Talks of impeachment are again echoing through Washington. On Sept. 22, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed that he had discussed his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden’s son Hunter and his work with a controversial energy tycoon in Ukraine. The U.S. president reportedly urged Zelensky to investigate the younger Biden in cooperation with his attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, eight times during the conversation.

See also: Full timeline of Trump’s Ukraine scandal, explained from Ukraine

Meanwhile, in August, an intelligence official submitted an official whistleblower complaint over Trump’s phone call with a foreign leader, and the country in question is Ukraine, the Washington Post reported.


These latest developments suggest that a well-worn international scandal — one the Kyiv Post has covered since it broke — has risen from the grave to haunt American politics once more.

The scandal centers around claims made by Giuliani that, if proven true, might help Trump win re-election in 2020 against his most probable Democratic competitor, Biden.

But there’s a problem: the claims are not backed up by any evidence. Still, they threaten to harm Ukraine’s relations with the U.S.

The Biden controversy will certainly be at the center of U.S. media attention during Zelensky’s first in-person meeting with Trump this week.

And, unsurprisingly, everyone involved in the controversy is denying strong-arming their interlocutors or being strong-armed. Trump termed the conversation with Zelensky “a perfect call.” Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said, “I know what the conversation was about. I don’t think there was any pressure (from President Trump).”

What’s going on here? Why is Ukraine suddenly on the front page of virtually every American newspaper? The Kyiv Post has broken down the scandal into questions and answers to help you understand what’s true, what isn’t, and why we’re all talking about it now.


What are Giuliani and Trump alleging?

Specifically, Giuliani alleges that: 1) Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general in order to hamper an investigation into Burisma Holdings, the oil and gas company where his son Hunter worked, and 2) that Ukrainian officials conspired to help Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.

What is Burisma, the company that hired Biden’s son?

Burisma Holdings is the largest private oil and gas extraction company in Ukraine. It was founded in 2002 by Mykola Zlochevsky, a Ukrainian businessman and former top government official who was later investigated for alleged illegal enrichment and money laundering.

Hunter Biden, a lawyer by trade, served on Burisma’s board of directors from 2014 to 2019. Other notable figures on the board included former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, investment banker Alan Apter, and the former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, Joseph Cofer Black.

Back in the day, Biden’s decision to join the company raised eyebrows: the owner was an ally of Ukraine’s ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, ousted in 2014, just two months before Biden joined the company’s board. The West supported the EuroMaidan Revolution, the movement that ousted Yanukovych.


Did Joe Biden get the prosecutor who was investigating his son fired?


There was no investigation of Biden’s son in Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities did investigate Burisma Holdings, the company he worked for, and its owner Zlochevsky for alleged fraud and money laundering.

In 2016, Biden indeed pressured Ukraine to fire its Prosecutor General at the time, Viktor Shokin, threatening to withhold over $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees if the official wasn’t removed. There is footage of Biden bragging about doing this.

But Biden was not alone in calling for Shokin’s ouster. He was simply expressing the longstanding consensus in Ukraine’s pro-reform circles and among its partners.

Most importantly, there is no indication that Shokin was investigating Burisma, the company affiliated with Biden’s son. To the contrary, prosecutors under Shokin’s supervision sabotaged the Burisma case, as ex-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt outlined in a speech on Sept. 24, 2015, in Odesa.

Who was the prosecutor general in question?

Viktor Shokin, 66, was Ukraine’s prosecutor general from February 2015 to April 2016. By the end of his term, he was likely one of the most unpopular figures in Ukraine, having earned a bad reputation for inaction and obstructing top cases.


Shokin was the third prosecutor general to take the office after the EuroMaidan Revolution. As Yanukovych and his allies fled Ukraine in 2014, the new authorities launched investigations into their wrongdoings. Almost none of the investigations brought any results, and many were eventually closed.

This continued under Shokin. None of the investigations against corrupt former top officials moved forward during his tenure, and he also appeared to drag out the case against Yanukovych himself and the investigation of the murders of EuroMaidan activists.

Public pressure to remove Shokin started mounting several months after his appointment in 2015.

Calling for Shokin to be fired were anti-graft activists, non-profit government watchdogs, and top members of the ruling coalition in parliament. By the time the U.S. joined in, the calls to fire Shokin had been going on for months.

The first known instance when Biden said that the prosecutor general needed to go was in December 2015 at a meeting with several Ukrainian lawmakers. Then-lawmaker Svitlana Zalishchuk, who was in the meeting, wrote about it on Facebook.

By that time, top Ukrainian lawmakers had been saying that the prosecutor general had to be fired for at least two months.

Shokin was eventually fired in April 2016. Biden later said that he pushed for the firing, threatening to withhold a U.S. aid package if Ukraine didn’t remove him from office. Apparently it was the last straw.


