(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump and his allies have been promoting allegations that a potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, improperly intervened in the affairs of Ukraine to protect his son, Hunter Biden.
The allegations are in the news because Trump pressed Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate the Bidens. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Trump told Zelenskiy on a July 25 phone call, according to a rough transcript released Wednesday.
Now the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is considering whether to impeach Trump for using his position to coerce Ukraine to investigate an electoral rival.
At a news conference in Delaware on Tuesday, the former vice president dismissed the allegation as a “smear.” “Every reputable publication has looked at the charge that has been made against me and found it to be baseless and untrue and without merit,” he said.
A lawyer for Hunter Biden declined to comment. In a statement to the New York Times in May, the younger Biden, 49, said Trump’s allies were maligning him for “transparent political purposes.”
Here’s what we know about the Bidens and Ukraine.
Hunter Biden and Ukraine
After Joe Biden became vice president in 2009, Hunter, a lawyer by training, pursued business opportunities with foreign parties, often in ways that intersected with his father’s work. In May 2014, Cyprus-registered Burisma Holdings, one of the largest natural gas companies in Ukraine, announced that Hunter Biden had joined its board.
The company was at a sensitive point. Mykola Zlochevsky, who founded Burisma in 2002, later served as Ukraine’s environment minister under President Viktor Yanukovych. In February 2014, mass protests swept Yanukovych from power. Western governments encouraged Ukraine’s new leaders to investigate corruption. The U.K. froze $23 million in London bank accounts linked to Zlochevsky and sought Ukraine’s help to build a money-laundering case.
After the U.K. request, Ukrainian prosecutors opened their own investigation into Zlochevsky, first looking at whether he embezzled public funds. Burisma and Zlochevsky have denied any wrongdoing. Zlochevsky’s lawyer, Petro Boyko, declined to comment.
That spring, Burisma began adding several prominent foreigners to its board. In a statement announcing Hunter Biden’s role, Burisma said it was part of an effort to introduce “best corporate practices” at the firm. It said he would advise on “transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion, and other priorities.”
Hunter Biden’s compensation for serving on the board was apparently routed through Rosemont Seneca Bohai LLC, a U.S. company set up by one of his business partners, Devon Archer, who also served as a Burisma director. Bank records from 2014 and 2015, disclosed in unrelated litigation, show the company receiving funds from Burisma and paying more than $850,000 to the younger Biden. He remained on the board until this year.
The Zlochevsky Investigations
The U.S. sent a letter to Ukrainian prosecutors in December 2014 complaining that they weren’t assisting the U.K. authorities with their Zlochevsky investigation and warned of negative consequences if the lack of cooperation continued. In January 2015, the U.K. case collapsed and a court released the $23 million in seized funds.
The Ukrainians’ own inquiries into Zlochevsky expanded to include tax evasion and the awarding of gas licenses during his time as minister. Viktor Shokin, who served first as a deputy prosecutor and then as prosecutor general, handled at least some aspects of the investigation. But the cases languished under Shokin, according to Vitaliy Kasko, a former deputy prosecutor who worked with Shokin and who spoke with Bloomberg News this year. Kasko added that there was no U.S. pressure to end the inquiries.
U.S. officials continued to accuse the prosecutor general’s office of failing to fight corruption. In a September 2015 speech, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine faulted the office for “subverting” the U.K. probe.
Vice President Biden’s Role in Ukraine
Joe Biden played a key role in U.S. diplomacy with Ukraine. He has said he made at least a dozen visits to Kyiv as vice president.
At one point, the U.S. threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee unless Shokin was removed from office. Biden delivered the message directly to Ukrainian officials. “If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,” he told them, according to an account of the conversation he gave at a 2018 conference. Shokin was ousted in March 2016, and the loan guarantee came through.
The U.S. push for Shokin’s dismissal wasn’t the vice president’s idea and filtered up from officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. The International Monetary Fund was also faulting Ukraine for a failure to tackle corruption, and demonstrators on the streets of Kyiv were calling for Shokin’s ouster.
Joe Biden has said that he’s never spoken with his son about his foreign business dealings. Hunter told the New Yorker earlier this year that they once touched on Ukraine obliquely. “Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘I do.’”
In January 2017, Burisma issued a statement saying that “all legal proceedings and pending criminal allegations” against Zlochevsky and the company were closed and that it had agreed to make up any unpaid taxes if it was found deficient.
Whether Burisma or Hunter Biden had anything to gain from Shokin’s dismissal hinges on whether the prosecutor was a threat to the company. In May, Shokin said in an interview with the Ukrainian website Strana.ua that he had been actively pursuing an investigation into Burisma and believes he was fired because of it.
But Shokin’s statement is contradicted by Kasko, his former fellow prosecutor. And Western officials were broadly concerned that Shokin wasn’t doing enough to tackle corruption. U.S. authorities specifically faulted his office for failing to help U.K. authorities with the Zlochevsky investigation.
Trump and Allies Press for Investigation
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, has pressed Ukrainian officials about the Burisma investigation and encouraged them to investigate the Bidens.
Other than helping Trump cast a fog of suspicion over Biden’s candidacy, it’s unclear exactly what Ukrainian authorities could do. There’s no public evidence that any of the previously closed investigations implicated Hunter Biden in any wrongdoing. And if Joe Biden improperly intervened on behalf of his son, that would be a potential U.S. offense, not a Ukrainian one.
Yuriy Lutsenko, who succeeded Shokin as prosecutor general, said in May that he was planning to hand information to U.S. law enforcement officials about payments made by Burisma so they could check whether Hunter Biden paid tax on that income. But that, too, would be a U.S. matter. And no information has surfaced to suggest any wrongdoing related to the payments.
On the July call with Trump, Zelenskiy said he would appoint a new prosecutor general and pledged that “he or she will look into the situation” involving Biden. But at a joint press conference with Trump in New York on Wednesday, the Ukraine president said he had not asked his prosecutor general to look into the matter.
--With assistance from Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska.
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