Lev Parnas once introduced himself in TV interviews and through an unorthodox propaganda campaign by his lawyer as a man who could expose corruption in the Trump administration over his behavior in Ukraine.
Less than two years later and with less fanfare, the 49-year-old is on trial in a federal case that makes him a more general grifter than a whistleblower who would bring down former presidents Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani.
Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday in a trial that accused Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman, and a co-defendant, Ukraine-born investor Andrey Kukushkin, for making illegal campaign contributions to US politicians to further their business. has been accused of. interests.
Parnas and another Soviet-born Florida businessman who has already pleaded guilty in the case, Igor Fruman, initially attracted the attention of journalists and investigators after making large donations through a corporate entity to Republican political committees, including in 2018. A $325,000 donation to America First Action was also included. , a super PAC supporting Trump.
The pair became middlemen in Giuliani’s attempt to discredit then-candidate Joe Biden. He linked Giuliani with Ukrainian officials as the former New York City mayor tried to get that country to launch an investigation into the future president’s son, Hunter. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian tycoon and officials sought Giuliani’s help to join the Trump administration.
Federal prosecutors in New York City, however, have made it clear that anyone seeking a trial to deliver new, damaging information about Trump or Giuliani would be disappointed.
He told US District Judge Paul Oetken last week that when jurors would hear about how Parnas and Fruman shared their influence as international fixers by sharing photos of themselves with Trump and Giuliani, the Republican former president and his former personal lawyer tried to avoid. came out very peripherally in the test”.
Prosecutors have also quietly dropped one of the most intriguing allegations in the original indictment: that Parnas and Fruman had coerced American politicians into the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Mary L. Yovanovitch, who later became a central figure in the impeachment proceedings against Trump.
When the charges were announced in 2019, then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman highlighted Yovanovitch’s allegations, saying the defendants “not only pursued their own financial interests but also the political interests of at least one foreign official.” sought political influence to advance interests – a Ukrainian government official who sought the sacking of the US ambassador to Ukraine.”
Prosecutors later wrote to the judge that the charge was dropped from a revised indictment in an attempt to “streamline” the case, but did not provide any further explanation.
Giuliani has said he was not aware of any illegal campaign contributions and has not been charged in the case, although his work in Ukraine remains the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Federal agents searched Giuliani’s New York City home and office last April, removing computers and phones as part of an inquiry into whether certain jobs required him to register as a foreign agent. Giuliani has said that his only client was Trump.
With Ukraine’s allegations gone, the trial is expected to focus on allegations that Parnas exceeded limits on personal campaign contributions by concealing the origin of the money. Political committees aimed at supporting US Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Republican running for Congress were among those that received donations.
Part of the case alleges that Parnas and Kukushkin were straw donors to Andrey Muraviev, a wealthy Russian investor in the growing legal marijuana market in the United States.
The indictment alleges that Muraviev invested $1 million in donations to politicians in several states, including Nevada, where the group was hoping to enter the legal marijuana business.
Prosecutors have not alleged that the politicians who received the money knew it came from restricted sources. Muraviev has also not been charged.
The defense is expected to portray Parnas as an investor trying to develop legalized marijuana and other business ventures, including an energy company, Global Energy Producers, that would be involved in the export of natural gas to Europe.
Defense attorney Joseph Bondi wrote in a court filing that he and Fruman were seeking connections “that could advance their nascent energy business interests.” He said $1 million from Muraviev went to Fruman — not Parnas — and was a personal loan, created in the wake of the Nevada cannabis venture.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Kukushkin’s lawyer on Monday. Parnas’s co-defendant is a San Francisco-based entrepreneur with longstanding ties to several legal marijuana businesses in California.
Another defendant in the case, David Correa, pleaded guilty to charges of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The conspiracy count pertained to an allegation that he defrauded investors in an insurance company that paid Giuliani a $500,000 consulting fee.
Unlike Fruman, who stayed out of the limelight and recently pleaded guilty to soliciting illegal campaign contributions, Parnas sought a starring role in Trump’s first impeachment by providing his personal records to congressional investigators.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Igor Fruman