American Adventures in Ukraine: How Burisma Lobbyists Went to the Prosecutor General’s Office

The Ukrainian card continues to be in play in the American elections. As it became clear from a recent New York Post publication, Joe Biden, when he was US Vice President, should have known about the problems of the Burisma company operating in Ukraine, on whose board his son Hunter sat.

After all, as follows from the discovered correspondence of Hunter that in April 2015 Burisma board adviser Vadim Pozharsky thanked him for meeting his father. This information is already well known, but those who quote it usually do not explain who Pozharsky is.

In fact, we are talking about a key figure of Burisma, who represented the company abroad, signed agreements with American lobbyists and went with them to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. This is what follows from the testimony given in the US Senate by the heads of the Blue Star Strategies consulting company associated with the US Democrats, which worked with Burisma.

Blue Star Chief Operating Officer Sally Painter said it all started when “in the early autumn of 2015” Burisma board member Devon Archer came to her and asked her to help Burisma. Archer is a business partner of Hunter Biden at Rosemont Seneca Partners, where both are business partners of Christopher Heinz, the stepson of John Kerry, the Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

The date of the conversation given by Painter shows that it most likely took place after the then US Ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, speaking in Odessa, called the owner of Burisma, Nikolay Zlochevsky, a corrupt oligarch.

Archer, in a conversation with Painter, did not go into details about what the company needs, but only connected Blue Star’s Chief Operating Officer with Vadim Pozharsky. What was discussed in the conversation with the latter, Painter did not say too specifically – they say, he was looking for help in establishing communication with the governments of the US and Ukraine.

On November 17th Pozharsky, and November 18th Painter, sign an agreement between Burisma and Blue Star. In the materials published by the Senate, it is attached to her testimony, as well as to the testimony of the company’s Chief Executive Officer, its Executive Director, Karen Tramontano. The document assumes that Blue Star “agrees to provide the client with the following independent professional consulting services:

  • assist the client in dealing with government agencies in the US and Ukraine;
  • inform officials about the client’s business and its economic significance in Ukraine; and
  • prepare brief written reports at the request of the client.”

For all this, Blue Star received $30,000 per month net (i.e., after deducting VAT), as well as an amount not specified in the document “for pocket expenses”.

Please note that the agreement is signed, first, when the pressure on Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin increases in Ukraine (in particular, on November 15th, President Poroshenko for the first time declares that he is dissatisfied with the work of the Prosecutor General’s Office), and secondly, when Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Kiev was already announced (it will take place in less than 3 weeks).

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And from March 29th to April 1st 2016, Pozharsky pays a visit to Washington. His program is also attached to the testimony of Painter and Tramontano. In particular, in the American capital, he holds separate meetings with the co-chairs of the Ukrainian support groups in the Senate and House of Representatives, Rob Portman and Marcy Kaptur, as well as with the Vice-Chairman of this group in the Senate, Jeanne Shaheen. Pozharsky’s trip comes on the same days as Poroshenko’s visit to Washington. This can easily give Americans the impression that the representative of Burisma is the person of the President of Ukraine.

There is no information about whether Burisma’s problems were discussed during this visit, but, undoubtedly, such contacts should have raised the company’s importance in the eyes of the Ukrainian authorities.

And it was after this visit, on April 9th 2016, that Tramontano, Painter and American lawyer, former US Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Buretta met with acting Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yury Sevruk.

The essence of the testimony of both Blue Star executives was that they were interested in the state of affairs in relation to Burisma, did not ask for anything, Shokin was not mentioned in the conversation, but Buretta drew attention to the fact that in the UK the case against Zlochevsky on suspicion of money laundering was closed and the money in his accounts was unblocked (which is $23 million). As a result, both admitted that after this conversation, their understanding of the Prosecutor General’s plans for Burisma did not increase, and also complained about poor translation in terms of their lack of command of Ukrainian and Russian and Sevruk’s poor command of English.

It is difficult to say whether this was the case. Both Painter and Tramontano try to keep their statements streamlined and often refer to poor memory. But one thing is clear: the leaders of Blue Star Strategies did not seek to contact Shokin, however, as soon as he was fired, they met with his temporary successor, although it was clear that another person would soon head the Prosecutor General’s Office.

It suggests that the Americans were sure that the conversation with Shokin was pointless, but they hoped that the cases against Burisma could be closed even at the level of Sevruk.

Then, according to Painter’s testimony, in early June, she and Tramontano met with Zlochevsky in the presence of Pozharsky at an energy security forum organised by the oligarch in Monaco (it took place from May 31st to June 2nd). According to her, the communication was short and they were only introduced to each other.

Still, it’s hard to believe that they didn’t discuss the upcoming visit of Blue Star executives to Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko. This visit took place on June 22nd 2016, but preparations for it began even before the meeting with Zlochevsky.

