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What is Burisma Holdings? The story behind the scandal-tied Ukraine firm that hired Hunter Biden

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Burisma Holdings has been thrust into the media limelight as the Democratic-controlled House presses forward with its impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s dealings in Ukraine.

But lost in much of the coverage of the dramatic hearings is what this Ukrainian natural gas firm actually does and the controversy it's generated in the past -- beyond the now well-known fact that Hunter Biden served on its board, thus arousing the suspicion of the Trump White House and touching off the series of events leading to impeachment proceedings.

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While both sides of the aisle fiercely debate the propriety of the younger Biden's role, the company itself has long been tied to controversy.

“Burisma’s reputation in Ukraine is low, and was dubious before (the impeachment inquiry) due to the scandals surrounding the owner,” Igor Egorov, the president of the Kiev-based nonprofit Anticorruption Entrepreneurial Front, told Fox News, underscoring that it hasn’t stopped the company from financial growth.

“Burisma is among the top five oil, drilling, and production companies and planned to drill 21 new wells in 2019, expanding its production capabilities," Egorov said. "Burisma Holdings controls many companies in the oil & gas industry – the group was successful due to relations with authorities.”

The White House embroilment unraveled in late September following a whistleblower complaint, which raised alarms that Trump may have withheld military aid to Ukraine in pressuring the newly elected Volodymyr Zelensky government to investigate Hunter Biden’s recent role as a Burisma board member.

Hunter Biden joined the board after being discharged from the Navy Reserve for drug use, at a time when Burisma was engulfed in corruption investigation woes, and at a time when his father Joe Biden as vice president was leading the Obama administration’s effort to curb Ukraine’s endemic corruption. He stepped down in April when Biden announced his 2020 presidential aspirations.

Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have repeatedly made the accusation that Biden inappropriately leveraged his White House position to have Viktor Shokin, then Ukraine's leading prosecutor, fired in March 2016 to avoid implicating Hunter in corruption investigations. Joe Biden's campaign has vigorously disputed this -- saying he urged the firing for the exact opposite reason: Shokin wasn’t doing enough.

Nonetheless, Burisma is on the Washington map amid the cloud of controversy.

“Burisma is better known in the U.S. than in Ukraine,” said Alexander Paraschiy, the head of research at Kiev-based investment firm, Concorde Capital. “Experts know that the company belongs to former minister of Yanukovych government, and taking into account that Yanukovych has a poor reputation, so [does founder Mykola]  Zlochevsky.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, and ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., look on during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

So who did Hunter Biden serve during his lucrative position earning upwards of $50,000 per month?

Burisma was founded in 2002 by oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, who was closely aligned to the now-exiled former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Zlochevsky served as the minister of ecology and natural resources from July 2010 until April 2012 and then as deputy secretary for economic and social security until February 2014 when the notoriously pro-Russian Yanukovych was forced to flee to Moscow.

Soon after, Zlochevsky himself absconded when Ukraine’s prosecutor general put him on the country’s watch list and opened numerous probes into his practices and multitude of businesses, flanked by allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. Moreover, questions have long swirled as to how he granted licenses for the development of mineral deposit extraction during his government post.

“[Zlochevsky] was suspected of violations while providing gas production licenses and permits to his own companies,” Paraschiy explained, emphasizing that even after Biden’s tenure on the board, he “doubted that the image has changed.”

Ukrainian records, according to The Wall Street Journal, show that Burisma’s two main subsidiaries were awarded their exploration permits during Zlochevsky’s official reign. His assets were frozen in the U.K, but citing a lack of evidence produced by the Serious Fraud Office, the Central Criminal Court in London later discharged the order.

Nonetheless, Burisma’s website touts that it is the “first, and only fully integrated gas operator in Ukraine engaged in the exploration, production, processing, transportation and final sale of hydrocarbons” and has 35 licenses in all major basins in Ukraine, and paid some $24.6 million in taxes over the past two years. It has also, using Hunter Biden’s image, promoted its desire to expand outside Ukraine.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) waves as he walks out of Air Force Two with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden and son Hunter Biden at the airport in Beijing December 4, 2013. The younger Biden's business dealings are coming under scrutiny as House Democrats push forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Trump for allegedly pressuring the Ukranian President to investigate the Biden family for political gain. (Reuters)

Burisma Holdings did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

While its owner is known for a high-flying lifestyle of luxury cars and excessive residences, Burisma operates in the quiet, non-descript shadows and only lists an address in Cyprus, where the company is registered.

