Lev Parnas, who worked with President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ukrainian officials to conduct opposition research on former Vice President Joe Biden, was arrested along with another Soviet-born businessman late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Parnas and Igor Fruman had been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, and appeared Thursday in federal court in Virginia.
House Democrats have been seeking information from Parnas, Fruman and a third man, Semyon Kislin, as part of their impeachment inquiry into Trump. Parnas was scheduled to give a deposition to three House committees Thursday, but he and Fruman were arrested at Dulles International Airport by F.B.I. agents on Wednesday night as they attempted to board a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. The two men had purchased one-way tickets, the New York Times reported.
Parnas, who divides his time between Boca Raton, Fla., and New York City, played a central role in introducing Giuliani to ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin. Biden’s successful campaign to get Shokin dismissed from his post was the basis of Trump’s request for Ukrainian help in investigating alleged corruption on the part of the former vice president and his son Hunter. Shokin had investigated a Ukrainian company on whose board Hunter Biden served, but the investigation had ended by the time Joe Biden got involved in early 2016.
Parnas was also involved in setting up meetings between Giuliani and the man who succeeded Shokin as prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko. Lutsenko initially suspected Biden of corruption in Shokin’s firing, and while Giuliani publicized that theory, Lutsenko investigated it and determined it to be false.
“From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he did not violate anything,” Lutsenko said of the accusations against Biden.
Giuliani’s relationship with Parnas has deepened over the past two years, and the two men are believed to have traveled to Ukraine together in search of more dirt on Biden, who for months has led Trump in one-on-one polls of a possible 2020 presidential election matchup.
“We’re good friends,” Parnas said of Giuliani in an interview with NPR. “We play golf together.”
On March 31, Giuliani brought Parnas and Fruman to a fundraising dinner of the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox Jewish group that describes itself on its website as “embracing Americanism and Zionism through the prism of Torah-true Judaism.”
The two have been prolific fundraisers for the Republican Party. Their natural gas company, Global Energy Producers, has donated more than $400,000 to GOP candidates and committees. It has also given $325,000 to a pro-Trump super-PAC called America First Action, a gift that led the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. Global Energy Producers, the group says, is a shell corporation set up for the “purpose of anonymously funneling” large donations.
Parnas, who calls Trump “one of the greatest presidents we have” and who has met the president at the White House and at Mar-a-Lago, has conceded that the way he wired the money to America First Action was “a mistake,” but told NPR that “it’s a whole misunderstanding that my attorneys are going to clear up.”
Global Energy Producers, however, has no listed office address or phone number, the Washington Post reported, and appears to have no ongoing business that could have generated enough revenue to support hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to American politicians and groups.
Parnas himself has been sued multiple times over business and personal debts, the Miami Herald recently reported, including by Dianne and Michael Pues, who say they loaned him $350,000 to finance a Hollywood film titled “Anatomy of an Assassin.” A federal judge in New York has ruled that Parnas must pay more than $500,000 to the Pues family trust. The couple is still seeking restitution.
“Mr. Parnas is a con man, he is a crook,” Dianne Pues told the Herald. “He conned us from day one.”
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