A block away from Manhattan’s Trump Tower, Lutsenko met with Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and started feeding him conspiracy theories without any supporting evidence.
But the conversations might have served both men’s political aims at the time: Lutsenko, to curry favor with Trump and hopefully stay in power, and Giuliani, to help his client’s 2020 re-election prospects.
Giuliani supplied notes of the Jan. 25-26 conversations with Lutsenko to the U.S. State Department, which turned them over to Congress. They also include an account of a Jan. 23 phone call with Lutsenko’s predecessor, Viktor Shokin.
The document has been leaked widely and was obtained by the Kyiv Post, among other news outlets. Giuliani couldn’t be reached for comment.
The account suggests that Lutsenko provided the basis for Giuliani’s accusations that Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president and current 2020 Democratic Party front-runner, abused his office by pressuring then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Shokin in 2016 to protect his son, Hunter Biden from criminal investigation in Ukraine. Hunter Biden served five years as a board member of Burisma, a shady Ukrainian energy company that paid the vice president’s son at least $50,000 a month for five years to serve in an advisory role.
During meetings over a two-day period, Lutsenko also alleged that one of Ukraine’s top anti-corruption officers and a Ukrainian lawmaker meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections on Hillary Clinton’s behalf and that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, led by Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch at the time, was secretly assisting.
At the time, many in Ukraine were indeed alarmed by the rise of Trump, who adopted the anti-Ukrainian views of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including that people in Crimea – the Ukrainian peninsula seized by the Kremlin after a military invasion in 2014 – wanted to be part of Russia.
Much of what Lutsenko told Giuliani amounted to unsubstantiated claims debunked as groundless by officials of the U.S. and Ukrainian governments, journalists, anti-corruption activists and others.
Even Lutsenko has since rescinded key allegations – including that he had evidence of crime by the Bidens. His reversals caused Giuliani to lash out at Lutsenko and accuse him of dishonesty.
“Mr. Lutsenko has been fired by the current president. Mr. Lutsenko is exactly the prosecutor that Joe Biden put in in order to tank the case,” Giuliani told CBS News on Sept. 29.
Lutsenko’s penchant of making baseless allegations that he later retracts has left his credibility, perpetually low, in tatters.
But Giuliani – a former federal prosecutor who is trained to rely on hard evidence – nevertheless took the allegations seriously. The sensational charges helped fuel his client’s longstanding grievances that the two-year Robert Mueller investigation into whether Trump and Russia colluded in the 2016 presidential election was a “witch hunt.” And, based on remarks attributed to the president, he blames Ukraine for trying to sabotage his candidacy.
Six months after the Lutsenko-Giuliani meetings, after Trump yanked ex-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie L. Yovanovitch in May for alleged disloyalty to him, the U.S. president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, talked on the telephone on July 25. In the phone call, Trump pressured him to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine’s possible role in helping Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.
Florida middlemen and one angry prosecutor
Lutsenko was invited to meet Giuliani by two Soviet-born, Florida businessmen – Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, tasked with finding Giuliani a connection in Ukraine.
Lutsenko wasn’t the first prosecutor general interview by Giuliani.
On Jan. 23, Viktor Shokin, Lutsenko’s predecessor, was interviewed by phone in the presence of Parnas, Fruman, Giuliani and his business partner George Boyle, head of investigations at Giuliani consulting firm.
Shokin claimed that Geoffrey R. Pyatt, then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, had told him in the summer of 2015 that the investigation into Burisma, the gas company employing Hunter Biden, had to be handled with “white gloves,” which he understood to mean as doing nothing.
Shokin said prosecutors had requested information on Hunter Biden but had received no response.
“There were no documents or information on Hunter Biden, and Mr. Shokin stated he was warned to stop by Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt,” the notes read. Pyatt could not be reached for comment immediately.
The notes also claim that Shokin said that Poroshenko “told Shokin not to investigate Burisma as it was not in the interest” of the Bidens. Shokin stated that the investigations stopped out of the fear of the United States, and that he had been removed as prosecutor general at Biden’s request.
Shokin went on to allege that Yovanovitch is close to Biden, and he had been denied a visa to travel to the U.S. at Yovanovitch’s request.
A simple phone call wasn’t enough for Lutsenko. He met Giuliani in his New York office, on Jan. 25 and again on Jan. 26, and told NBC News that the pair talked at least 10 times this year.
He was accompanied by Hlib Zagoriy, a Ukrainian pharmaceutical tycoon and then a Ukrainian pro-government lawmaker with a dubious reputation and Gyunduz Mamedov, head of the Crimean prosecutor’s office and someone with close ties to the Azerbaijan petroleum industry, run by dictator Ilham Aliyev.
Zagoriy and Lutsenko go back a long way. In 2016, Zagoriy bought eight apartments from Lutsenko’s family accountant for Hr 35 million ($1.3 million), after it was alleged that the apartments are actually owned by Lutsenko, who denied having any connections to his accountant’s apartments.
Giuliani was accompanied by Boyle, while the meeting was organized by two middlemen, Parnas and Fruman, who helped organize Giuliani’s meetings with Ukrainian officials.
Lutsenko “brought documentation, verification. It opened Giuliani’s eyes,” Parnas told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, recalling their meeting in January.