However, Shokin’s firing didn’t change much. He was replaced by Yuriy Lutsenko, a politician and former Interior Minister. Lutsenko earned a reputation no better than Shokin’s, but stayed on the job till 2019 due to his political alliance with then-President Petro Poroshenko.

Was the fired prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, really a threat to Biden’s son?

Not really.

It was Burisma Holdings and its owner, Zlochevsky, who were investigated for alleged money laundering, illegal enrichment, and fraud.

Shokin gave no indication that his agency was focusing on Burisma. The Kyiv Post wasn’t able to find any public comments that Shokin made about the company during his 14 months in office.

Moreover, the investigations against Zlochevsky and Burisma have been dying off under every prosecutor general that Ukraine has had since 2014, including Shokin.

What were the cases? 

There were four criminal cases involving Zlochevsky and subsidiaries of his Burisma Holdings.

One case against Zlochevsky for alleged illegal enrichment and money laundering was closed. The ex-official was taken off the wanted list in Ukraine in 2017. (Zlochevsky left Ukraine in 2014 and returned in 2018.)


Another case against Burisma’s subsidiaries was re-qualified from fraud to tax evasion in August 2016, which means it can be closed if the company pays back the losses to the state budget.

Two cases prosecuting corruption by officials of the Ministry of Ecology during Zlochevsky’s tenure as minister are active but are not going well, according to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which received the cases from the General Prosecutor’s Office in 2016. In one of the cases, subsidiaries of Burisma Holding were allegedly issued licenses illegally by ministry officials.

The Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) watchdog has repeatedly accused Ukraine’s former prosecutors general⁠ — Vitaly Yarema, Viktor Shokin, and Yuriy Lutsenko⁠ — of sabotaging the investigations against Burisma and its owner.

All three prosecutors contributed to the collapse of the money laundering case against Zlochevsky. First initiated by the British Serious Fraud Office, the case fell apart due to a lack of cooperation by the Ukrainian side.

Under Yarema, in early 2015, a U.K. court lifted the freeze on $23.5 million of Zlochevsky’s accounts, frozen on suspicion of money laundering, after the Ukrainian prosecutors weren’t cooperative in providing evidence.

Under Shokin, a Ukrainian court lifted the freeze of Zlochevsky’s property in Ukraine.

Under Lutsenko, the money laundering case against Zlochevsky was closed in 2016.

Vitaliy Kasko, who worked as deputy prosecutor general under Shokin, said in a 2017 interview with the Gordon new site that the prosecutors had been sabotaging the case against Zlochevsky since 2014, a year before Shokin came into office.

In the meantime, Burisma continues to expand, drill wells and hold conferences on energy and security in association with the Atlantic Council and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

Finally, Zlochevsky’s shoe company, Zlocci, continues to run its store in Kyiv freely.

Where did the accusations against Biden first come from? Is the source credible?

In March 2019, Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, implied in an interview with the Hill’s John Solomon that Biden had pressured the Ukrainian government to fire his predecessor, Shokin, to protect Burisma Holdings.

However, neither Solomon nor Lutsenko are credible sources.

Solomon is executive vice president for video at The Hill. His interview with Lutsenko and subsequent writing on Ukraine have been exceedingly provocative. But Solomon has also demonstrated a clear pro-Trump bias in his columns.

Solomon has also misrepresented Lutsenko. The former prosecutor general was “widely regarded as a hero in the West for spending two years in prison after fighting Russian aggression in his country,” he wrote.

This isn’t true. Lutsenko indeed spent time in prison under Yanukovych. In 2012, well before Russia launched its war on Ukraine, he was sentenced to four years behind bars on abuse of office charges. That same year, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that Lutsenko’s arrest was “arbitrary and unlawful” and violated several articles of the Convention on Human Rights.

Lutsenko was one of several opposition politicians imprisoned on politically motivated charges under Yanukovych. However, his imprisonment was not connected to his opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

In April 2013, Yanukovych granted him a pardon after coming under pressure from the West.

In 2016, Lutsenko was appointed to replace Shokin as prosecutor general. However, his tenure proved to be an utter disappointment. He failed to achieve any convictions for large-scale corruption. Under his watch, Ukraine also failed to make progress in investigating the murders of journalist Pavel Sheremet in 2016 and whistleblower Kateryna Gandziuk in 2018.

At the time of his interview with Solomon, Lutsenko was on the way out and he probably knew it. President Petro Poroshenko was heading for a spectacular defeat in the 2019 presidential election. By burnishing his image in the West, Lutsenko was likely angling to keep his job in a new administration. With little knowledge of Ukrainian politics, Solomon appears to have taken his claims at face value.

How is it connected to the Manafort case?

Let’s go back to the second claim Giuliani has made: Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This narrative stems from an article published in January 2017 by the Politico news site, which claimed that Ukrainian officials tried to undermine confidence in Trump’s fitness for the presidency and published documents implicating lobbyist Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chair for six months in 2016, in corruption.

