The lawyer defending U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort against a Russian oligarch’s allegations of fraud will seek to dismiss the case, he said on Monday.
Jeffrey Eilender argued the claims are too old and portrayed the case as an attempt to divert attention from a federal probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.
Eilender made the comments to Reuters following a hearing in the case, a civil matter that is separate from criminal charges faced by Manafort, the former head of Trump’s campaign, as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s federal probe.
Eilender’s comments marked the first time that Manafort’s lawyers have detailed their planned response to the suit filed in January in New York state court by a Cyprus company tied to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Eilender said he would seek to dismiss the case on the grounds that it had been more than six years – the statute of limitation for fraud in New York – since the funds at issue changed hands.
Eilender said he believed Deripaska was seeking to reassert legal claims against Manafort and former business partner Rick Gates at a time when financial transactions of people close to Putin were under intense scrutiny.
“This is a red herring. He is trying to create a distraction,” Eilender said.
James Altman, lawyer for the Cyprus company, Surf Horizon Limited, did not respond to a request for comment.
Surf Horizon accused Manafort and Gates in the January lawsuit of misappropriating more than $18.9 million earmarked for deals in Ukraine in 2008. Surf Horizon had made similar legal complaints against Manafort and Gates in the Cayman Islands in 2014 and in Virginia in 2015.
It is not clear to what degree, if any, Mueller’s probe is focused on Deripaska, who was offered private briefings by Manafort during the 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post.
One company cited in Mueller’s indictment of Manafort and Gates as being involved in an alleged money laundering and tax evasion scheme had a $27 million loan from a Deripaska-linked company at the end of 2012, Cyprus corporate records show.
Last month Gates pleaded guilty to two charges and is cooperating with Mueller. Manafort maintains his innocence and is preparing for trial.
The split created a potential conflict of interest for Eilender, who was granted permission by the judge on Monday to drop Gates as a client and continue representing Manafort.
reporting by Nathan Layne in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas