A Ukrainian official is claiming that Hunter Biden was only appointed to the board of directors of Burisma Holdings to “protect” the company at a time it faced foreign scrutiny over its business practices.
Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament and ally of Burisma’s founder, made the admission to Reuters on Friday when discussing Hunter Biden’s ties to the oil and natural gas company.
“It was to protect (the company)” Onyshchenko said, noting that Hunter Biden’s appointment came the same month that Mykola Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, had his assets frozen in Great Britain under suspicion of money laundering.
The admission comes as Joe Biden and his aides rush to downplay the notion that Hunter Biden’s business dealings may have presented conflicts of interest for the former vice president. The controversy started last month when President Donald Trump suggested the Ukrainian government probe into how the younger Biden secured an appointment to Burisma’s board, shortly after his father was made the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine.
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 secured the position, which paid as much as $83,000 per month despite no background in energy or Ukraine. 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.
The timing of the appointment not only raised flags among ethics watchdogs, but also with Hunter Biden’s own business partners. Christopher Heinz, the stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry and co-owner of an investment firm with Hunter Biden in 2014, rushed to play damage control with State Department officials at the time of the appointment, according to internal emails obtained by the Washington Examiner.
Adding to concerns is the fact that at the time Hunter Biden joined Burisma, the company was seen as actively courting western leaders to prevent further scrutiny of its business practices. Not only had Zlochevsky had his assets frozen in Great Britain, but the former Ukrainian minister of natural resources was also facing suspicions of public corruption at home. Zlochevsky would later be charged with corruption for using his ministerial office to approve oil and gas licenses to companies under his control.
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, allowing the oligarch to return to the country after having fled in 2014. The Ukrainian government announced earlier this month it would review that decision, a move that could potentially reopen the investigation.
The appearance of impropriety and conflicting interests between Joe Biden’s political position and Hunter Biden’s business dealings, however, are not going away, especially as new revelations keep coming forward like those by Onyshchenko. The younger Biden, himself, has not done much to allay concerns over his conduct, even telling ABC News recently that he regretted getting entangled “in the middle of something that is a … swamp in many ways.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably not, in retrospect,” Hunter Biden said when asked if he would have been appointed to Burisma’s board if not for his father’s political prominence. “But that’s—you know—I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden.”