WASHINGTON: Two foreign-born Florida businessmen who have been helping President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer investigate political rival Joe Biden have been arrested on charges of funneling foreign money to US political candidates and a pro-Trump election committee, authorities said on Thursday.
The arrests were the latest dramatic development in a political saga that threatens Trump’s presidency. They come as the Democratic-led US House of Representatives conducts an impeachment inquiry into Trump centered on the Republican president’s request in a July telephone call for Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden.
The businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested in connection with a New York federal case involving campaign finance laws, the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said. The two men were donors to a pro-Trump fundraising committee and the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said they helped him as he sought to investigate former Vice President Biden, a leading Democratic contender in the 2020 presidential election.
Parnas is a Ukrainian businessman. Fruman is a real estate investor who was born in Belarus. Both, according to various media accounts, helped introduce Giuliani into top Ukrainian political circles.
The two men had been planning to fly to Vienna on Wednesday night, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Parnas and Fruman conspired to “funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office,” according to a federal court filing in New York. The two men made illegal contributions using straw donors, according to the indictment.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has described the impeachment probe as a partisan smear.
In May 2018, the indictment said, Parnas and Fruman contributed $325,000 to a pro-Trump political action committee called America First Action. The $325,000 donation was falsely reported as coming from a purported natural gas company, the indictment said.
The two men falsely claimed that the company, GEP, was “a real business enterprise” and that “its major purpose is energy trading, not political activity”, the indictment said. In fact, it said, the company had no real business.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019