According to Christopher Hartwell, the president of the Center for Social and Economic Research (CASE) in Warsaw, registering in Cyprus is a common tactic of post-Soviet oligarchs.

“As Cyprus has some fantastic offshore tax benefits. It is the reason why Cyprus shows such high levels of foreign direct investment, which are really just piles of money passing through,” he explained. “It could be done to minimize tax liability, it could be done to access the European Union, or it could be done for money laundering. These are the top three reasons why Slavic companies register in Cyprus.”

Ukraine analysts also contend that while just about everything is in need of greater transparency – the country is rated 120 out of 180 of the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International – Hartwell stressed that “the energy trade has always been the worst.”

“The gas trade, for example, is how billions were siphoned off from the public and put into private hands, a problem which went on for years under government protection,” he continued. “Private energy firms are welcome in Ukraine as they provide much-needed competition against government monopolies, but given the heavy hand of government in every facet of energy, it’s still a too-cozy world with ample opportunities for corruption.”

Furthermore, Paraschiy pointed out that historically, [oil and gas] was a business of “people close to power, either central government or local governments.”

“We have some cases of private companies non-related to power brokers or oligarchs,” he said. “But, it is rather the exception.”

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Another well-placed source connected to Ukraine’s energy industry, who requested anonymity, contended to Fox News that Biden came onto Burisma’s board “long after the questionable transactions occurred,” and the industry overall has made vast improvements in terms of corruption in recent years.

“Burisma did what many companies do all around the world. They hire people with recognition,” the source said. “Burisma is a legitimate producer of oil and gas, present on the new, liberalized market. We actively trade with them – buying and selling of gas – and they act in a professional, commercial manner.”

The insider commenced working with Burisma in 2014 soon after Biden joined the board but underscored that many were not personally aware he was even associated until it emerged in the press.

“I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine,” Biden wrote in a release soon after joining the Board in 2014.

Others beg to differ.

“By inviting influential foreigners, Ukrainian business wants to get additional protection, PR and lobby mechanisms to grasp additional spheres of interest. Having Hunter Biden on board, the owner of Burisma wanted to correct the image and to get cover, because authorities are scared by the U.S. embassy in Ukraine,” Egorov said. “Hunter Biden, using the political capabilities of his family, acted as a rescue buffer between Burisma and Ukrainian law enforcement agencies. His work in the company of a corrupt official smells bad.”

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

But by 2017, Burisma announced that it was not encountering any active prosecution cases. It then inked a partnership with the Washington think tank, the Atlantic Council, centered on combating corruption efforts in Ukraine.

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And despite the investigations having been shuttered years ago, Burisma’s days of being probed are perhaps not yet behind them.

In October, the country’s prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, announced that his office would be reviewing the closed cases to ensure that they were appropriately handled – with the Burisma file still on the table. State Department official George Kent testified at the first public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry last week that, “since U.S. taxpayers are wasted,” he “would love to see the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office find who the corrupt prosecutor was that took the bribe and how much was paid.”

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Trump administration knew in May Zelensky felt pressured to investigate Bidens | WGNO

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Trump Directed Mob-Linked Figure Tied To Ukraine Shakedown

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On October 10, federal agents arrested Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman at the airport, where they had one-way tickets to Vienna. President Trump feigned disinterest. “I don’t know those gentlemen,” he told reporters. “Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know.”

Trump did know the gentlemen. A week ago, CNN found Trump had at least ten interactions with Parnas and Fruman, straining his denials beyond all credibility. Friday night, CNN unearthed an even more dangerous piece of news. Parnas and Fruman, along with their partner, Rudy Giuliani, met with Trump in the White House during its annual Hanukkah party. Parnas told two people that Trump tasked them with pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

Trump’s dishonesty is so comprehensive that the revelation he lied about knowing Parnas and Fruman — the sort of lie that would badly damage a normal president — barely registers. The fact that he allegedly commissioned Parnas’s work directly might prove more damaging. Here Trump recruited a pair of sleazeballs with ties to the Russian mafia to communicate with the Ukrainian government on his behalf. “President outsources his foreign policy to gangsters” is the sort of charge that ought to draw more attention than it has.

