Two highly-placed executives at Ukraine’s state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz recently spoke with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into President Donald Trump‘s longtime friend and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev and second-in-command/chairman Andrew Favorov confirmed that they “spoke voluntarily with U.S. prosecutors in recent weeks” but “declined to comment on these discussions.”
Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether Giuliani committed federal campaign finance and federal lobbying violations via his work with and for Ukrainian-Floridians Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman as the duo traveled around Ukraine chasing down dirt on former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani also unsuccessfully banded together in order to secure sweetheart business deals based on the truth or perception of political influence within the serially corrupt Trump administration. Toward that end, the three covertly worked to have Kobolyev replaced at Naftogaz with someone more open to graft.
That someone, however, was a misplaced mark. The Soviet-born Giuliani clients allegedly conspired with U.S. oil and gas oligarch Harry Sargeant III to replace Kobolyev with Kobolyev’s old-time close associate, “friend, poker partner and neighbor” Favorov.
Those severely misplaced efforts–later described as a “shakedown” by a mutual acquaintance of Favorov’s and Kobelyev’s–were conducted at 2019 CERAWeek, a massive petrochemical industry confab held in Houston, Texas during early March of this year.
An exposé by the Associated Press detailed that failed palace coup:
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.
Sargeant, through an attorney, has denied the allegations.
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 Favorov, Igor Fruman, and Lev Parnas, and to offer his views on the global oil and gas industry.”
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.
Favorov apparently knew Fruman from his booze-filled halcyon days–but didn’t consider the Floridian a mover-and-shaker in the dicey world of hydrocarbon-focused commerce and influence-peddling.
The WSJ reports notes:
When Mr. Fruman first got in touch, Mr. Favorov said he blew him off. He knew Mr. Fruman from nights out in Odessa—“a good guy to do shots with”—not as an energy businessman…
Still, Favorov took the meeting, thinking it legitimately had something to do with improving Ukraine’s oil and gas situation in general and that it might benefit his work to eradicate corruption from Naftogaz in particular. Instead, more or less the opposite happened after Sergeant stepped away from the circle.
Again, the Journal:
Messrs. Fruman and Parnas touted their U.S. political connections, showing off photographs with Messrs. Trump and Giuliani. Mr. Favorov says Mr. Parnas told him: “We meet with [Mr. Trump] in his property in Florida. We meet with him in the White House. And you know my buddy, my close friend Rudy, he talks to him every day.”
In that March conversation, Messrs. Fruman and Parnas described their interest in brokering an LNG deal with Ukraine. They told him that then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch would soon be removed, as would Mr. Kobolyev. They asked if Mr. Favorov wanted to be “our guy” at Naftogaz.
Favorov told the WSJ that he was “shocked” by the alleged shakedown attempt and that Yovanovitch had worked with him and Kobolyev at rooting out corruption and securing compliance with international standards at Naftogaz. He reportedly dismissed the Fruman and Parnas offer as “hapless opportunism.”
Back in his hotel room on the outskirts of that energy conference, Favorov dished on the would-be backstabbing to Kobolyev himself. He later gave Fruman and Parnas the answer they didn’t want to hear.
But it was already too late for Yovanovitch by then. The Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani plot had been put into action.
The career diplomat and-then ambassador was ousted in late May.
“I’m in the shit now,” Favorov told himself when her learned her fate.
Giuliani, apparently unable to help himself or contain his glee at having secured half of the bag, would boast of his key role in Yovanovich’s fall–telling the WSJ that a few well-timed-and-placed whispers were instrumental in having her removed unceremoniously from her post ahead of schedule. During that initial interview, he claimed to have convinced the 45th president that Yovanovitch harbored “anti-Trump bias.”
Earlier this month, Giuliani would pump liquefied natural gas into an already raging inferno–confirming to Fox News host Laura Ingraham that he “forced her out” of her position and making baseless claims about Yovanovitch’s alleged corruption. But that widely-panned interview was actually an attempt at damage control.
That same day in mid-December, Giuliani gave The New Yorker an even more stark admission of culpability–and apparently premised on the threat she posed to his own personal interests.
“I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way,” the former mayor of New York said. “She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.”
Those investigations were, of course, the alleged quid pro quo requested by Trump from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky–the focal point of the constitutional humiliation exacted upon the one-time New York real estate magnate by Congress via the historic impeachment process.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Kobolyev previewed his eventual cooperation with the SDNY probe in late November.
“Everything is connected,” the CEO said of his testimony–noting he had pertinent information on “both” the Giuliani side of the equation and the shadowy work done by Parnas and Fruman in the Ukraine in preparation for those deceit-cloaked deals that just didn’t pan out.
And all those corrupt-tinged roads may lead back to the White House itself.
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]