Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said on Friday that his office is reviewing several cases related to the owner of a gas company where former Vice-President Joe Biden’s son sat on the board, as part of a review of all the criminal cases closed by his predecessors.
U.S. President Donald Trump had pressed for such a review in a phone call with Ukraine’s new leader, a “favour” that now has led the U.S. Congress to begin an impeachment inquiry. Ruslan Ryaboshapka’s statement shows that Kyiv is under an increasing pressure to react to Trump’s overtures, analysts say.
Ryaboshapka told reporters in Kyiv that prosecutors are “auditing” all the cases that were closed or dismissed by former prosecutors, including several related to Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of the gas company Burisma that hired Hunter Biden in 2014, at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv.
Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice-president or his son.
“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, Ryaboshapka said: “I have no such information.”
On a trip in the city of Zhytomyr, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, when asked by The Associated Press about Trump’s comment that the U.S. has an “absolute right” to ask foreign leaders to investigate corruption cases, Zelenskiy said that Ukraine is “open” and that all the cases under investigation are “transparent.”
Ryaboshapka and Zelenskiy’s remarks came a day after House investigators released a cache of text messages provided by Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine who stepped down amid the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Volker in the messages encouraged Zelenskiy’s aide to conduct an investigation linked to Biden’s family in return for a high-profile visit to Washington with President Donald Trump.
The Prosecutor General’s Office in a statement issued after Ryaboshapka’s briefing said that among the cases they are reviewing, there are 15 where Burisma’s owner Zlochevsky is mentioned. None of the Zlochevsky-related cases has been revived yet, they said.
They did not specify how many, if any, were related to Hunter Biden’s work at Burisma.
Ryaboshapka was mentioned in the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, who assured Trump that Ryaboshapka was “his man” and that he would resume investigations into Burisma.
The prosecutor general insisted on Friday that 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.
A whistleblower last month revealed that Trump in a phone call asked Zelenskiy to resume the probe into Joe Biden and his son. The July 25 call has since triggered an impeachment inquiry against Trump.
Analysts in Kyiv saw Ryaboshapka and Zelenskiy’s remarks as a sign that the Ukrainian government is trying to stay in Trump’s good graces, but not necessarily to dig up the dirt on his Democratic rival.
“Ryaboshapka’s statements mean that the (criminal) cases are allegedly being investigated and Kyiv is open for co-operation 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.”