A recent Bloomberg report purportedly “casts doubt” on the reporting regarding Joe Biden’s conflict of interest in Ukraine. Biden’s conflict stems from Burisma Holdings (Burisma), a Ukrainian natural gas company where Biden’s son, Hunter, was a director.
In March 2016, Joe Biden threatened to withhold IMF funding from Ukraine if officials did not fire Viktor Shokin, who was then serving as Ukraine’s Prosecutor General. At the time, Shokin’s office was overseeing an investigation into Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. According to Bloomberg’s source, Shokin’s investigation had been “shelved” in 2015, well before Biden’s intervention, and “[t]here was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky.” Various outlets seized on the report to dismiss coverage of the Biden scandal:
- PolitiFact: “It’s not even clear that the company was actively under investigation”
- Axios: “Ukrainian official knocks down Biden conflict scandal”
- New York Magazine: “The investigation into Burisma was dead long before Biden started his campaign to oust Shokin”
The problem with these claims is that they are contradicted by Burisma’s own attorney. John D. Buretta, an American attorney representing Burisma at the time, was interviewed by the Kyiv Post in 2017. Buretta described the cases against Zlochevsky as extending well into 2016, fitting the timeline reported by The Hill and the New York Times.
“In August 2014, the Office of the Prosecutor General (PGO) opened a criminal proceeding,” Buretta claimed, “Over the two years the PGO matter was open, no evidence was presented supporting any claim that Mr. Zlochevskyy had abused his position while in public office. In September 2016, the Pechersk District Court of the City of Kyiv concluded that no criminal procedures should be taken against Mr. Zlochevsky.”
The case’s dismissal ultimately came under Yuriy Lutsenko, who replaced Shokin as Prosecutor General in May 2016, after Biden’s threat to withhold $1 billion in IMF funding.
Buretta has his own ties to the Obama administration. He served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General under Eric Holder before going into private practice in 2013. Later, Hunter Biden helped recruit Buretta to Burisma’s legal defense team. In the same interview with the Kyiv Post, Buretta said that he joined Burisma “on the recommendation of other highly-regarded U.S. advisers…and Burisma’s distinguished Board of Directors,” which included, at the time, Hunter Biden.
Burisma appointed Hunter Biden and his business partner, Devon Archer, to its Board of Directors in 2014, shortly after the Maidan revolution. Documents obtained by the Government Accountability Institute show that Burisma paid $3.1 million to an account tied to Hunter Biden’s businesses over a 14-month period. Biden, who was responsible for overseeing legal and compliance issues for Burisma, claims that he had no role in the investigation into Burisma and never spoke about it with his father.
The scandal around Zlochevsky and Burisma dates back to his time as Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources minister under Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as President during the 2014 revolution. Burisma, whose ownership was unknown at the time, obtained its key assets through a non-public auction process during Zlochevsky’s tenure. Zlochevsky’s involvement with Burisma was not revealed to the public until after he stepped down from his post.
Geoffrey Pyatt, then US ambassador to Ukraine, singled out Zlochevsky’s case as an especially egregious case of mismanagement in 2015, calling for closer scrutiny the prosecutors who handled the case. Joe Biden claims that his pressure on Shokin was in line with this criticism. Yet Biden’s intervention appears to have been, at best, ineffective in increasing scrutiny on Zlochevsky. At worst, as Buretta’s claims indicate, it may have been an extension of that same corruption.