Monday, October 28, 2019

Why a Ukrainian oligarch is obsessed with getting dirt on Joe Biden - follow the money!

THE BIG PAYBACK?

You betcha. If you want to understand the attempt to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, you just need to follow the money.

Betsy Swan and Adam Rawnsley at The Daily Beast report how a Ukrainian Oligarch Seethed About ‘Overlord’ Biden for Years Dmytro Firtash’s lawyers say his team had to investigate Joe Biden to defend their client. One expert says Biden pushed reforms that cost the oligarch up to $400 million per year.

Indicted Ukrainian gas oligarch Dmytro Firtash spent more than $1 million hiring key figures in Republican efforts to investigate the Biden family.

His lawyers—who often go on Fox News to defend President Trump—say they needed the dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden to demonstrate that Firtash’s prosecution was politically motivated.

But the two men have a history. Two Ukrainian gas industry experts say the gas-market reforms pushed by Biden and others in 2014 and 2015 hit Firtash in the wallet, and badly. One knowledgeable outside observer estimated that the 2014 and 2015 gas reforms and legislation cost him hundreds of millions of dollars.

On Dec. 9, 2015, Biden gave a speech to Ukraine’s parliament. He praised the protesters who forced out Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president, he recited Ukrainian poetry, and he called for reforms to Ukraine’s gas market, too.

“The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles—not sweetheart deals,” he said, basking in the audience’s repeated applause.

Firtash, who built his fortune in part through a rather sweet gas-trading deal, hated it. Earlier this year—more than three and a half years after the talk—he was still seething. Firtash told The Daily Beast that the Ukrainian parliamentarians in the audience were humiliatingly subservient to Biden.

Now people linked to Firtash are at the heart of Republicans’ efforts to find dirt on Biden, and a document Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has said is key to his theory of Biden World malfeasance was produced for Firtash’s legal team. The reporter who published that document, The Hill’s John Solomon, is a client of Firtash’s new lawyers, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova. Over the summer, Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to cooperate with Giuliani’s efforts. That pressure stunned many Republicans and gave House Democratic leadership the impetus they had long sought to announce an impeachment inquiry.

Trump-Friendly Lawyers Join Legal Team of Ukraine’s Firtash reports Bloomberg News.

Dmitry Firtash, a wealthy Ukrainian and onetime business partner of Paul Manafort who is facing extradition to the U.S. on corruption charges, has hired a legal team with close ties to President Donald Trump.

The lawyers retained by Firtash are Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, according to representatives for Firtash and for the attorneys.

The husband-and-wife team were vocal critics of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and have voiced support for Trump in the news media and in frequent appearances as legal commentators on Fox News.

Now back to the Daily Beast report.

Austrian authorities arrested Firtash a few weeks before the DOJ’s announcement. He posted about $174 million in bail and has since been living in Vienna, fighting extradition from his palatial corporate offices there. And while the allegation isn’t part of the DOJ’s indictment of Firtash, U.S. government lawyers have said in court that he’s an “upper echelon” associate of a Russian criminal organization. Firtash says the claim is baseless.

In June of this year, an Austrian judge greenlit his extradition to the U.S. But his high-powered legal team is still fighting. And this July, that team got some new oomph: DiGenova and Toensing, a husband-and-wife duo who have worked on a host of contentious fights and have deep ties in Washington’s tight-knit conservative legal community. They even reportedly secured a meeting about Firtash’s case with Attorney General Bill Barr—a sit-down many criminal defense lawyers would kill for.

In a July 2015 speech, Biden praised Ukraine for “closing the space for corrupt middlemen who rip off the Ukrainian people.”

“Middleman” was an epithet often aimed at oligarchs like Firtash, whose gas business had raked in millions by acting as a broker between Ukraine’s state-owned gas company and Russia’s Gazprom.

“There is one of the biggest state-owned enterprises, which is Ukrainian Naftogaz, a gas company, that had very shadowy and non-transparent deals with middlemen and with the Russian Federation,” Arseniy Yatseniuk, the country’s prime minister at the time, said in a speech just two days after Biden’s. “So last year we eliminated this middleman. His name is Mr. Firtash. He is under FBI investigation and expected to be extradited to the United States.”

Oleksandr Kharchenko, the director of the Center for Energy Industry Research Center in Kyiv, said the changes damaged Firtash’s business interests.

“It hit him directly,” he said.

The 2015 reforms appear to have cost Firtash a lot of money. It’s difficult to estimate how much, as the oligarch’s finances are quite opaque. Victoria Voytsitska was a member of the eighth convocation of the Ukrainian parliament and a member of its committee on Fuel Energy, Nuclear Policies, and Security. She told The Daily Beast that the gas market reforms have likely cost Firtash about $215 million to $400 million a year since their 2015 rollout.

That should give you a sense of why Giuliani et al. are so obsessed with finding dirt on Biden. In trying to move Ukraine away from energy corruption, Biden ran afoul of Firtash - and didn’t flinch. To the extent that Trump was also pushing finding dirt on Biden, then he too is snarled in the web of corruption traceable to Firtash

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