In the last days of the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden took a “swan song” trip to Ukraine, a notoriously corrupt country where he had been the administration’s “point person.” On the eve of this trip, the country announced it would end a criminal investigation into a company connected to the loss of $1.8 billion in aid funding — a company whose board of directors included Biden’s son Hunter.
The Biden family’s dealings with this Ukrainian company involved getting one of the country’s most notorious mob bankers, Ihor Kolomoisky, off the U.S. government visa ban list. Under Biden’s leadership, $3 billion in aid went to Ukraine, and his son’s company was implicated in the disappearance of $1.8 billion of that money.
Peter Schweizer reveals the former vice president’s role in his new book “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends.” The scandal drops with Biden reportedly mulling a 2020 presidential run.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. support for Ukraine’s nationalist government in March 2014, a month after a mass uprising pushed pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych out of office and inspired a corresponding pro-Russian uprising in the east. Biden became the Obama administration’s “point person” for the country.
On April 16, 2014, Biden met with Devon Archer, a former star fundraiser for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential run and business partner in Rosemont Capital with Biden’s son Hunter. (Federal agents would later arrest Archer in May 2016 for defrauding a Native American tribe.)
Less than a week later (April 22) came an announcement that Archer had joined the board of Burisma, a secretive Ukrainian natural gas company. On May 13, Hunter Biden would also join the company’s board.
On the day before Archer’s hiring, April 21, the vice president landed in Kiev for high-level meetings with Ukrainian officials. He spearheaded the effort to invest $1 billion from the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) into Ukraine.
The vice president’s presence helps explain a conundrum. Burisma hired his son and Archer despite the fact that neither of them had any experience in the energy sector. Schweizer notes, “The choice of Hunter Biden to handle transparency and corporate governance of Burisma is curious, because Biden had little if any experience in Ukrainian law, or professional legal counsel, period.”
Furthermore, Hunter Biden “seemed undeterred by the fact that as he was joining the Burisma board the British government’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was seizing $23 million from [founder Mykola] Zlochevsky’s bank accounts.” Furthermore, a year after Biden joined the firm, “experienced industry observers warned investors that Burisma was still a company to be avoided.”
On the other hand, Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Out of 148 nations studied by the World Economic Forum, Ukraine ranks 143 for property rights, 130 for “irregular payments and bribes,” 133 for “favoritism in decisions of government officials,” and 146 for “protection of minority shareholders’ interests.”
Two major figures in this corruption feature prominently in Biden’s Ukraine investment.
Zlochevsky founded Burisma in Cyprus in 2006. He served as natural resources minister under Yanukovych, and gave himself the licenses to develop the country’s abundant gas fields. He also had a flare for lavishness, running a super-exclusive fashion boutique named after himself.
Burisma’s major subsidiaries ended up sharing the same business address as the natural gas firm controlled by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. He controlled the country’s largest financial institution, ProvatBank, through which the Ukrainian military and government workers got paid. He also owned media companies and airlines. In violation of Ukraine law, he maintained Ukrainian, Israeli, and Cypriot passports.
Kolomoisky gained a reputation for violence and brutality, along with lawlessness. Rival oligarchs have sued him for alleged involvement in “murders and beheadings” related to a business deal. He also allegedly used “hired rowdies armed with baseball bats, iron bars, gas and rubber bullet pistols and chainsaws” to take over a steel plant in 2006. He built his multibillion-dollar empire by “raiding” other companies, forcing them to merge with his own using brute force.
For these and other reasons, the U.S. government placed Kolomoisky on its visa ban list, prohibiting him from entering the country legally. In 2015, however, after Hunter Biden and Devon Archer had joined Burisma’s board, Kolomoisky was given admittance back into the U.S.
Archer and the younger Biden brought other benefits to Burisma, however. Archer represented the company at the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition in 2015. Biden addressed the Energy Security for the Future conference in Monaco. The vice president’s son brought much-needed legitimacy to the shoddy gas company.
Less than a month after Archer joined Burisma’s board, the company hired another Kerry lackey, David Leiter, as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. He successfully lobbied for more aid to the country.
Both Biden and Kerry championed $1.8 billion in taxpayer-backed loans to be given to Ukraine courtesy of the IMF. That money would go directly through Kolomoisky’s PrivatBank, and then it would disappear.
According to the Ukrainian anticorruption watchdog Nashi Groshi, “This transaction of $1.8 billion … with the help of fake contracts was simply an asset siphoning operation.”
In December 2016, Ukraine’s government was forced to nationalize Privatbank in order to shore up Ukrainians’ savings. A Ukrainian lawmaker called it the “greatest robbery of Ukraine’s state budget of the millennium.”
In February 2016, the government seized Burisma founder Zlochevsky’s assets and placed him on Ukraine’s wanted list. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office seized Burisma’s gas wells.
Even so, four days before Joe Biden arrived for his “swan song” visit in January 2017, the criminal investigation into Burisma was dropped.
Devon Archer left the company at the end of 2016, but Hunter Biden remains on the board and continues to provide legal assistance. Archer and Biden have not been required to disclose their compensation from Burisma, but Bowling Green State University professor Oliver Boyd-Barrett wrote, “Potentially, the Biden family could become billionaires.”
Did Joe Biden get Burisma off the hook for $1.8 billion in lost aid funding? Did he or his son get Kolomoisky off the visa ban list? Schweizer says the Bidens did not return numerous requests for comment.
Schweizer’s book also reveals extensive Biden- and Kerry-related corruption in China, with Hunter Biden’s company even investing in a Chinese company under FBI investigation for stealing U.S. nuclear secrets.
Should Congress or the FBI open an investigation?
Schweizer’s last book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” helped inspire the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton, and may have contributed to her defeat in 2016. Could this book have the same effect for Biden in 2020?