Ukraine reviews cases on owner of firm that hired Biden son

YURAS KARMANAU and NATALIYA VASILYEVA

ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's top prosecutor said Friday his office is reviewing several cases related to the owner of a gas company where the son of former Vice President Joe Biden sat on the board, but he added that he wasn't aware of any evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.

U.S. President Donald Trump had asked for an investigation of Biden, his Democratic rival, in a July 25 phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a time when millions of dollars in U.S. military assistance to the country was being held up. That has prompted the U.S. Congress to begin an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

The move by Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka was seen by political analysts in Kyiv not as a new investigation to dig up dirt on the Bidens but rather an attempt to stay in the good graces of the White House at a time when Ukraine needs Western help to deal with an uprising by pro-Russia separatists.

Ryaboshapka told reporters that his office was "auditing" relevant cases that were closed, dismissed or put on hold by his predecessors.

Several of the cases under audit are related to Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of the gas company Burisma that hired Hunter Biden in 2014, the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Ukraine.

"We are now reviewing all the cases that were closed or split into several parts or were investigated before, in order to be able to rule to reverse those cases where illegal procedural steps were taken," Ryaboshapka said.

Asked if the prosecutors had evidence of any wrongdoing on Hunter Biden's part, he said: "I have no such information."

The Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement that among the cases being reviewed are 15 in which Zlochevsky is mentioned. None of the Zlochevsky-related cases has been revived yet, the office said.

They did not specify how many, if any, were related to Hunter Biden's work at Burisma.

Trump has said that the United States has an "absolute right" to ask foreign leaders to investigate corruption cases.

Asked about that by The Associated Press, Zelenskiy said during an appearance in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr that all cases under investigation are "transparent."

"Chief prosecutors could pull their efforts together, we have all cases open," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy and Ryaboshapka denied being under any foreign pressure over corruption investigations, although text messages released Thursday in the U.S. showed American diplomats pushing for an investigation of Biden's son. House investigators released a cache of text messages provided by Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine who has stepped down.

In the messages, Volker encouraged an aide to Zelenskiy to conduct an investigation linked to Biden's family in exchange for getting the president a high-profile meeting to Washington with Trump.

Ryaboshapka insisted Friday he did not feel any pressure over the Burisma case.

"Not a single foreign or Ukrainian official or politician has called me or tried to influence my decisions regarding specific criminal cases," he said when asked if Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani or any other people had urged him to investigate Hunter Biden.

Analysts in Kyiv saw the remarks by Ryaboshapka and Zelenskiy as an attempt by the Ukrainian government to maintain good relations with Trump and avoid taking sides in a U.S. political dispute.

"Ryaboshapka's statements mean that the (criminal) cases are allegedly being investigated and Kyiv is open for cooperation with U.S. counterparts, but we shouldn't expect any tangible results of the probe until after the election in the U.S.," said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center think tank in Kyiv.

"Zelenskiy doesn't want to be involved in the U.S. political battles, but he's already in the game and has to be flexible."

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Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.