A Ukrainian court wants to know what pressure then-Vice President Joe Biden may have exerted to force the 2016 dismissal of Viktor Shokin, a Ukrainian prosecutor who investigated the Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings, where Biden’s son Hunter Biden worked.
Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations confirmed the Biden investigation to Washington Post reporters on Thursday. Shokin’s lawyer Oleksandr Teleshetsky also confirmed the investigation which comes as the result of a legal appeal by the dismissed prosecutor.
“They need to investigate this. They have no other alternative. They are required to do this by the decision of the court. If they don’t, then they violate a whole string of procedural norms,” Teleshetsky told the Washington Post.
Biden’s involvement in the Burisma case arose during the recent impeachment effort against President Donald Trump by Democratic lawmakers. Trump was alleged to have withheld foreign aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a politically motivated investigation of Biden.
In a transcript of a July phone call between Trump and Zelensky, Trump did discuss the Burisma controversy.
“I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that,” Trump said, bringing up the issue during the July phone call.
Trump continued to discuss Biden’s alleged role in the firing and whether Ukraine could communicate its findings to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Eiden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump said. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
In a 2018 speech, Biden described withholding roughly $1 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine during a 2016 visit unless they fired a prosecutor.
Trump’s questions about Burisma were echoed by some lawmakers during impeachment. Trump’s defense team prominently featured concerns about Biden’s involvement with Burisma as justification for Trump’s concerns in his dealings with Ukraine.
Biden’s allies have assessed that Biden did not act unilaterally in his effort to force Shokin’s dismissal, citing concerns among the Obama-era State Department, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that Shokin failed to adequately take on corruption. At any rate, Biden’s apparent conflict of interests did not prevent him from leading the effort for Shokin’s dismissal.
Ukrainian prosecutor general Ruslan Ryaboshapka did announce in October that prosecutors would audit their past investigations of Burisma, but that he did not see evidence wrongdoing by Hunter Biden at the time.
Daria Kaleniuk, director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, in comments to the Washington Post, appeared to characterize the court’s order for an investigation as procedural and not necessarily based on firm evidence of wrongdoing by Biden.
“Let’s say I can write a claim to the SBI that I think aliens stole my car,” Daria said. “And the SBI obviously will not open [a case] as there is not evidence of a crime. But then I can go to court and make the SBI open it, through a court decision. So this case looks to me like that.”