Perhaps more dangerous still is the nature of Parnas and Fruman’s work in Ukraine. Parnas, Fruman, and Giuliani were not only interested in getting Ukraine to investigate Trump’s domestic adversaries. They were also looking to line their own pockets in the process.

Giuliani is the target of a federal investigation that centers on his role in a side shakedown that Parnas and Fruman were running in Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal reported Parnas and Fruman, who pushed Ukrainian officials to give them a natural-gas contract, told the Ukrainians that Giuliani was their partner. The connection to Giuliani was what gave them leverage to demand the gas contract, since Giuliani had very publicly identified himself as Trump’s personal representative, and Trump had sent word repeatedly that Ukraine needed to satisfy Giuliani if they wanted to placate Trump.

CNN has more details on the relationship today. Parnas and Fruman reportedly pushed Naftogaz, the Ukrainian energy firm, to push out its pro-reform CEO and replace him with a more pliable figure. Again, it’s notable that, despite the pretext of fighting Ukrainian corruption, Trump’s allies were undermining reforms in Ukraine and recorrupting institutions that had been turned into instruments of the rule of law.

The main story line Democrats have focused on in the impeachment proceedings is Trump’s twisting of government power for political gain. That is a clear-cut abuse of power that has been amply demonstrated by a parade of witnesses. But lurking in the shadows of the scandal is an ulterior motive: Giuliani, Parnas, and Fruman were extorting Ukraine in the traditional, moneymaking way also.

This potentially poses another danger to Trump. It’s possible Trump sent Parnas, Giuliani, and Fruman to Ukraine solely for his political mission, and while there, they decided to shake down the Ukrainians for some energy money. But Trump is famous for his intense, almost fanatical hatred of hangers-on who make money for themselves off his name. Trump was so enraged in 2016 by the very thought that transition planners were making money that belonged to him — “You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?” he screamed at Chris Christie — he shut down the whole office.

So if Parnas, Fruman, and Giuliani undertook a scheme to enrich themselves without Trump’s permission, they were taking a huge risk. The other possibility is that Trump authorized them to use his name as leverage to demand natural-gas contracts from the country they were also pressuring for political favors. Another piece of support for the latter theory is that Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also pushing to get his cronies a piece of the natural-gas business in Ukraine.

Parnas and Fruman have been arrested, and Parnas appears to be cooperating with authorities. If there’s any way the Ukraine scandal can get materially worse, it would be Trump directing a scheme to not only gain a political advantage but to enrich his partners, or even himself.

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Ukraine probe offspring of Russiagate

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As the impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal continue this week, his partisan supporters dismiss the process as a would-be coup and the Democrats’ second shot at succeeding where they failed with Russiagate. But recent events show that Russiagate was far from the “nothingburger” Trump apologists made it out to be — and that Ukrainegate is its hardly unexpected offspring.

Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to provide a “favor” in exchange for American military aid involved two issues. One was Hunter Biden’s high-paying job on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president of the United States and allegations that Joe Biden used his position to oust the Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company. Whatever legitimate questions there may be about the younger Biden’s role, none of that justifies Trump’s blatantly political demands for an investigation. But the other part — Trump’s demand that the Ukrainian government pursue a conspiracy theory shifting the blame for 2016 U.S. election interference and for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee from Russia to Ukraine — is even more egregious.

Trump’s attempts to strong-arm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing the investigations he wanted stemmed from his determination to prove that he didn’t owe his victory to Russian help — something the report by special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t settle to his satisfaction.

Mueller found no evidence of the Trump campaign actively engaging in conspiracy to hack the DNC and obtain emails which were used to damage Hillary Clinton. But it’s fairly clear that the campaign, and Trump himself, eagerly welcomed the release of those emails via WikiLeaks despite knowing about their tainted provenance. What’s more, many questions remain about what and when Trump and his people knew. Last week, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was convicted in federal court of lying to Congress about his activities related to the pilfered emails, among other charges. According to prosecutors, Stone not only tried to obtain the emails but regularly briefed the Trump campaign on what he learned about WikiLeaks’ plans — something he denied to Congress in 2017.

The verdicts open new questions about whether Trump lied to Mueller about his contacts with Stone in the months before the election. Prosecution witness Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official, testified that in July 2016, he heard Trump say that “more information” was coming from WikiLeaks after wrapping up a phone call with Stone.

