It was one month after Ukraine’s bloody February 2014 revolution.
Federal prosecutors in Chicago unsealed a bizarre but pointed indictment against Dmitry Firtash, accusing the oligarch gas middleman of bribing Indian officials in a scheme to corner the market on material for the Boeing 787 supply chain.
At the same time, Hunter Biden had accepted an offer to take a seat on the board of a troubled Ukrainian gas firm called Burisma — raking in a hefty salary that, critics allege, was in exchange for his family name.
It wouldn’t have appeared so at the time, but these two disparate events — both sparked by Ukraine’s revolution — have come together in a way that may impact next year’s elections.
Firtash has been fighting a U.S. extradition request for five years, calling it politically motivated, and has begun to boost allegations against the Bidens as part of that campaign, hitching himself to the Trump train. He’s spent years wrapped up in his legal battles while stuck in the Austrian capital of Vienna, where he was located at the time the indictment dropped.
Bloomberg reported on Friday that Firtash had paid around $1 million for a dirt-digging project on the Bidens. American lawyers he hired with ties to Trumpworld reportedly hoped to transfer the information to Giuliani in exchange for the Justice Department dropping the case.
Firtash’s activities would appear to add another element to Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine: an indicted oligarch bankrolled at least part of the efforts to manufacture dirt on the Bidens, as Trump himself urged Ukraine’s president to investigate the same allegations.
Firtash — an oligarch who made his money as a middleman in the country’s gas trade with Russia — has long argued that the case was brought against him for political reasons, specifically saying that U.S. officials sought to wall him and his political influence off from Ukraine. Being extradited and tried in the U.S. could spell the end for his ability to maintain control over his business empire.
Thanks to his admitted association with Russian mafia grandaddy Semyon Mogilevich and to his lucrative position in the country’s gas trade with Russia, U.S. officials have long seen Firtash as a Russian cutout. (Firtash’s representatives denied the association with Mogilevich after it surfaced in U.S. diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks.) Locking him down in Vienna, Firtash’s argument goes, limited his influence in Ukraine at a time when Kyiv was increasingly looking toward the West.
But Firtash’s fight to shut down extradition has not been straightforward.
The U.S. has won a number of court cases to secure his removal. Firtash’s main victory in the multi-year fight came when one Austrian judge in 2015 briefly agreed with Firtash’s argument, saying that the case was “politically motivated and therefore extradition is inadmissible.”
But over the past year, the oligarch appears to have run out of options, with successive court decisions bringing him closer to extradition.
That appears to be where the Joe and Hunter Biden story becomes wrapped up with Fitash’s.
Earlier this year, a pro-Trump pair of TV lawyers named Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing began to conduct “opposition research” on the younger Biden’s activities in Ukraine.
In July, they also began working for Firtash’s legal team, according to Bloomberg.
The two were also initially reported to have been working with Giuliani’s effort to get Ukraine to manufacture opposition research on the Bidens. They were reportedly aided in that by two recently indicted associates of Giuliani’s: Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.
But according to a report in TIME and one Vienna-based research consultant who spoke to TPM, their work with Giuliani also came in support of Firtash’s legal defense.
The pair received a bevy of documents from Firtash’s legal team, which they then passed on to Giuliani. The Trump attorney then presented the information on Fox News, providing it with an entry route into the conservative news ecosystem.
One crucial document is an affidavit signed by Ukraine’s former general prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in which he repeats a debunked allegation that Joe Biden pressured Kyiv to remove Shokin from office. This, the now-familiar story goes, would prevent an investigation into Hunter Biden.
Shokin also says in the sworn statement that Biden used similarly illicit channels of pressure to prevent Firtash from returning to Ukraine. This statement provided a new way for the oligarch’s legal team to argue that he is a victim of undue U.S. political influence.
Specifically, Shokin alleged that Biden intervened in Firtash’s case in 2015 — after the Austrian court decision in Firtash’s his favor — to pressure Shokin to prevent Firtash from returning to Ukraine.
Once again, the facts don’t add up: Firtash had not even gotten his passport back from the Austrian government. The government successfully appealed that 2015 court decision, and Firtash remained in Vienna, unable to obtain an exit visa and awaiting extradition to Chicago.
There appear to be other ties between Giuliani’s campaign and Firtash as well. DiGenova and Toensing reportedly hired Parnas “as an interpreter in order to communicate with their client Mr. Firtash, who does not speak English.”
That work fell under the $1 million that Firtash paid for the dirt-digging effort, according to Bloomberg.
And Parnas, along with his fellow indictee Fruman, presented themselves to Ukrainian officials as acting on Firtash’s behalf, Dale Perry, an American businessman with interests in Ukraine who was told about their plans, told TPM.
Perry said that he heard from a Ukrainian official approached by the pair that they had said they wanted a new CEO installed at Ukraine’s state-owned oil and gas company in part because they “wanted to see that Firtash got paid,” a reference to a $200 million debt that the company allegedly owed the oligarch.
It’s unclear whether Parnas and Fruman were really acting as agents of the oligarch, or if this was an example of puffery to serve their own interests.