We spoke to Oliver Bullough, a British author and journalist specializing in corruption in Eastern Europe about Rudy Giuliani’s statements on Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s work at Burisma, a Ukrainian company.
The writer believes there is no connection between the dismissal of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and the fact that Joe Biden’s son Hunter was working at a company that was under investigation. The company in question is Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private energy company that belongs to Mykola Zlochevskyi, a former minister in fled Viktor Yanukovych’s administration. Bullough believes Shokin never actively investigated the Burisma case, thus there would have been no material advantage to Shokin’s dismissal. He calls the idea of $3.5 million that Hunter Biden had cumulatively earned for his work affecting Washington’s foreign policy “ridiculous”. Shokin’s departure was in fact the prerequisite for Ukraine receiving a $1 billion loan, Bullough notes.
The journalist admits the way Biden boasted about the demand for Shokin’s sack is “not attractive”, but he expresses disappointment at the extent to which American journalists have been played by Giuliani:
“It is important to Giuliani that there is mirror image scandal: Trump has a Russia scandal - he wants Biden to have a Ukraine scandal. But there is no scandal. It doesn’t exist.”
Bullough also thinks what made American authorities think Ukrainian PGO needed serious reform was Shokin’s team failures and undermining of the Burisma case in the UK courts. The prime example he cites is when the British authorities froze $23 million of unknown Ukrainian origin in 2014, which were later revealed to be Zlochevskyi’s money. But the UK investigative agency, Serious Fraud Office was later unable to maintain the asset freeze. The reason for this was Zlochevskyi’s lawyers producing a letter from PG Shokin stating there was no suspicion against Zlochevskyi in Ukraine. Bullough calls this just one of the multiple cases where Shokin proved himself not to be committed to an anti-corruption agenda.
The journalist also claims the times when all American parties would have competed to support a small European country on its way to democracy, and freedom from Moscow have gone by. Nowadays, a part of the Republican Party is willing to sacrifice Ukraine if it gets their candidate reelected. Bullough argues that those Republicans are merely looking for a scandal to throw back in return at the Democrats, and their current front-runner Biden ahead of the 2020 elections.
[Is there any connection between] the dismissal of the Prosecutor General [Viktor] Shokin and the fact that the son of Joe Biden, [Hunter] was working in Burisma, company under investigation?
There is no connection between these two facts. Hunter Biden worked one of his jobs was to work for a Ukrainian businessman, former minister in the Yanukovych’s administration - that’s one fact. The other fact is that Joe Biden was in charge of Ukraine policy for the White House and demanded that the GP of Ukraine be sacked. But the GP of Ukraine was not actively investigating the company for which Hunter Biden worked. There was no possible advantage for Hunter Biden from Shokin being fired. There was no conceivable material advantage. Even if there was a material advantage, if you look at how much money Hunter Biden was earning (cumulatively $3.5 million), the idea that $3.5 million would sway the foreign policy of the United States is so ridiculous, that it’s extraordinary anyone would even take that seriously: an economy as large as the US, with interests as massive as the US. When Joe Biden insisted on the sacking of the GP, he was talking about a loan for a billion dollars (350 times more money). It’s absurd that anyone would even think that is possible.
We cannot speak about any [American] interference?
Joe Biden interfered in Ukrainian politics and demanded the sacking of the GP. It’s not very attractive how he’s boasted about doing that, but there was no interference on behalf of the business interests of his son. I’ve been disappointed in some American journalists who have been pedaling this line, who don’t realize the extent to which they are being played by Rudy Giuliani. It is important to Giuliani that there is mirror image scandal: Trump has a Russia scandal - he wants Biden to have a Ukraine scandal. There is no scandal. It doesn’t exist. It’s disappointing that American journalists haven’t refused to play his game.
What’s the chronology of the [Biden] story?
One - there is the revolution in Ukraine, Yanukovych runs away, Zlochevskyi is left without a political patron because he was from that team. Two - he hires Hunter Biden, Devon Archer and [Aleksandr] Kwasniewski from Poland to be on the board of his gas company. Three - here is a confrence in London to discuss the return of money to Ukraine that had been stolen by the previous regime. It was co-hosted by the US and the UK. At that conference the British Government, Theresa May, now-PM announced that the British authorities had frozen $23 million of Ukrainian origin. At that point we didn’t know it was Zlochevskyi’s money. Then there was a court case in London at the end of 2014 at which the Serious Fraud Office, the British investigative agency tried to maintain the asset freeze on these $23 million and were unable to do so. The key reason why was because Zlochevskyi’s lawyers produced a letter from the Ukrainian PG which said there was no suspicion against this man, he is not charged with any crimes in Ukraine which meant that the British judge decided there were no grounds to maintain a freeze in order on the $23 million. The money was released and vanished off into the world economy. This case not only the failure to help the British authorities but active undermining of the case in the UK is one of the reasons why the American authorities thought that the Ukrainian PGO needed serious reform. But it wasn’t the only case, there were multiple examples where Shokin’s team acted ineffectively and failed to investigate corruption. They got no serious convictions. There was a case when a group of corrupt “diamond” prosecutors were, there was a failure to investigate them properly. There was a number of cases where Shokin showed himself to be not committed to an anti-corruption agenda. So Joe Biden demanded from President Poroshenko that Shokin be fired and new PG appointed if [Poroshenko] wanted to receive a billion dollar loan. Those are the facts as they are laid out.
Now we get to the point, five years after the Maidan when Giuliani is claiming that the interference from Biden in Ukrainian politics, the insistence that Shokin was fired, was motivated by the business interests of his son Hunter. But that’s not the case.
How can we explain the words of Giuliani?
I just think he wants a scandal to throw at Joe Biden. They are concerned that Joe Biden will be a very serious competitor for Donald Trump in next year’s presidential election if he becomes the democratic candidate. They are clearly most worried about him as a prospect. Everyone is always throwing the word “Russia” at Trump, so they want the word “Ukraine” to throw back again. There was a time when all American politicians from all parties would have seen it as their duty to support a small European country that is trying to build democracy and trying to break free of Moscow’s control. Across the both parties that would have been a standard approach for American politicians. It is deeply worrying that a part of the Republican leadership no longer seems to think that’s the case. They are quite happy to throw Ukraine under the bus if it gets Trump elected. There was a time when some things were more sacred than the American electoral process. But that appears to no longer be the case.
Can you fact check Giuliani’s statements?
I can. But the problem with all factchecking is it takes much longer to check a fact than it takes to tell a lie. This is the essential problem with fake news as a concept. You can spout a lot of fake news out into the world, and the journalists have to spend months disproving it. As far as I am concerned, this story of Giuliani’s is disproved. It’s not just the work I’ve done, but the work Bloomberg and other journalists have done. We have shown this is not the case. It is time to move and stop talking about it and to stop playing his game. Because what Giuliani wants is uncertainty: he wants Americans to be unsure whether Joe Biden is corrupt or not. That’s enough to put a doubt in someone’s mind that he must be corrupt. You just tell a lie and that makes people doubt someone’s sincerity. I think it is time that we stop playing his game on his behalf and start just stating that you can stand over there and lie. But we are not going to repeat your lies just because it was you telling them.
/Interview by Maxim Kamenev