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U.S. associate of indicted Russian pleads guilty, to…

U.S. associate of indicted Russian pleads guilty, to cooperate with Mueller

By Nathan Layne and David Alexander

Aug 31 (Reuters) – A business partner of Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, pleaded guilty on Friday to failing to register as a lobbyist for a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe.

Samuel Patten, 47, also admitted to soliciting a U.S. citizen to act as a straw purchaser to buy tickets to the inauguration of President Donald Trump for a Ukrainian oligarch, circumventing a law restricting such purchases by foreigners.

The plea agreement, which includes cooperating with Mueller’s office, raises the prospect Patten will be called to testify against Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chief who faces a second trial in Washington next month, or Kilimnik, who was indicted for witness tampering in the same case.

The charge Patten pleaded guilty to – violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by not disclosing lobbying work for Ukrainian politicians – is similar to one of the core allegations against Manafort in his upcoming trial.

In his first trial, Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud by a federal jury in Virginia last week.

Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, predicted Patten will be a witness in the D.C. trial. “He will know how those guys conducted their business relations and can probably shed light on efforts made to evade FARA reporting requirements,” he said.

Patten admitted to working with a Russian national to lobby members of Congress and the executive branch on behalf of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc between 2014 and 2018 without disclosing the work to the U.S. government as required by law.

While the Russian national is not named in court papers made public on Friday, the description matches Kilimnik.

The charge, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, was brought by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which started investigating Patten after a referral from Mueller.

Patten’s work in Ukraine dovetails somewhat with that of Manafort. He made most of his money working for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose party regrouped into the Opposition Bloc after Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014.

But Patten’s ties to Kilimnik are more concrete. The two set up political advisory firm Begemot Ventures Ltd LLC in February 2015, according to its Washington corporate registration, which is still active.

In court documents, federal prosecutors said Patten’s company received more than $1 million for his work for Opposition Bloc members and for other Ukrainian consulting, starting in 2015, with payments made through Cypriot bank accounts.

One of Patten’s main benefactors was an unnamed Ukrainian oligarch, according to the documents.

Patten helped Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko get re-elected in 2015 in “one of the toughest anti-government atmospheres in that country´s history,” according to an archived page from Patten’s website detailing his accomplishments in Ukraine.

Patten appeared before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will oversee Manafort’s upcoming trial.

Patten was released on his own recognizance but cannot travel outside the Washington area without notifying the court. Jackson said sentencing would come at a later date. (Reporting by David Alexander in Washington, and Nathan Layne and Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)

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