Photos show Ambassador Yovanovitch met twice with Burisma official after being told firm was corrupt
Yovanovitch previously called Burisma and Hunter Biden not “a front burner issue” during her time as ambassador.
Photos deleted from the now-defunct Burisma Holdings website show former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch met with Vadim Pozharskyi—the Burisma official who worked closely with Hunter Biden—at two separate events after she had been told the Ukrainian energy company was considered corrupt by the State Department.
The photos are likely to raise fresh questions about parts of Yovanovitch's testimony to Congress during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment. It also raises the question of why the U.S. embassy in Ukraine engaged with company representatives in a public relations campaign with the U.S. government at the same time that internal embassy communications focused on the company’s corruption.
Photos obtained from the now-deleted Burisma website and the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) show that Yovanovitch attended two meetings hosted by the USUBC in Kyiv with Vadim Pozharskyi, the Burisma executive who met with then-Vice President Joe Biden and appears frequently in Hunter Biden's emails.
The Burisma website also referenced one other meeting, though no photos were provided. Pozharksyi—the corporate secretary who ran the day to day operations with the board of the company—was at the epicenter of Burisma’s public relations campaign to close down investigations into the company by former Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.
Yovanovitch testified at Trump’s first impeachment because she served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine when Trump made the infamous phone call to the newly inaugurated Ukrainian President, Volodymr Zelensky.
In her October 2019 testimony as part of the first Trump impeachment inquiry, Yovanovitch told congressional investigators that Burisma—and Hunter Biden’s role with the company—was not a focus during her time at the embassy.
U.S.-Ukraine Business Council
At a November 7, 2017 gathering, Yovanovitch "commented on the recent developments in U.S.-Ukraine relations and emphasized the need for consistent efforts in implementing key reforms" in the country, according to the event page posted by the USUBC. The ambassador also addressed Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts and reform in the energy sector. The panel, which included Pozharksyi (pictured far left), answered questions from business leaders in a roundtable format.
According to a post about the event on Burisma's now-defunct website, Pozharskyi praised U.S. efforts to "increase the amount of energy produced in Ukraine" through its approximately $60 million in aid and positioned his company as a key player in Ukraine’s aspirations for energy independence.
Yovanovitch also met with Pozharskyi at least two other times at separate USUBC events, one in December 2016 and another in April 2017, according to two posts on Burisma's website, obtained via internet archives. Both meetings focused on Ukraine’s energy security and independence as well as the broader economic reforms that the U.S. embassy was promoting in the country.
"We would like to convey a message to the international community that Ukraine is ready for profound economic reforms and this process is irreversible," Pozharskyi told the Ambassador and other attendees at the April 2017 meeting. "Burisma Group has already opened Ukrainian market to the US oil & gas service companies offering new opportunities and professional prospects.”
Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma and whether his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden forced the firing in 2015-16 of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma.
Joe Biden was captured on video tape bragging that he threatened to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees until Shokin was fired.
Biden’s defenders have argued he was simply carrying out US policy, but newly released State Department documents have called into question that claim. And U.S. officials recently changed their story, telling The Washington Post that Joe Biden “called an audible”—or made an executive decision to change administration strategy—to link the $1 billion loan guarantee to Shokin’s firing.
Trump’s request for information on the controversy precipitated an impeachment inquiry from the Democrat-led House of Representatives, which believed Trump abused his power by asking for an investigation.
The Democrats charged Trump with an abuse of power in soliciting foreign interference in a U.S. election and impeached him. He was later acquitted by the Senate.
“[Did] anyone at the State Department brief you about this tricky issue, that Hunter Biden was on the board of this company and the company suffered from allegations of corruption, and provide you guidance?” Steve Castor, a Republican staffer with the Oversight Committee asked Yovanovitch back in 2019.
“Well, there was that Q&A that I mentioned,” Yovanovitch answered, reminding Castor of her previous testimony that the Obama administration had briefed her on Hunter Biden’s role with Burisma for her confirmation hearing.
“But once you became the ambassador, did you have any debriefings with the State Department that alerted you to this, what could be a tricky issue?” Castor asked.
“No. It was, as I mentioned, it just wasn’t a front burner issue at the time,” Yovanovitch answered.
In the same testimony, the ambassador told Congress that she knew the company was associated with corruption in Ukraine. “[Was] it the general understanding that Burisma was a company that suffered from allegations of corruption?” investigators asked.
“Yes,” Yovanovitch responded. She further elaborated that she was aware of the allegations against Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner and CEO of Burisma, who was frequently under investigation by both Ukrainian and foreign authorities.
Zlochevsky was suspected of “theft of government funds on an especially large scale” according to former Zelensky government Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka and using his position as Ecology Minister under the Yanukovych government to grant his own companies gas licenses. Zlochevsky was also the subject of a British money laundering investigation, in which a UK judge dismissed the charges. Zlochevsky has denied wrongdoing.
