Two businessmen from the former Soviet Union have been arrested for allegedly breaking U.S. campaign finance laws.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office said on October 10 that Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas and Belarusian-born Igor Fruman, who are associated with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, were apprehended in New York.
According to a federal court filing in New York, the two men conspired to “funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office.”
Reuters quoted John Dowd, a lawyer for both men, as declining to comment on the charges.
The indictment alleges that Parnas and Fruman concealed the source of
the donations by “laundering foreign money through bank accounts in the
names” of companies and via “straw contributors” rather than in the
name of the true source of funds.
Their financing efforts were intended to allegedly “advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.”
In 2018 the two suspects made donations of at least $576,000 to various campaigns of Republicans, according to an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
The bulk of the sum — $325,000 — went on May 17, 2018, to America First Action — one of the largest pro-Trump Super Political Action Committees, OCCRP reported.
The Campaign Legal Center, a transparency advocacy group, flagged the donation and filed a complaint in July 2018 with the Federal Election Commission, calling on it to investigate whether Parnas and Fruman had violated campaign-finance laws.
Fruman and Parnas furthermore helped raise funds for an unnamed “Congressman-1″ whose assistance they sought to allegedly “remove or recall” then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, the indictment read.
She was abruptly recalled to Washington in May several months before her three-year tenure was supposed to expire. According to a government whistle-blower’s account, which prompted a congressional impeachment inquiry of Trump, Yovanovitch was unfavorable to Giuliani and to former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko.
Reporting by OCCRP alleges that the congressman whom Parnas and Fruman had approached in May was former Congressman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican.
After their meeting, Sessions wrote a private letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for Yovanovitch’s dismissal.
Sessions acknowledged to OCCRP that he had written the letter and met the two suspects, but couldn’t remember when or where the discussion took place.
“I do know both these gentlemen [Fruman and Parnas],” Sessions told OCCRP. “They are Republicans. They are people who have an interest in foreign affairs. They have a strong interest in America not backing away from Ukraine.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that they both men will appear in federal court in Virginia later on October 10.
The two men are said to have introduced Giuliani to high-level Ukrainian politicians.
The arrests come as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry by the Democrat-led House of Representatives, sparked by a July phone call between the U.S. president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
In the call, Trump appears to urge Zelenskiy several times to launch an investigation into his Democrat rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian energy company.
Parnas and Fruman were scheduled this week to be deposed by three House committees carrying out the impeachment inquiry. However, their lawyer had already said they wouldn’t appear.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, OCCRP, and The Wall Street Journal
(c) Radio Free Liberty