By Jan Wolfe
(Reuters) - Two foreign-born businessmen associated with U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been arrested on federal charges that they conspired to funnel foreign money to U.S. political candidates, authorities said on Thursday.
Giuliani has said the businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, had been helping him as he sought to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender in the 2020 presidential election.
John Dowd, a lawyer for Parnas and Fruman declined comment. Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the president, said neither the president nor his campaign was aware of the alleged scheme.
The following lays out some of the allegations against Parnas, a Ukrainian-born businessman, and Fruman, a real estate investor originally from Belarus.
- Federal prosecutors in Manhattan allege that beginning in 2018 Parnas and Fruman orchestrated illegal donations to political candidates, including a $325,000 contribution to a political action committee. The committee's name was not listed in the indictment, but it has been identified as America First Action, a group that supports pro-Trump political candidates.
- According to the indictment, Parnas and Fruman engaged in the scheme so that they could buy potential influence with politicians and advance their personal financial interests.
- In disclosure forms submitted to the U.S. Federal Election Commission, Parnas and Fruman listed the $325,000 contribution to the pro-Trump group as coming from a business called Global Energy Producers (GEP). Prosecutors say GEP was a shell company with "no real business."
- Parnas and Fruman deliberately made the contributions in GEP's name to "hide from creditors that they had access to funding, and to conceal from the public and the FEC their involvement in making these contributions," according to the indictment.
- In addition to the $325,00 donation, Parnas and Fruman are accused of funneling straw donations to other political candidates.
- Prosecutors also said Parnas and Fruman sought the help of a then-sitting congressman to get the U.S. government to remove the then-ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. The indictment says the efforts were conducted at least in part at the request of at least one Ukrainian government officials.
- Parnas and Fruman are accused of criminal violations of laws that promote transparency in U.S. elections, as well as conspiracy to defraud the United States.
- Parnas and Fruman are expected to appear in a federal court in Virginia later on Thursday. The two men had been planning to fly to Vienna on Wednesday night, according to a source familiar with the matter.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Frances Kerry)