Yovanovitch was not just aware of the allegations against Burisma, but she was briefed multiple times by her top deputy at the embassy—George Kent—about the company, Hunter Biden’s role, and was herself a target of Burisma’s wide-ranging effort through a U.S. firm known as Blue Star Strategies to improve the company’s public image with U.S. officials. Yovanovitch left out her embassy’s contacts with Blue Star from her testimony to Congress.
In 2020, Just The News reported that “discussions about Burisma inside Yovanovitch’s embassy were so extensive…that they filled more than 160 pages of emails, memos and correspondence in fall 2016 alone.”
The ambassador received briefings on both Burisma and Zlochevsky during the time Blue Star Strategies—a firm hired by Burisma —sought to improve Burisma’s public image with U.S. officials.
As Just The News reported last month, Hunter Biden recommended Blue Star Strategies to Pozharskyi in the midst of the public relations fallout about the younger Biden’s role on Burisma’s board of the directors. Pozharskyi said that the main goal of hiring Blue Star would be for the “ultimate purpose to close down…any cases/pursuits against Nikolai [Mykola Zlochevsky] in Ukraine,” according to an email obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
In December 2016, Yovanovitch received a briefing from George Kent before a scheduled meeting with Karen Tramontano of Blue Star Strategies. Just The News received the briefing memo through a Freedom of Information request in 2020. The briefing was made to inform the ambassador that Tramontano “informally” represented Zlochevsky, the CEO of Burisma, and provided details on his past, including into the money laundering investigation by British authorities.
Kent also shared his thoughts at the time of Vice President Biden’s trip and Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma with the ambassador. “[The] real issue to my mind was that someone in Washington needed to engage VP Biden quietly and say that his son Hunter’s presence on the Burisma board undercut the anti-corruption message the VP and we were advancing in Ukraine…” Kent told Yovanovitch in a November 2016 email obtained by Just the News.
The “Ukrainians heard one message from us and then saw another set of behavior…” Kent continued.
It was because of Burisma’s reputation that Kent was instrumental in cancelling a proposed “public-private” agreement between USAID and Burisma to sponsor a journalism contest for coverage of the energy sector, according to the email chain obtained by Just the News. “We pulled the plug immediately,” Kent told the ambassador when describing how he found out about the planned partnership.
All three meetings hosted by the USUBC occurred after the ambassador became aware of the corruption allegations related to Burisma and the embassy had intervened to shut down Burisma’s proposed cooperation with USAID, according to the embassy records detailed above.
Neither the State Department nor the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council responded to requests for comment.
Yovanovitch did not respond to Just the News’ request for comment herself or through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—a non-profit where Yovanovitch now serves as a Senior Fellow after leaving government service.
Pozharskyi was not the only Burisma representative to attend an event with Yovanovitch.
On March 10, 2017, the USUBC hosted a luncheon in Washington, D.C. with the ambassador as the keynote speaker, according to the organization’s website. After the luncheon, Yovanovitch received a forwarded attendance list from within the State Department identifying the individuals who attended the luncheon. The list was obtained through the State Department’s Virtual Reading Room.
The list includes Joseph Cofer Black, a board member of Burisma and ex-CIA and State Department official. Black was appointed to Burisma’s board of directors in February of 2017, according to public reports and emails on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Burisma appeared eager to highlight its connections to U.S. officials. In September 2018, Burisma posted a photograph of Vadim Pozharskyi and Kurt Volker—Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations in the Trump administration and the Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership—following an Atlantic Council event in New York City. According to the company’s archived website, Burisma touted Pozharskyi’s meeting with Volker and several other “US officials,” including former Ambassador to Poland Daniel Fried and former Bush State Department official Paula Dobriansky.
Volker told Just the News that he spoke at the Atlantic Council event and was introduced to Pozharskyi afterwards, not knowing who he was at the time. He said that he later learned about Burisma’s reputation.
Whatever the reason, Yovanovitch did not provide the context of her embassy’s interactions with Burisma in her testimony during the first Trump impeachment. It is not known why Ambassador Yovanovitch and the State Department chose to publicly participate in events with Vadim Pozharksyi and other representatives of Burisma given what the embassy knew about the company and the corruption allegations against it at the time, which Yovanovitch alluded to in her own testimony to Congress.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook
- public relations campaign
- event page
- now-defunct website
- infamous phone call
- “called an audible”
- Just the News documented last month
- October 2019 testimony
- “theft of government funds on an especially large scale”
- using his position as Ecology Minister
- British money laundering investigation
- reported last month
- Yovanovitch now serves as a Senior Fellow
- hosted a luncheon
- State Department’s Virtual Reading Room
- Joseph Cofer Black
- public reports
- posted a photograph
U.S.-Ukraine Business Council