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Ukrainian Oligarch Has Links To People Associated With Trump


As the Trump Ukraine saga continues to unfold, there is a Ukrainian oligarch whose name keeps popping up in unexpected places. His name is Dmitry Firtash. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been looking into Firtash and his connections to the wide cast of characters in President Trump's orbit and Ryan's in the studio.

Hi there.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So this is a new name for most of us, I'm guessing, Dmitry Firtash. Who is he?

LUCAS: So he's a Ukrainian billionaire, a man of immense power and wealth. He made gobs of money in the gas business, particularly acting as a middleman for Russian gas sales to Ukraine and beyond. But he's branched out into media, manufacturing chemicals. He's said to have connections to both the Kremlin and Russian organized crime, that's according to U.S. officials and leaked State Department cables. Firtash, for his part, has denied any mob ties. Unsurprisingly, perhaps though, his money means that he is a powerful player in Ukrainian politics. He was a major supporter of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government that was overthrown in 2014. And there's one more thing that you should know about him which is he is a wanted man in the United States.

MARTIN: The plot thickens. Wanted how and why?

LUCAS: So he was indicted in Chicago back in 2013 on money laundering and racketeering charges. Those are related to alleged bribes as part of a titanium mining project. He was arrested in Austria in 2014 at the request of American authorities. And just to give you a sense of how rich Firtash is, after his arrest, he posted an all-cash bond of around $170 million dollars. Since then, he's had to remain in Austria and he's been fighting his extradition.

MARTIN: OK, so he is a rich oligarch from Ukraine who is wanted in the U.S. That is interesting. But still, why does he matter in the President Trump Ukraine scandal?

LUCAS: So there's a lot that we don't know at this point. But what is clear, is that an affidavit was filed in Austrian court on Firtash's behalf. That affidavit was filed by the former general prosecutor of Ukraine, a man by the name of Viktor Shokin.

MARTIN: Ah hah, that name I remember.

LUCAS: Right. Shokin is the guy who was pushed out of office in 2016 under pressure from the United States and other Western governments. He is viewed as being ineffective in combating corruption, then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden led the U.S. push on that. And it's Shokin's dismissal that's at the heart of Rudy Giuliani's unsubstantiated allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter, tied to Ukraine. Now the interesting thing here is that Giuliani has been holding up Shokin's affidavit, waving it around on TV here in the United States to support his allegations against the Bidens.

MARTIN: Huh. Do we know how Giuliani got his hands on the affidavit in the first place?

LUCAS: It's unclear at this point. But what we do know, because Giuliani has told me as much, is that he spoke with Shokin earlier this year as part of Giuliani's efforts to gather information in Ukraine. Giuliani has told me that Shokin showed him documents, proving that Shokin was indeed investigating the Bidens. Now, the man who helped connect Giuliani with Shokin, is Lev Parnas.

MARTIN: This is such a web. But I also remember this name because he is one of the two Giuliani associates who was arrested on alleged campaign finance violations, right?

LUCAS: That's right, about a week and a half ago.

Now, Parnas has told NPR that he worked as a fixer to help set up meetings and phone calls for Giuliani with Ukrainians, including with Shokin. But they aren't the only ones who have links to Giuliani and Firtash, there's also a Washington lawyer couple that does as well.

MARTIN: A lawyer couple. Do tell.

LUCAS: Their names are Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, they're attorneys, they're married. They make frequent appearances on Fox News. They're very vocal in their support for President Trump, and the president actually almost hired them at one point to help handle his response to the Russia investigation. Now, Giuliani has told me that when he was gathering information from Ukraine, he, at one point, wanted to take Toensing there to possibly represent people that he was speaking with, if they needed representation. He says, ultimately that trip never happened. Toensing told me the same thing. But Toensing and diGenova did get a new client this summer, and that new client is the one and only, Dmitry Firtash.

MARTIN: There we go, the full circle.

LUCAS: Right. So he hired them in July to help him in his extradition fight. There's one more key bit of connective tissue here. Toensing and diGenova hired Lev Parnas to work as a translator for the firm in their work for Firtash.

MARTIN: So that is a lot of information. You laid it out, though, cogently. Congratulations.

LUCAS: Thank you.

MARTIN: But what does it mean for you, especially, as you look forward? I mean, what kinds of questions are you going to ask based on this information?

LUCAS: So, yes, there are a lot of dots here. One dot that we haven't touched on yet is the House impeachment inquiry. And as part of that, House lawmakers are looking into why the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was removed earlier this year. Giuliani and conservative media here in the U.S. were pushing for her to be removed, and it's something that Parnas and his business partner were trying to orchestrate as well, in connection with a business proposal involving Ukraine state-controlled gas company. Firtash is a major player in Ukraine's gas industry. One question I have is what, if any, are Firtash's ties to that scheme, and more simply, why does Firtash's name keep surfacing in all these places in connection with Giuliani and all the rest of these people.

MARTIN: All right, you'll keep following it for us. NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.