Manafort had previously worked as a consultant for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, helping the former president clean up his image both in Ukraine and the West.

Since the 2017 Politico article, Trump and Giuliani have picked up this narrative, likely to counter clear evidence that Russia interfered in the U.S. election with the aim of helping Trump. The so-called RussiaGate scandal — which became the subject of an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller — has been a perpetual thorn in Trump’s side and, for many of his opponents, evidence that his presidency is illegitimate.

Starting earlier this year, Giuliani began to raise the matter in media interviews. At some points, his claims seemed almost incoherent.

In a May interview with Fox News, Giuliani mentioned “an already convicted person who has been found to be involved in assisting the Democrats with the 2016 election.”

He was referring to ex-Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist who used his time in office to back many reformist and anti-corruption initiatives. In May 2016, Leshchenko published information from the Party of Region’s “black ledger,” which showed the party paying Manafort over $12 million off the official books between 2007 and 2012. These revelations would lead to Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign in August 2016. Later, he would be sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for tax and bank fraud, amongst other charges.

Was Leshchenko convicted of interfering in the U.S. presidential election? No, he wasn’t — although a Ukrainian court attempted.

In December 2018, the Kyiv Administrative District Court ruled against Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk, head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, in a suit initiated by lawmaker Boryslav Rozenblat. The court concluded that both Leshchenko and Sytnyk had interfered in Ukraine’s foreign policy when they revealed that Manafort was listed in the “black ledger.” The court also concluded that these actions “led to interference in the electoral processes of the United States in 2016.”

The verdict was strange because 1) it seemed outside the purview of a Ukrainian court and 2) Rozenblat, a lawmaker who has faced accusations of corruption in the past, had seemingly no reason to take the two men to court.

For his part, Leshchenko argued that Rozenblat had no right to file the lawsuit because he had not been the victim of the actions in question and administrative courts cannot consider lawsuits against lawmakers. He also said that Lutsenko and ex-President Petro Poroshenko were using the ruling to ingratiate themselves with Trump.

Giuliani has regularly cited this ruling, including last week. But it is no longer in force. Why?

The Kyiv District Administrative Court has a reputation for delivering strange rulings that benefit corrupt officials. And, in July, the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeals canceled the previous ruling. So, no, Leshchenko was not found guilty of interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

What is AntAC, the organization Giuliani accused of being Soros-funded?

In his interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Sept. 19, Giuliani misrepresented the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), a well-respected non-governmental organization in Ukraine, as one controlled by financier and philanthropist George Soros. He said it “developed the dirty information that ended up being a false document that was created in order to incriminate Manafort.”

AntAC is the leading Ukrainian civic watchdog that exposes political corruption. The center was founded in 2012 by two Ukrainians, Daria Kaleniuk and Vitaly Shabunin.

The organization has criticized former Prosecutor General Shokin and his successor, Yuriy Lutsenko, for failure to investigate high-profile cases against Yanukovych cronies, including Zlochevsky.

AntAC indeed received funding from George Soros’ grant-giving organization, the Open Society Foundation. But its main donors over the years have been the National Endowment for Democracy, the European Union, USAID, the governments of the UK, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic as well as individuals and private companies.

Between 2012 and 2018, Soros’ foundation provided 17 percent of AntAC’s funding. For this reason, one can hardly argue the organization is controlled by Soros — a claim more in line with popular conspiracy theories than any clear evidence.

Who helped Giuliani in his Ukraine efforts?

In May, Giuliani announced that he would take a trip to Ukraine where he planned to meet with the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and try to persuade him to investigate Biden. However, in the face of harsh criticism in the U.S., Giuliani soon decided to cancel the trip.

How did Trump’s personal lawyer plan to organize his trip? It turns out that Giuliani used some help from two Soviet-born Florida businessmen, an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Buzzfeed found. The two men are well-connected in Republican circles and have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes and pro-Trump groups.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman set up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, including Shokin, Nazar Kholodnytsky, head of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, and Lutsenko, the OCCRP reported.

They also unsuccessfully tried to organize a meeting for Giuliani with Zelensky through oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the president’s former business partner.

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to clarify the criminal cases against Zlochevsky and Burisma subsidiaries and include additional information.

Key documents in the impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald J. Trump:

White House transcript of July 25 phone call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky released on Sept. 25

Whistleblower’s complaint against Trump released on Sept. 26

Text messages released on Oct. 3 by chairmen of 3 U.S. House committees

Prepared remarks of ex-U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to U.S. House committees on Oct. 3

U.S indictment against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, unsealed on Oct. 10 by federal prosecutors in Manhattan

Prepared remarks of ex-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie L. Yovanovitch to U.S. House committees on Oct. 11

Affidavit of ex-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin on Sept. 4 on behalf of exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash

Highlights of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s 6 visits to Ukraine and key policy speeches


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