and “How’s your health?” He mentioned Tymoshenko just once, asking Azarov: “Do you have any sympathy for her?” The latter replied: “Of course.”
On Friday Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian MP and investigative journalist, presented fresh details from a “black ledger” belonging to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. It includes records of $12.7m in payments allegedly designated for Paul Manafort, then Yanukovych’s chief consultant and election strategist and who on Friday resigned as Donald Trump’s campaign manager.
Leshchenko said the records documented a $225,000 payment earmarked for King in return for the Azarov interview, which was broadcast by Ukraine’s pro-government national TV station. “Money from the Party of Regions’ shadow assets was paid to Larry King. He received $225,000 from the party’s shadow coffer,” the MP said, adding that the party had not paid taxes on its undercover slush fund.
King, who left CNN in 2010 and has gone on to work for Russia Today, was not immediately available for comment. Manafort has dismissed claims he received “black ledger” cash payments as “unfounded, silly and nonsensical”.
Sources close to Manafort said he was not involved in flying King to Kiev. Rather, it was Azarov’s own press team that came up with the “stupid idea” and arranged the trip, they suggested.
But the alleged Larry King payment appears part of a wider strategy by the then ruling Party of Regions to influence US opinion and to deflect criticism of Yanukovych’s increasingly authoritarian behaviour.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Manafort’s firm had run a covert Washington lobbying operation. Its goal was to win positive press coverage in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and to undercut public sympathy for the jailed Tymoshenko. At the time the EU and Obama administration were calling for her to be freed.
Between 2012 and 2014 Manafort’s colleague Rick Gates directed two Washington lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group, to set up meetings between senators and Ukrainian government officials, the AP said. The firms were paid $2.2m via a Brussels-based “thinktank”, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine.
The “black ledger” was found in the Party of Regions office in 2014, shortly after Yanukovych and Azarov escaped to Russia following mass anti-government protests. Ukrainian prosecutors accuse Yanukovych of being behind the shooting of 100 demonstrators and stealing $100bn. An international arrest warrant is outstanding against Azarov.
On Friday, Leshchenko, a member of President Petro Poroshenko’s parliamentary faction, said interrogating Manafort may shed light on the alleged secret payments.
“Manafort didn’t work for free in Ukraine. He served the Party of Regions for over 10 years. It’s clear that his work was paid,” Leshchenko said. “The money was transferred in cash and it is impossible to trace the transactions, but I have no doubt as to the authenticity of these documents,” he said.
This week Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption bureau published 19 pages from the ledger. They showed 22 items designated for Manafort, with payments ranging from $3,468,693 for “Paul Manafort contract” to $6,000 for “Manafort expenses”. Other entries were for exit polls, research, and computers.
In an article for the Guardian Leshchenko writes: “So-called ‘shadow accounting’ documents I have seen show $400,000 in cash payments were made to him, which were intended to be spent on conducting exit polls. The documents show a further $812,000 to be paid to him for engaging international observers.”
“Ukrainians are concerned about the theft of public money. We want the chain of corruption to end. That is why many are troubled that Manafort’s name has emerged in this probe.”
He adds: “Manafort worked with Yanukovych – one of the most notorious European politicians – for nearly 10 years. This is not a casual relationship between the client and the performer. Such long-term cooperation incorporates a general worldview and values. Now voters in America will have to ask themselves: are these values they want in their country?”
The ledgers also suggest that Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was giving clandestine funding to the far-right ultra-nationalist Ukrainian party Svoboda, Leshchenko said on Friday. The payments were allegedly routed via one of Yanukovych’s MPs, Vitaly Kalyuzhny.