Two foreign-born Florida businessmen who have been helping President Donald Trump's personal lawyer investigate political rival Joe Biden have been arrested on charges of funneling foreign money to USA political candidates and a pro-Trump election committee, authorities said on Thursday.
The charges relate to a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump's reelection.
The two Giuliani-linked defendants, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were detained at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington on Wednesday and are scheduled to appear in court in Virginia at 2 p.m. ET Thursday. No destination was disclosed.
According to the indictment unsealed in New York, Parnas, Fruman and other defendants "conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates' governments".
Thursday's charges are not directly connected to the impeachment inquiry.
"The defendants broke the law to gain political influence, while avoiding disclosure of who was actually making the donations and where the money was coming from", Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, told reporters Thursday.
"We have nothing to do with it", Trump said.
The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, reportedly helped Giuliani in his efforts to investigate the origin of the Russian Federation investigation. But wire transfer records that became public through a lawsuit show that the corporate entity reported as making the transaction was not the true source of the money.
The House last month sent letters to Mr Parnas and Mr Fruman asking them for testimony and documents related to their efforts to assist Mr Giuliani in investigating the Bidens but they did not respond and were subpoenaed on Thursday.
The pair were accused of funneling foreign funds to United States political campaigns, including $325,000 which went to a fundraising committee for Trump's 2020 reelection. Attorney General Bill Barr has been "aware and supportive" of SDNY officials and knew that both men would be arrested and charged Wednesday, a senior Justice Department official told Fox News.
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Parnas and Fruman appeared in court Thursday and were ordered to remain jailed as a bail package was worked out.
Though Giuliani has identified the men as "clients", Parnas and Fruman have hired Trump's former attorney John Dowd to represent them.
Correia and Andrew Kukushkin, a Ukrainian-born US citizen, were also charged in the case. Various news outlets previously reported that the pair were attempting to flee the country.
Parnas and Fruman, the defendants, made additional contributions to federal candidates, joint fundraising committees, and independent expenditure committees that either (i) were intentionally funneled through, and made in the name of, a limited liability corporation to hide that Parnas and Fruman were the true source of contributions and skirt the federal reporting requirements; or (ii) were reported in Parnas's name but were funded by Fruman, which allowed Fruman to exceed limits on contributions to candidates or committees to whom he had previously contributed. To advance their efforts, they "made a $325,000 contribution to an independent expenditure committee and a $15,000 to a second such committee".
The commitment to raise more than $20,000 for the congressman was made in May and June 2018.
"Parnas's efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials", it said. Among other things, the complainant alleged that the president abused his power to "solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 USA election" during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Sessions defended himself against any accusations of wrongdoing in a statement released hours after the indictment.
To a prosecutor's eye, this really looks increasingly like one big scheme, overseen by Trump and Giuliani, to obtain illegal assistance from Ukraine in the 2020 election.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Parnas and Fruman are Trump donors who somehow became aware of key USA foreign policy plans months in advance. They four also accused of also taking steps to evade contribution limits on political donations by using straw donors. Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for the super PAC, has declined to comment on "ongoing legal matters".
Giuliani is a key figure in House Democrats' investigation for his coordination of meetings with Ukrainian officials for Trump. That conversation is now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.