On May 25th, Tramontano announced plans to visit the Prosecutor General’s Office in the third ten-day period of June to an employee of the US Embassy in Kiev, Andrey Telizhenko, who will then become an employee of Blue Star. He began to prepare the visit. On June 3rd, he recommended that she meet informally with former Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema to understand the situation in the Prosecutor General’s Office (but nothing is known about the fact of such a meeting).

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And on June 7th, Telizhenko told Tramontano that “last week” (i.e., before June 5th) he received all the documents related to the Prosecutor General’s Office. And in this regard wrote: “It’s okay. However, I would like to recommend that in an official letter requesting a meeting, the company name of Mr. Zlochevsky and his name should be removed. Just ask for a meeting and name the topics you would like to discuss, other than Zlochevsky. I will tell you more when you arrive in Kiev, but the president does not like Zlochevsky, he has personal questions and motives. And Mr. Lutsenko will refuse to meet if this name remains in the letter. You can raise the issue during the meeting, but I would recommend deleting it from the official letter”.

In the end, the request was reformulated, although Tramontano was very surprised. But I think Lutsenko immediately understood what was going on when he found out the list of visitors. For in addition to the same three that communicated with Sevruk, among them was Pozharsky.

Tramontano spoke briefly about the meeting itself. They say the discussion was similar to the previous conversation with Sevruk and Lutsenko did not ask for anything. At the same time, “it was said that cases against Burisma have been conducted for a long time, that it would be good to find out from Mr. Lutsenko as the new Prosecutor General what his plans are for these cases, and that a number of cases were based on the actual precedent of the case that was considered in the UK. As far as I remember, John [Buretta – ed] urged Mr. Lutsenko to read the British court decision and the evidence presented by both sides”.

Here we should note the following. As was reported in early 2017 by the Press Service of the British Serious Fraud Office in response to a request from Deutsche Welle, Zlochevsky’s assets were unfrozen in January 2015, because “the evidence that was necessary in accordance with legal requirements to extend the order to freeze accounts could not be obtained”. But it was not possible, because they were not provided by the Ukrainian investigation.

And in February 2015, the Prosecutor General’s Office, in response to a request from deputy Sergey Leshchenko, said that in December 2014, it provided Zlochevsky’s lawyer with a certificate stating that his client is not currently being held in Ukraine on any criminal cases. According to the deputy, this is why the case against the former minister in London was closed.

I.e., first of all, the case against Zlochevsky in London seems to have been dropped simply because of a lack of evidence not provided by the Ukrainian side. Secondly, it is unclear how much this case could be a real precedent for the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s office, which conducted several cases against the former minister and his company, where the son of the US Vice President sat on the Board of Directors.

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But it seems that the British simply believed that if he was a minister for Yanukovych, it means that the money was stolen, and they themselves did not look for evidence. In addition, a year and a half after the London decision, the Ukrainian investigation could have collected additional evidence. Therefore, the appeal of the Americans to the English court decision looks like a gross manipulation.

What Pozharsky said then was not reported, and in the testimony about Lutsenko’s behavior at that meeting there is only one specific detail. The Prosecutor General asked whether Burisma would agree to an independent audit of its finances, because one of the pending cases against the company is related to taxes.

As we know, the audit took place, and according to its results, Burisma paid additional taxes to the Ukrainian budget (according to various sources, from 130 to 180 million hryvnia), and the main case against the company was closed in November 2016. At the same time (on dubious grounds, from the point of view of Lesya Ivanova), the case of illegal enrichment of Zlochevsky was re-qualified, and then closed. But these decisions were preceded by the seizure of Burisma assets at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office in July 2016.

I.e., Lutsenko outwardly behaved as if he did not succumb to pressure from American lobbyists, intimidated Zlochevsky’s company and eventually knocked money out of it into the budget. But it is quite possible that there was an element of the game in all this and in fact it was possible to knock out noticeably more.

In any case, democratic lobbyists did not seek to meet with Shokin, and they immediately began to actively communicate with the new leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office. And this is an indirect argument in favour of the fact that the change of the head of the Prosecutor General’s Office occurred precisely because he was digging under the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat, causing dissatisfaction with his father, the US Vice President and curator of Ukraine in the White House.

But the report “Hunter Biden, Burisma, and corruption”, prepared by the Republican majority of two Senate committees, does not lead to such an idea. Of all the testimonies of Tramontano and Painter that are given in this article, only one episode is mentioned there. About how, on Telizhenko’s advice, the mention of Burisma disappeared from the request for a meeting with Lutsenko.

In the context of the report, the meaning of this mention is as follows: here is one example of how the Democrats listened to a man who is now considered a tool of Russian disinformation (and there are many such examples). And the report does not argue with the thesis that Telizhenko is such a tool. In general, paranoid concerns about “Russian disinformation” prevented Republicans from hitting Biden harder.

Pyotr Safonov

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