Trump Donors, Allies Accused of Engaging in ‘Shakedown’ of Ukrainian Natural Gas Co. — with Giuliani’s Help

Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, 2016

Three mega-donors to President Donald Trump are accused of mounting a “shakedown” against the Ukrainian national gas company Naftogaz. This effort was reportedly buoyed by intimate and detailed inside information about U.S. foreign policy in the Ukraine.

According to a lengthy exposé from the Associated Press, three businessmen from Florida engineered the plot with the aid of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani–who may have provided the men with information that a key and long-serving U.S. diplomat working in the Ukraine was on her way out the door.

The men in question are award-winning pro-Israel philanthropists and real estate investors Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and Harry Sargeant III, a billionaire oil magnate. All three are staunch Republicans who have made massive donations to President Trump.

An OpenSecrets investigation from September notes:

[Parnas and Fruman] served as executives of a mysterious limited-liability company called Global Energy Producers LLC that was disclosed as the source of a $325,000 contribution to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. The Soviet-born businessmen personally met with Trump in a closed-door meeting just weeks before the date of the six-figure wire transfer was made to the pro-Trump super PAC.

Sargeant and his wife have been even more dedicated members of the cause–contributing some $1.2 million to Republican candidates and PACs over the past two decades. Their latest infusion into the realm of conservative politics was made in June of this year: $100,000 to the Trump Victory joint fundraising committee which shares political campaign cash between Trump’s re-election effort, GOP state parties and the Republican National Committee (RNC).

A lawyer for Sargeant has disputed media reports about his client.

Christopher Kise of Foley & Lardner LLP said that news stories have “unfairly and inaccurately portray[ed] Mr. Sargeant as having involvement in Ukraine business affairs.”

“Mr. Sargeant conducts no business of any kind in the Ukraine and has not visited Ukraine, even as a tourist, in well over a decade. Attending a single, informal dinner in Houston does not place Mr. Sargeant at the center of any Naftogaz or Ukrainian business plan,” Kise said. “In March 2019, while attending the CERAWeek 2019 conference in Houston, Texas, one of the largest energy industry trade events in the world, Mr. Sargeant was asked to attend an informal dinner with Andrew FavorovIgor Fruman, and Lev Parnas, and to offer his views on the global oil and gas industry.”

The rest of the statement:

Mr. Sargeant never discussed any role or participation in any Ukraine venture, nor any specifics regarding the potential business ventures of the other dinner participants. At the dinner, Mr. Sargeant simply provided broad industry guidance and his expert view on the challenges presented by operating in foreign markets.

Notably absent from this dinner was the media’s alleged “source,” Dale Perry. Indeed, Mr. Sargeant has never even met with or spoken to Mr. Perry. Unfortunately, however, the media has seized on the uncorroborated statements of Mr. Perry, who may well be generating stories to discredit his competitors and advance his own interests in the Ukraine. Whatever his motivation, one thing remains clear, Harry Sargeant has nothing to do with Ukrainian businesses.

Finally, Mr. Sargeant is not a member of Mar-a-Lago and has never met there with Donald Trump since Mr. Trump has been President.

In March of this year, the three Florida Republicans reportedly discussed a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with the company’s chairman Andrew Favorov. This plan was relayed to the AP by way of two anonymous sources–but were also memorialized in a memorandum about a meeting held to discuss that plan. Said memo is on file at the U.S. Embassy in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Here’s how that alleged shakedown played out. Per the AP report:

The three approached Favorov with the idea while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas. Parnas and Fruman told him they had flown in from Florida on a private jet to recruit him to be their partner in a new venture to export up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor, according to two people briefed on the details.

Sargeant told Favorov that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president’s full support, according to the two people who said Favorov recounted the discussion to them.

Favorov was apparently blindsided by the suggestion that he somehow supplant his own boss at the Ukrainian national gas company.

Dale W. Perry is a friend and former business partner of Favorov who works in the Ukraine energy sector. In an interview with the AP, Perry said that “Favorov described the meeting to him soon after it happened and that Favorov perceived it to be a shakedown.”

And that’s not all. This alleged shakedown not only had the official imprimatur of the Trump White House–it was allegedly being aided by the President and his personal hatchet men.

Again the AP report: “According to Dale Perry and [a second anonymous source], Favorov said Parnas told him Trump planned to remove U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and replace her with someone more open to aiding their business interests.”

Two months later, Yovanovitch was personally recalled by Trump. Giuliani has repeatedly said he played a key role in the career diplomat’s ouster–telling the Wall Street Journal he convinced the 45th president Yovanovitch harbored “anti-Trump bias.”

“The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced,” the former New York City mayor told the AP. “I did play a role in that.” Yovanovitch was mentioned on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump called her “bad news.”

Giuliani refused to answer questions as to whether he provided the Florida trio with inside information on Yovanovitch’s firing months ahead of time. But Sargeant is one of his noted friends. And Parnas and Fruman are two of his clients, according to Giuliani himself.

Unclear is the role played by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Trump has attempted to pass the Ukrainian hryvnia, so to speak, to Perry–essentially blaming his own appointee for the impeachment-inciting whistleblower scandal that’s still raging inside his White House. Perry’s role is that of a glorified and tax-payer-funded promoter of American petro interests–and since the Barack Obama administration, U.S. business and foreign policy interests have sought to wean the former Soviet republic off of Russian hydrocarbons.

But Perry insists he did everything aboveboard when he attempted to force Naftogaz to axe their entire executive staff during a series of recent meetings in the Ukraine. That was just his concern about corruption, he says.

The implication–authored by Trump–that Perry prompted the president to ask about re-opening the long-dormant inquiry into a Ukrainian gas company formerly associated with Joe Biden‘s son Hunter Biden was recently dismissed out of hand by the former Texas governor.

“This has been a very intense, a very focused push to get Ukraine to clean up the corruption,” Perry told the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday. “I can’t go in good faith and tell a U.S. company, go and invest here, go and be involved if the corruption is ongoing.”

Editor’s note: this story was updated post-publication with a statement from Harry Sargeant’s lawyer.

[Image via DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images]

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