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Ukraine prosecutor says there are no plans to revisit Burisma probes

Karin Strohecker and Matthias Williams
·3 min read

By Karin Strohecker and Matthias Williams

LONDON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Ukraine's top prosecutor said onFriday investigations into Ukrainian energy company BurismaHoldings Ltd, a matter closely tied to a scandal that led toformer U.S. President Donald Trump's first impeachment, havebeen closed with no plans to reopen them.

Ukrainian prosecutors in recent years had looked into theactions of Burisma, a company on whose board U.S. President JoeBiden's son Hunter had served from 2014 to 2019, and its founderMykola Zlochevsky.

"Everything that prosecutors could do, they have done,"Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said in an interview withReuters by video link from Kyiv. "This is why I don't see anypossibilities (or) necessity to come back to these cases."

Venediktova also said U.S. authorities had made no requestsof her office since Biden took office last month.

The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump inDecember 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction ofCongress over his request in a July 2019 phone call to Ukraine'spresident, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for an investigation into Bidenand his son Hunter. The U.S. Senate voted in February 2020 tokeep Trump in office.

Trump made unsubstantiated corruption allegations againstboth Bidens. U.S. Democrats accused Trump, a Republican, ofsoliciting foreign interference in an American election bytrying to get a vulnerable ally to smear a domestic politicalrival, using American aid as leverage. Biden defeated Trump inthe November U.S. election.

As vice president under President Barack Obama, Bidenoversaw U.S. policy toward Ukraine and sought the removal of thecountry's top prosecutor at the time, who the United States andWestern European countries had viewed as corrupt or ineffective.Trump and his allies made unsubstantiated claims that Biden didso because the prosecutor had been looking into Burisma whilehis son served on the board.

Zlochevsky, a former Ukraine ecology minister, is now livingabroad.

One Burisma probe had related to suspected tax violations.Burisma said in 2017 investigations into the company andZlochevsky had been closed after it paid an additional 180million hryvnias ($6.46 million) in taxes.

NEW APPROACH

Venediktova, in her post for just under a year, said shewants to take a different approach in her job than predecessorsshe described as being "too political".

Asked about Ukraine's fight against corruption, Venediktovadismissed concerns that the independence of the nationalanti-corruption bureau, known as NABU, had been undermined afterthe government drafted new legislation on its status that thebureau said would harm its ability to fight high-level graft.

"NABU is now an independent body and will be an independentbody in future," Venediktova said.

Corruption has been a longstanding issue for Ukraine, andany threat to the independence of NABU, set up with the backingof Western donors, could further derail the flow of foreign aidat a time when its economy has been hammered by lockdownsrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund has told Ukraine it needs toadopt more reforms to unlock further funds from its $5 billionIMF programme.

Venediktova also said she is hopeful that legal casessurrounding PrivatBank would come to a conclusion before the endof the year. The central bank declared PrivatBank insolvent in2016 and said its poor lending practices blew a $5.5 billionhole in its finances before it was taken into state hands. Thelender's former owners dispute this and have fought to reversethe nationalisation.($1 = 27.8492 hryvnias)(Reporting by Karin Strohecker in London and Matthias Williamsin Kyiv; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington;Editing by Will Dunham)