This Isn’t Shady, Is it?
10 Oct, 2019
Two foreign-born Florida businessmen who have helped President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani investigate political rival Joe Biden were arrested in a scheme to illegally funnel money to a pro-Trump election committee and other U.S. political candidates, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The arrest of Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman at an airport outside Washington carrying one-way tickets to Vienna was the latest dramatic development in a political saga that threatens Trump’s presidency.
Prosecutors said Parnas and Fruman conspired to contribute foreign money including at least $1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman to candidates for federal and state offices to buy influence.
Prosecutors separately said they donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump political action committee called America First Action in May 2018, and the money was falsely reported as coming from a purported natural gas company set up to conceal its true source, according to the indictment.
A fast-moving Democratic-led House of Representatives impeachment inquiry is centered on the Republican president’s request in a July phone call for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, the former vice president and a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable foreign ally to dig up dirt on a domestic political opponent for his own political benefit.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has described the impeachment probe as a partisan smear.
Giuliani has said Parnas and Fruman helped his efforts in Ukraine to investigate Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. The younger Biden had served as a director of a Ukrainian energy company.
The two men were each charged by federal prosecutors in New York with two counts of conspiracy, one count of false statements and one of falsification of business records. U.S. law prohibits foreign donations in American elections.
Parnas and Fruman were trying to buy political influence to help set up recreational marijuana businesses, prosecutors said. They also said Parnas played a role in a successful effort to have Trump remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
“Protecting the integrity of our elections, and protecting our elections from unlawful foreign influence, are core functions of our campaign finance laws,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman told reporters in New York. “And as this office has made clear, we will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute those who engage in criminal conduct that draws into question the integrity of our political process.”
Berman served on Trump’s transition team after Trump was elected president to prepare for taking office in January 2017.
The indictment said Parnas and Fruman falsely claimed the company, called Global Energy Producers or GEP, which was making the political donations, was “a real business enterprise” and that “its major purpose is energy trading, not political activity.” In fact, the company had no real business, the indictment said.
The two were arrested at Dulles airport in Virginia on Wednesday night, prosecutors said.
John Dowd, the lawyer for Parnas and Fruman, declined to comment on the charges. Dowd previously represented Trump in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Parnas and Fruman made their initial court appearance in Alexandria, Virginia, with another court date set for next Thursday. They were being represented in the court appearance by lawyers for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is serving prison time after being convicted last year in Mueller’s investigation.
Federal Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff imposed a lengthy, strict set of conditions that Parnas and Fruman must meet to be released, including each posting $1 million bond and being placed on GPS monitoring in home detention. The prosecution called the men a flight risk.
Asked for a response, Giuliani told Reuters he had “no involvement” in the flow of money at the heart of the Parnas and Fruman indictment.
Last week, he told Reuters: “Parnas and Igor helped me on certain things. They helped me with logistics. They know the Ukraine, they speak Russian. They helped me locate people in a few cases.”
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the president, told Reuters that “neither the president nor the campaign was aware of their scheme,” referring to the defendants.
The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called the developments regarding Giuliani’s associates “very troubling.”
“Giuliani’s been involved up to his neck in this entire mess. He has an obligation to testify under oath so he can be asked questions and so this can come to light,” Schumer told reporters.
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