US President Donald Trump and his allies allege that former President Joe Biden, who is a favorite to be Trump's opponent in the 2020 presidential race, interfered with Ukraine's affairs to protect his son. Trump, in turn, pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Biden family. The case is at the heart of the impeachment process opened by the Democratic-majority US House of Representatives.
Trump claims that Biden in 2015 pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, because he was investigating Ukraine's largest private gas company, Burisma, which had added Biden's son Hunter, to your advice in 2014.
Yes, the Burisma was being investigated. And yes, Biden was pushing Shokin to be fired. The circumstance in which this occurred, however, seems to be different from the narrative adopted by President Donald Trump, according to reports by the Ukrainian attorney general who left office in late August, Yuriy Lutsenko, and other sources with knowledge of the case.
Burisma began to be investigated in 2014 after the fall of then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (pro-Russia). The suspicions fell on one of Burisma's founders, Mykola Zlochevsky, who had also been Minister of Ecology between 2010 and 2012. But this investigation was part of a much larger corruption investigation, centered on another businessman linked to the Yanukovych government: Serhiy Kurchenko, who owned a group of gas companies. Kurchenko was charged with money laundering, tax evasion and theft of state assets.
These investigations refer to cases that occurred before former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden joined the Burisma board – which took place in April 2014.
"Biden was definitely not involved," Lutsenko said in May this year. "We have no reason to think that there was any irregularity from 2014 onwards."
The US and the European Union imposed sanctions on Kurchenko and his assets were frozen. The businessman fled the country in February 2014. Zlochevksy did the same later that year when the office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine opened several investigations about him and his business – including suspected tax evasion and money laundering.
Therefore, when Viktor Shokin was appointed Attorney General of Ukraine in February 2015, he inherited investigations into Zlochevsky. But he was widely criticized by Western powers for not investigating the cases thoroughly.
"Shokin wasn't investigating. He didn't want to investigate the Burisma," Daria Kaleniuk of the Ukraine Anti-Corruption Action Center told the Washington Post in July. "And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do this investigation, but rather because he failed that investigation."
Biden did push for Shokin's exit, as did many Western authorities. In September 2015, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt publicly criticized Shokin's office for preventing a British money laundering investigation against Zlochevsky.
In a 2018 appearance on the Foreign Relations Council, Biden boasted of his role in Shokin's removal, saying he had withheld $ 1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine as leverage to force dismissal. But Biden was talking about a policy developed at the State Department and coordinated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
The Ukrainian attorney general was considered a failure and "Joe Biden's efforts to expel Shokin have been universally praised," said Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist heavily involved in eastern European market reforms. Getting rid of Shokin was considered the focal point of reform efforts, but the US authorities had a list of changes that the Ukrainian government had to make before it could obtain another loan guarantee.
In December 2015, Biden traveled to Kiev and criticized "cancer of corruption" in the country in a speech to parliament. "The Attorney General's Office desperately needs reform," he noted. Shokin was removed from office three months later, and Biden announced on April 15, 2016 that the loan was secured; The agreement between the United States and Ukraine was signed on June 3 of that year.
The lawsuits against Burisma ended in 2017. However, a case against Zlochevsky was reopened in 2019, in which the prosecutor's office investigates whether the sale of an oil storage terminal in southern Ukraine from Zlochevksy to Kurchenko in November 2013, helped Kurchenko launder money.
Hunter Biden and the Burisma
Certainly, questions may arise about Hunter Biden's decision to join Burisma's council at a time when his father played a prominent role in diplomacy with the Ukrainian government.
Yoshiko M. Herrera, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and an expert on Russia and Eurasia, told the Washington Post that there appears to be a conflict of interest even if no laws have been violated. “It's a big deal. He is the vice president, who is the head of the Obama administration's policy in Ukraine, and his son is suddenly hired to serve as the board director of Ukraine's largest private gas producer. "
Hunter Biden held the post of Burisma advisor until earlier this year and would have received compensation of up to $ 50,000 per month. He was never investigated in Ukraine.
With information from Bloomberg and Washington Post.