Two American citizens, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas and the Belarusian-born Igor Fruman, have been arrested on charges of major campaign finance violations. The pair, who were arrested last evening along with two other associates, have intimate connections to Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, and served as intermediaries between Giuliani and the Ukrainian government. They were expected to provide depositions before Congress this week. They were also caught trying to flee the country.
According to the indictment, Parnas, Fruman, David Correia, and Andrey Kukushkin “conspired to circumvent the federal 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 candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments.”
In March 2018, Parnas and Fruman created a limited liability corporation called Global Energy Producers (GEP), a liquified natural gas import-export business based in Florida. The indictment alleges that GEP was a shell company, with Parnas and Fruman listing political donations as coming from the company instead of unknown third parties, including at least one Ukrainian government official who is unnamed in the document. At the time of the donations, GEP had not yet engaged in the energy field, had no income, and no assets.
“On one hand it’s a little eye-opening how folks, seemingly easily, have an avenue like this to get foreign money into U.S. election,” said Ben Freeman, Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative. “On the other hand, what a lot of folks I don’t think realize is there’s just so many avenues for foreign money to get into U.S. elections right now. I really think this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just one example we happen to find.”
Parnas’ and Furman’s donations include $325,000 to a pro-Trump SuperPAC, $15,000 to a second SuperPAC, at least $20,000 to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), thousands more to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and even more donations to the Republican National Committee and many state Republican parties. Legally, all donated money will have to be returned.