Two businessmen tied to efforts by President Donald Trump's lawyer to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son were charged Thursday with campaign finance violations in the US.
The charges relate to a $325,000 donation to a political action committee supporting Trump's reelection.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman i, associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. The men had key roles in Giuliani's efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Biden and his son, Hunter.
The indictments mark the first criminal charges related to the Ukraine controversy. While they do not suggest wrongdoing by the president, they are likely to add fuel to the House impeachment inquiry, raising additional questions about whether those close to Trump and Giuliani sought to use their influence to affect US foreign policy decisions.
Trump has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as baseless and politically motivated.
Records show that Parnas and Fruman used wire transfers from a corporate entity they controlled to make the $325,000 donation to the America First Action committee in 2018. But wire transfer records that became public through a lawsuit show that the corporate entity reported as making the transaction was not the true source of the money.
Prosecutors also allege that Parnas urged a US congressman to seek the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine, at the behest of Ukrainian government officials. That happened about the same time that Parnas and Fruman committed to raising more than USD 20,000 for the politician.
The congressman wasn't identified by name in court papers, but the donations to "Congressman 1" in the indictment match campaign finance reports for former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost his re-election bid in November 2018. In May 2018, Parnas posted a photo of himself and his business partner Correia with Sessions in his Capitol Hill office, with the caption "Hard at work !!" John Dowd, an attorney for the men, hung up on an Associated Press reporter calling about the case.
Giuliani said he couldn't comment on the case and that he didn't represent them in campaign finance matters.
The men, who were arrested at Dulles International Airport, were expected to appear later Thursday in federal court in Virginia. Two other men, David Correia, a US businessman, and Andrew Kukushkin, a Ukrainian-born US citizen, were also charged in the case.
The indictment says Parnas and Fruman "sought to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working" and took steps to conceal it from third parties, including creditors.
They created a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers, and "intentionally caused certain large contributions to be reported in the name of GEP instead of in their own names," according to the indictment.
Prosecutors charge that the two men falsely claimed the contributions came from GEP, which was described as a liquefied natural gas business. At that point, the company had no income or significant assets, according to the indictment.