The Ukrainian oligarch who appointed Hunter Biden to the board of directors of Burisma Holdings is facing new allegations of public corruption and embezzlement in his native country.
Ukrainian authorities announced on Wednesday they were widening their investigation into Burisma and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, after coming across evidence seeming to suggest public funds were embezzled. Zlochevsky, who previously served as Ukraine’s minister of natural resources, is suspected of having used his governmental office to approve oil and gas licenses to Burisma. The oligarch is also alleged to have violated Ukraine’s tax and money laundering laws while scheming to hide his business empire, according to The Daily Mail.
Although the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office did not elaborate on the extent of Zlochevsky’s alleged crimes, three of the country’s lawmakers leaked documents at a press conference on Wednesday indicating the oligarch was suspected of embezzling upwards of $33 million from the state-run bank.
The news comes as Burisma and its relationship to Hunter Biden take center stage in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The company became central to the proceedings when Trump suggested the Ukrainian government investigate how Hunter Biden was able to secure a seat on its board of directors in the first place.
Democrats argue the president’s suggestion to Ukraine likely amounted to an impeachable offense at the launch of their inquiry. Trump and his allies, on the other hand, have claimed Hunter Biden’s appointment, coming around the same time his father was tapped to lead Obama-era policy towards Ukraine, and his relative inexperience in the energy industry, warrant investigation.
As Peter Schweizer, senior contributor at Breitbart News, detailed in his book, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends, Hunter Biden had no prior experience with either the energy industry or Ukraine before joining Burisma in April 2014. In fact, his background in investment banking, lobbying, and hedge fund management paled in comparison to that of current and past members of the company’s board of directors.
Adding to concerns is the fact that, at the time Hunter Biden joined Burisma—where he was paid as much as $83,00-per-month—the company was seen as actively courting western leaders to prevent further scrutiny of its business practices. The same month Hunter Biden was tapped for the group’s board, the government of Great Britain froze accounts belonging to Zlochevsky under suspicion of money laundering.
A Ukrainian official with strong ties to Zlochevsky admitted in October the only reason that Hunter Biden secured the appointment was to “protect” the company from foreign scrutiny. The claim has credence given that at the time, Joe Biden, as the sitting vice president, was tasked with leading the Obama administration’s policy towards Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
It is in the context of Burisma and Zlochevsky’s legal troubles that Joe Biden’s political influence has raised the most red flags. The former vice president has particularly drawn questions over his conduct in demanding the Ukrainian government fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016.
Joe Biden, who has publicly bragged about the firing, reportedly threatened to withhold more than one billion dollars in U.S. aid if the Ukrainian government did not remove Shokin. He has claimed the demand came from then-President Barack Obama, who had allegedly lost faith in the prosecutor’s ability to tackle corruption.
Unofficially, though, it was known that Shokin was investigating both Burisma and Zlochevsky for public corruption. It is uncertain if the probe extended to Hunter Biden, although Shokin has recently admitted that prior to his ouster, he was warned to back off the matter. Regardless of what occurred, Shokin’s successor, who is now himself being investigated for public corruption, dropped the investigation into Burisma and Zlochevsky.
The timing and reason for the case’s closure has generated scrutiny in Ukraine in recent months, especially as Shokin’s successor is now under investigation himself for public corruption. In October, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, Ukraine’s newly appointed prosecutor general, ordered a review of the case to ensure no illegal conduct was taken when closing the investigation.
“We are now reviewing all the cases which were closed, fragmented or investigated earlier in order to make a decision on cases where illegal procedural decisions were taken,” Ryaboshapka said when announcing the review.