September 25, 2019

IN DONALD'S WORLD, FIGHTING CORRUPTION IS WRONGDOING:

I Wrote About the Bidens and Ukraine Years Ago. Then the Right-Wing Spin Machine Turned the Story Upside Down. (James Risen, September 25 2019, The Intercept)

IN DECEMBER 2015, I was an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau of the Times. That month, I published a story reporting that Vice President Joe Biden had just traveled to Ukraine, in part to send a message to the Ukrainian government that it needed to crack down on corruption.

But I also wrote that his anti-corruption message might be undermined by the association of his son Hunter with one of Ukraine's largest natural gas companies, Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky had been Ukraine's ecology minister under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian leader who had been forced into exile in Russia.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Burisma in April 2014, the same month that British officials froze Zlochevsky's London bank accounts containing $23 million. Britain's Serious Fraud Office, an independent government agency, was conducting a money-laundering investigation and refused to allow Zlochevsky or Burisma Holdings, the company's chief legal officer, and another company owned by Zlochevsky access to the accounts.

But the British money-laundering investigation was stymied by Ukrainian prosecutors' refusal to cooperate. The Ukrainian prosecutors would not turn over documents needed in the British investigation, and without that documentary evidence, a British court ordered Britain's Serious Fraud Office to unfreeze the assets.

In September 2015, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt gave a speech in which he attacked the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office for failing to cooperate with the British investigation. In his speech -- which I quoted in my story -- Pyatt mentioned Burisma's owner by name.

"In the case of former Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky, the U.K. authorities had seized $23 million in illicit assets that belonged to the Ukrainian people," Pyatt said. Officials at the prosecutor general's office, he added, were asked by the United Kingdom "to send documents supporting the seizure. Instead they sent letters to Zlochevsky's attorneys attesting that there was no case against him. As a result, the money was freed by the U.K. court, and shortly thereafter the money was moved to Cyprus."

When Joe Biden arrived in Ukraine in December 2015 to press for more aggressive anti-corruption efforts by the government, Hunter Biden's role with Burisma made his father's demands, however well-intentioned, appear politically awkward and hypocritical. That was the point of my story. I quoted Edward C. Chow, who follows Ukrainian policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who said the involvement of the vice president's son with Zlochevsky's firm undermined the Obama administration's anti-corruption message in Ukraine.

"Now you look at the Hunter Biden situation, and on the one hand you can credit the father for sending the anticorruption message," Chow said. "But I think unfortunately it sends the message that a lot of foreign countries want to believe about America, that we are hypocritical about these issues." [...]

In May, when this issue began to surface, The Intercept's Robert Mackey wrote an excellent piece debunking the lies in the new pro-Trump version of the Biden story. In the process, he provided greater detail than I had included in my 2015 story. He wrote that Shokin had been forced from office at Biden's urging because he had failed to thoroughly investigate corruption and stifled efforts to expose embezzlement and misconduct by public officials. Biden did threaten to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Shokin was ousted. But that was because Shokin had blocked serious anti-corruption investigations, not because he was investigating Burisma.

Posted by at September 25, 2019 4:12 PM

  

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