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Ukrainian court throws wrench into Joe Biden’s 2020 election plans

Judge orders legal probe of former VP forcing ouster of prosecutor investigating gas firm employing his son Hunter Biden

Published: March 2, 2020 5:56pm

Updated: March 2, 2020 7:17pm

A Ukrainian court has ordered an investigation into whether Joe Biden violated any laws when he forced the March 2016 firing of the country’s chief prosecutor.

The ruling could revive scrutiny of Hunter Biden’s lucrative relationship with an energy firm in that corruption-plagued country just as the former vice president’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is surging after a lackluster start.

Former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who has long alleged he was fired because he would not stop investigating the Burisma Holdings firm that employed Hunter Biden, secured the ruling last month. Ukrainian officials confirmed the State Bureau of Investigation has since complied and initiated the probe.

The Pecherskyi District Court of Kyiv ruled last month that Shokin’s lawyers had provided sufficient evidence to warrant a probe and “obliged the authorized officials of the State Bureau of Investigation" to accept the ex-prosecutor's complaint and "start pre-trial investigation of the reported data," according to an official English translation of the ruling provided by Shokin's attorney.

The ruling does not mention Biden by name, but court filings by Shokin's lawyers that led to the decision show that the former prosecutor had alleged “the commission of a criminal offense against him by Joseph Biden, a citizen of the United States of America, in Ukraine and abroad: interference in the activities of a law enforcement officer.”

Ukraine officials say the court-ordered investigation could include a review of non-public documents and possibly even interviews.

The court order revives allegations that were at the center of President Trump’s recent impeachment and acquittal, and which have dogged Joe Biden since he boasted in a 2018 video interview that he threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S.-backed loan guarantees if Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko did not fire Shokin as the country’s chief prosecutor.

Shokin alleges he was fired on March 29, 2016 specifically because his office refused to shut down a long-running corruption investigation into Burisma, one of Ukraine’s larger natural gas companies.  The firm hired Hunter Biden as a board member in spring 2014, shortly after Joe Biden was named by President Obama to oversee Ukraine-U.S. relations. Records gathered by the FBI show Hunter Biden’s American firm was paid more than $3 million between 2014 and 2016.

President Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, asked the State Department and Ukraine officials back in 2019 to investigate the Bidens, an act which gave rise to the impeachment proceedings,

During impeachment testimony, multiple State Department officials said they believed the Bidens’ arrangement created the appearance of a conflict of interest and that the department even blocked a business deal with Burisma at one point over concerns the company was corrupt.

Joe Biden and his defenders have denied any wrongdoing, saying the vice president sought Shokin’s firing because the prosecutor was ineffective in fighting corruption. His supporters have also claimed that the Burisma investigation was dormant at the time Shokin was fired and therefore not a high priority.

But evidence has emerged in recent weeks that the probe into Burisma, in fact, was heating up when Shokin was fired in spring 2016. The prosecutor’s office had secured a ruling re-seizing assets of Burisma’s owner in early February 2016, and the Latvian government acknowledges it sent a warning to Ukraine officials that same month flagging several Burisma transactions, including payments to Hunter Biden, as “suspicious.”

Documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act also show Burisma's lawyers were pressuring the State Department in February 2016 to end the corruption allegations against the firm, even invoking Hunter Biden's name as the reason.

And Shokin himself says he was making plans to interview Hunter Biden, an act that likely would have garnered major attention in the United States as Democrats were trying to defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Hunter Biden recently left Burisma’s board and said he believes in retrospect it was bad judgment to join the Ukraine company while his father oversaw U.S.-Ukraine relations. He also acknowledged he likely got the job because of his last name.

Whatever Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation does, the emergence of an investigation in Ukraine focusing attention on the Biden’s ethics comes at an unwelcome time for Joe Biden, whose presidential campaign lagged for months but got a jolt over the weekend when he won convincingly in South Carolina’s primary.

Biden’s momentum continued Monday on the eve of the critical Super Tuesday elections when rivals Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg dropped from the 2020 Democratic presidential race and announced plans to endorse the former vice president.

While the Ukraine probe just gets started, a separate investigation launched by Republicans in the U.S. Senate has been growing for weeks as investigators seek documents on Hunter Biden’s finances, his overseas travels with the vice president and possible interviews with Ukraine officials.

For a more complete timeline of key events in the Ukraine scandal, click here.

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