This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Former U.S. Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, has said he exercised poor judgment but did nothing improper when he sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm that is at the heart of allegations by the White House of corruption.
Speaking to ABC News on October 14, Hunter Biden said accepting the board appointment was “poor judgment on my part” while adding that he “did nothing wrong at all.”
At the Democratic presidential debate on October 15, Joe Biden defended his son against President Donald Trump’s criticism, saying that he did nothing wrong when pressuring the Kyiv government to replace Ukraine’s top prosecutor for foot dragging on high-profile corruption cases.
“My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong,” Joe Biden said. “My son made a judgment. I’m proud of the judgment he made,” he said before changing the topic to provide examples of Trump’s “corruption.”
Both Bidens have been frequent targets of political and white-collar corruption allegations by Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is the president’s personal attorney.
Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings in April 2014 in the wake of the Maidan pro-democracy uprising in Kyiv when his father was serving as vice president.
The company was founded in 2002 and has since become one of the biggest privately owned natural-gas production companies in Ukraine.
Based on minimal gas prices set by the Ukrainian energy exchange in 2018, Burisma may have brought in $400 million in revenues last year, however it doesn’t disclose its financial reports.
Burisma received many of its licenses when its owner, Mykola Zlochevskiy, headed the environment ministry from June 2010 to April 2012 during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych.
The ministry oversaw the granting of gas extraction and exploration licenses.
After the Maidan, Zlochevskiy fled Ukraine as prosecutors opened numerous cases against him, including on suspicion of monetizing his ministerial position by controlling the licensing of oil and gas extraction.
He also faced investigations for financial corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering.
No charges have ever been pressed and, through Burisma, Zlochevskiy has denied wrongdoing.
Company Under Scrutiny
The EU had imposed sanctions on Zlochevskiy in 2014 but has since lifted them.
As early as April 2014, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opened an investigation into Zlochevskiy, eventually freezing $23 million of the former minister’s money and then unblocked it the following year.
The SFO made little headway without Ukrainian cooperation and in May 2015, its spokeswoman told The Guardian newspaper that “we are disappointed we were not provided with the evidence by authorities in the Ukraine necessary to keep this restraint order in place.”
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, successive prosecutors failed to investigate Zlochevskiy. In September 2016, a Kyiv court ordered former Prosecutor-General Vitaliy Yarema’s case of “illicit enrichment” closed due to lack of evidence.
By then, Viktor Shokin was prosecutor-general having replaced Yarema in February 2015.
In September of that year, while speaking at the Odesa Financial Forum, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt excoriated the Prosecutor-General’s Office for stymieing anti-graft investigations, including those involving Burisma.
“We have learned that there have been times that the [Prosecutor-General’s Office] not only didn’t support investigations into corruption, but rather undermined prosecutors working on legitimate corruption cases,” Pyatt said.
By fall 2015, Joe Biden and the EU publicly started calling for Shokin’s departure.
In a speech the former vice president gave in Ukraine’s parliament on December 8, 2015, he specifically pointed to Shokin’s office for foot dragging on investigations.
“The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform. Oligarchs and non-oligarchs must play by the same rules. They have to pay taxes, settle their disputes in court — not by bullying judges. That’s how nations succeed in the 21st century,” Joe Biden said.
A former deputy prosecutor-general, Vitaliy Kasko, told Bloomberg News in May 2019 that investigations into Burisma had been long dormant by the time Joe Biden issued his 2016 ultimatum of withholding U.S. financial assistance if Shokin isn’t replaced.
“There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against” Burisma owner Zlochevskiy,” Kasko told Bloomberg. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”