'These allegations are shocking': Trump allies plotted to oust Ukraine gas company’s CEO so they could profit, reports say

‘There is absolutely no proof that I did it, because I didn’t do it,’ says Rudy Giuliani

Zamira Rahim
Monday 07 October 2019 10:13
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Rudy Giuliani reads texts suggesting Kurt Volker and the state department were 'all over him' to get involved with Ukraine

A group of wealthy Republican Party donors reportedly tried to install a new CEO at Ukraine’s state gas company, while touting their connections to the Trump administration and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

The businessmen hoped to personally profit from a change of management, by striking a deal with the company.

Rick Perry, the US energy secretary, also tried to engineer a change in board members at Naftogaz, the multibillion-dollar corporation.

The revelations will raise further questions over the White House’s role in the former Soviet republic.

House Democrats have subpoenaed Mr Guiliani for documents related to many of the individuals involved, as part of an impeachment probe into the president.

“Allegations in this story are shocking,” Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two property entrepreneurs based in Florida, were at the centre of the group of donors.

The two have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans and to organisations supporting the president.

Harry Sargeant III, a third businessman and donor from Florida, was also part of the effort, which occurred in spring 2019 as Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

In March 2019 the three men reportedly plotted to replace Andriy Kobolyev, the company’s CEO, with Andrew Favorov, another executive at the firm.

The plan was outlined in a document summarising the meeting, which was submitted to the US embassy in Kyiv.

The businessmen planned to ship 100 tankers a year of US liquefied gas to Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor.

They approached Mr Favorov with the proposal, while he was attending a conference in Texas.

Mr Sargeant told the executive that he regularly met with the president at Mar-a-Lago and that the plan had Donald Trump’s full support.

Lev Parnas allegedly told Mr Favorov that the president planned to oust Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine.

He reportedly said she would be replaced with someone more open to aiding the group’s business interests.

Mr Trump recalled Ms Yovanovitch from her post weeks later, in May 2019.

Andrew Favorov reportedly felt the meeting was a shakedown or threat, according to his former business partner.

Around two weeks later, Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s lawyer, met with Mr Parnas in Washington on 24 March 2019.

They also met with Healy E Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign adviser who now works in the energy sector.

The three were meeting to make a business pitch to a potential investor involving gas deals in the former Soviet bloc.

Mr Giuliani denied the pitch was linked to Ukraine.

“I have not pursued a deal in the Ukraine. I don’t know about a deal in the Ukraine. I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously,” he said.

“There is absolutely no proof that I did it, because I didn’t do it.”

The lawyer refused to discuss the details of his business dealings.

He also refused to answer questions about whether he helped his allies try to forge gas sales contracts with Naftogaz.

Ms Baumgardner has denied she has any business dealings in Ukraine.

She also refused to say whether replacing the US ambassador was discussed at the pitch meeting.

Eventually the group’s plans were derailed after Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, lost his re-election bid.

Rick Perry, the US Energy Secretary, travelled to Kyiv in May, for Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration.

He pressed the new president to fire members of Naftogaz’s advisory board.

At one meeting, he made clear that the White House wanted the entire supervisory board replaced.

The board is supposed to be selected by the Ukrainian president’s cabinet, in consultation with organisations including the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

Some officials thought Mr Perry’s request was undermining the official process.

One source, speaking to the Associated Press, said he was surprised by the meeting as he had always thought of the US government “as having a higher ethical standard.”​

“What [Mr Perry] did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” a US Energy Department spokesperson said on Saturday.

“That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”

Mr Favroov declined to comment on the story. Harry Sargeant III did not respond to requests for comment.

A lawyer for Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman said Naftogaz executives had approached his clients about a deal, instead of the other way around.

“The people from the company solicited my clients because Igor is in the gas business, and they asked them, and they flew to Washington and they solicited,” said John Dowd.

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“They sat down and talked about it. And then it was presented to Secretary Perry to see if they could get it together.

“It wasn’t a shakedown; it was an attempt to do legitimate business that didn’t work out.”

It is unclear if Mr Perry’s efforts to replace Naftogaz’s board were linked to the businessmen’s efforts in pushing for a change in CEO.

There are no allegations of criminal activity and it is unclear what role Mr Giuliani had in trying to secure a deal.

Democrats are closely scrutinising the White House’s links to Ukraine, after the president called on the country to investigate Joe Biden, the Democratic 2020 frontrunner.

The latest allegations will increase fears about the Trump administration’s behaviour regarding the country.

On Thursday the Wall Street Journal reported that the president ordered the removal of Ms Yovanovitch from her post following complaints from Rudy Giuliani and allies outside the Trump administration.

Ms Yovanovitch was accused by the president’s lawyer, with no evidence, of trying to block efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

The former ambassador will testify before congress on 11 October.

Additional reporting by agencies

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