None of this means that Trump is a Kremlin “asset” or Vladimir Putin’s tool. But there is ample evidence suggesting that he willingly took advantage of Russian operations to undermine his rival. Ukrainegate disclosures also show that he shared the Kremlin’s disdainful view of Ukraine as unworthy of independence.

Trump defenders point out that while Trump may have delayed military aid to Ukraine until Zelensky agreed to do his bidding, the Obama administration had denied such aid altogether, agreeing to provide only non-lethal assistance (such as clothing and medical supplies) for Ukraine’s defense against Russian incursions in the East. But even there, the story is more complicated. In 2016, the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes to remove support for lethal aid for Ukraine from the GOP platform. According to a Foreign Policy report based on information from current and former administration officials, Trump initially opposed such aid in 2017 until he was persuaded that it would be a good business deal for the United States.

Additional revelations are coming from Mueller grand jury materials, the first batch of which was published earlier this month after a court ordered their release.

Whatever the outcome of the impeachment effort, defending Trump in the matter of the Russian connection is increasingly indefensible.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.

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House Democrats are investigating whether Trump lied to Mueller

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House of Representatives’ top lawyer told a federal appeals court Monday that the House is investigating whether President Donald Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller, and the attorney urged the judges to order the release of still-secret material from Mueller’s investigation.

Two of the three judges who heard arguments at the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, and Thomas Griffith, an appointee of George W. Bush — seemed prepared to order at least some of the material sought by the House to be turned over.

House General Counsel Douglas Letter told the judges that the need for the still-secret material redacted from the Mueller report is “immense” because it will help House members answer the question, “Did the president lie? Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” in his written responses to the probe.

The House Judiciary Committee is seeking grand jury testimony and other details redacted from the public version of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Last month a judge ordered the Justice Department to turn over the redacted material, but the Trump administration appealed. Whatever the appeals panel decides, the case is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

Griffith suggested that the House had a particular need for the material since the Mueller report ultimately left it to Congress to decide whether Trump had obstructed the Mueller probe.

But a third judge, Trump appointee Neomi Rao, seemed more sympathetic to the Justice Department’s arguments against releasing the information. She questioned whether the courts should get involved in any way in a dispute over impeachment between the legislative and executive branches.

Justice Department lawyers say they are barred from releasing the redacted material, in part because an impeachment inquiry does not qualify as a “judicial proceeding” under the federal law governing release of grand jury materials. Trump has called the impeachment inquiry “a witch hunt.”

Griffith, in his questioning, raised the possibility of releasing less material than what U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell called for in her Oct. 25 order. Griffith asked whether it made more sense for a judge to hold a hearing and go through each redaction in the Mueller report and hear arguments on whether Congress could articulate a particularized need for that information.

He also asked whether the information could perhaps be released on a limited basis to House staff and lawyers while the courts continue to hear arguments on the broader question of what can be fully provided to Congress.

Democrats believe the redacted information could shed light on key episodes of the investigation, including discussions Trump is reported to have had with associates about the release of stolen emails during the campaign and conversations about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Trump’s eldest son expected to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

In court papers, House lawyers cited one redaction that “appears to relate to grand jury evidence indicating that President Trump sought or obtained advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’s plans during the campaign” to release damaging emails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In his written testimony, Trump said he had no recollection of any particular conversations about the hacked emails.

The questions about whether Trump lied in his written testimony to Mueller come as Trump tweeted Monday he might be willing to offer written testimony as part of the House impeachment inquiry.

Other redactions cited in the court papers relate to contacts members of the Trump campaign met with Ukrainian officials “and therefore may be relevant to the House’s examination of whether the President committed impeachable offenses by soliciting Ukrainian interference in the 2020 Presidential election.”

In public proceedings last week in front of the House Intelligence Committee, the impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president withheld aid from Ukraine to pressure the government there to launch a public investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

At the court hearing Monday, Griffith asked Letter whether the material sought was still relevant, given the apparent recent focus on Ukraine as opposed to the Mueller report.

“Don’t believe everything you’ve read in the press,” Letter responded.

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FOX News: Neptune's moons are in a 'dance of avoidance,' NASA says | Freedom FM Radio Network

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Neptune may be one of the more mysterious planets in the Solar System, but a new study notes that two of its moons, Naiad and Thalassa, are locked in a “dance of avoidance.”

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