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Ukrainian Lev Parnas and Belarusian Igor Fruman were arrested by U.S. federal prosecutors for illegally funneling foreign money to U.S. political candidates.
Two businessmen who helped United States President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani investigate political rival Joe Biden were arrested in a plot to illegally funnel foreign money to U.S. political candidates, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The arrest of Ukrainian Lev Parnas and Belarusian Igor Fruman at Washington's Dulles International Airport on Wednesday night, attempting to catch a one-way flight to Vienna comes because the two allegedly donated more than US$300,000 to a pro-Trump political action committe, America First Action, in May 2018. The money was falsely reported as coming from an alleged natural gas company, according to the indictment.
Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said Parnas and Fruman conspired to contribute foreign money, including at least US$1 million from an unidentified Russian businessman, in order to "circumvent the federal [U.S.] laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments."
The two men were each charged by federal prosecutors in New York with two charges for conspiracy, one for false statements and one for falsification of business records. U.S. law prohibits foreign entities from contributing to its elections.
Giuliani has said Parnas and Fruman also helped his efforts in Ukraine to investigate Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election Joe Biden and Biden’s son who had served as director of a Ukrainian energy company.
The arrests are in connection to a House of Representatives impeachment investigation into the president's allegedly pressuring a foreign ally, Ukraine, which receives millions in aid from the U.S., to dig up dirt on a Democratic candidate presidential front-runner, Biden, last July.
Both Parnas and Fruman are expected to figure in the House investigation and were asked to bring forth certain documents and give testimonies in the case. Parnas is expected to take part a Congressional deposition next Thursday, with Fruman scheduled for Friday.
Trump denied he knew the two Ukrainian-born businessmen to reporters on Thursday afternoon, dismissing a photograph that showed him with one of them at the White House.
“I don’t know those gentlemen,” Trump told journalists at the White House.