In his conversation with Giuliani, Lutsenko says he thought Burisma paid as much as $100 million to its high-profile board members and associated companies for lobbying, of which Hunter Biden received “millions.” According to the notes, Lutsenko said that Joe Biden received $900,000 in 2015, with the payment coming from Rosemont Seneca Partners, a company co-owned by Hunter Biden.
Lutsenko also alleged that then-lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk, head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, attracted publicity to Paul Manafort’s tax fraud to help Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win the 2016 elections and that Yovanovitch ordered Lutsenko to close multiple investigations.
Manafort was the former political consultant to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, later head of Trump’s election campaign, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for tax evasion and bank fraud after receiving $12.7 million in off-the-books payments from Ukraine’s corrupt former Kremlin-backed president, who lives in Russian exile today.
According to Lutsenko, Yovanovitch saw Sytnyk as the next president of Ukraine, with presidential elections scheduled for March, although Sytnyk never expressed any desire to run for office.
Lutsenko also said that Shokin is an honest man, even though Lutsenko supported a campaign to remove Shokin for stalling anti-corruption investigations.
Lutsenko and Giuliani met once again in February in Warsaw. Lutsenko has since repeated most of his claims made during the January meeting in the March 22 interview to The Hill, a Washington, D.C., political news site.
Both Lutsenko and Shokin are highly controversial figures in Ukraine.
Shokin was head prosecutor between March 2015 and February 2016. The campaign to get rid of him united 120 pro-government lawmakers, foreign donors and the U.S. State Department, as well as Biden, who pressured Poroshenko to fire him.
Since September, Shokin has surfaced giving testimony in an Austrian court in support of Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash, who is in a years-long fight to stop extradition to the U.S. on bribery charges that he denies.
“I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma,” Shokin said in his affidavit. He is currently trying to win his job back through the Supreme Court of Ukraine.
Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, called Shokin’s affidavit “a lie” his explanation of the reasons for his dismissal as “nonsense.” Shokin was fired for sabotaging corruption cases.
Lutsenko, a former Ukrainian member of parliament who lacked a law degree or relevant experience in prosecuting crimes, was appointed by Poroshenko and served as prosecutor-general from 2016 and 2019.
“Yuriy Lutsenko is used to lying. He frequently lied in Ukraine and got away with this. He achieved his PR targets (this way) and thought that such methods will work in geopolitics,” said Kaleniuk. “He lied to the American outlet, The Hill, to keep his job.”
The allegations expressed by Shokin and Lutsenko were debunked on multiple occasions.
Lutsenko’s claimed that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections to help Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state and Trump’s defeated rival, by framing Manafort.
In the notes, Lutsenko acknowledges that the so-called “black ledgers” exist. “This book contained a list of people who were receiving kickbacks, such as $3 million for a vote on the state budget by a member of parliament.”
In fact, the 22 pages were published back in 2016 revealing the names of former ministers, lawmakers and political consultants.
The second claim targeted Yovanovitch, whom Lutsenko accused of giving him a list of “untouchables,” or people he should not prosecute. This was debunked by the U.S. State Department, which called Lutsenko’s claim “an outright fabrication.” Lutsenko also later backtracked on the allegation, but Trump recalled her from Kyiv in May, three months ahead of schedule, and complained to Zelensky in the July 25 phone call that she was a bad prosecutor and ominously told Zelensky she would “go through some things.”
She is currently on leave from the State Department and teaching at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She is scheduled to give a deposition to House investigators on Oct. 10.
Lutsenko’s conflict with Yovanovitch dates back at least to 2017, after he publicly exposed undercover agents for the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, undermining an ongoing criminal investigation. He was reportedly denied entry into the United States for a law enforcement conference and held a grudge, blaming her.
Lutsenko also alleged that Hunter Biden was involved in corruption while serving on the board directors at Burisma and that Ukraine failed to investigate the case properly.
Ukraine did fail to investigate the case properly, but the blame goes to Shokin, not Biden or the United States.
During Shokin’s tenure, instead of providing evidence to United Kingdom authorities who had frozen $23 million in Burisma accounts on suspicion of money laundering, prosecutors sent British investigators letters saying that Burisma faced no criminal proceedings. Without evidence of wrongdoing, U.K. authorities released the money, which got transferred to Cyprus.
As far back as 2015, U.S. officials urged an investigation of Burisma and the prosecutors who sabotaged the case. In a landmark speech in Odesa on Sept. 24, 2015, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt said “the misconduct by the Prosecutor General’s Office officials who wrote those letters should be investigated, and those responsible for subverting the case by authorizing those letters should – at a minimum – be summarily terminated.”
Burisma is owned by Yanukovych-era Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky, who acquired at least 38 lucrative oil and gas exploration permits that are awarded by the ministry he headed. He denies wrongdoing.
Again, Lutsenko backtracked on yet another of his wild and unsubstantiated claims. In a May 16 interview to Bloomberg, Lutsenko said: “Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws — at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing.” He said the same about Joe Biden.
But, as the world knows today, the damage has been done and Trump’s presidency hangs in the balance, as House investigators look at whether the American president’s pressure on Zelensky in the July 25 phone call and other alleged wrongdoing warrant impeachment