The Energy Company At The Center Of The Trump-Ukraine Controversy
NOEL KING, HOST:
Hunter Biden served for about five years on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. For part of that time, his father, Joe Biden, was the Obama administration's point man on Ukraine. That led President Trump to call for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens. And that is how we got to the impeachment inquiry.
NPR's Lucian Kim went to Kyiv to look into the Ukrainian company that Hunter Biden worked for.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Practically all of Ukraine's powerful businessmen have natural gas interests, and Mykola Zlochevsky is no exception. He founded the company Burisma. It grew into one of Ukraine's largest private natural gas producers whilst Zlochevsky served as Ukraine's environment minister in charge of handing out drilling licenses.
ALEXANDER PARASCHIY: Of course, during his time of being a minister, he had a lot of power. And he was able to consolidate some small companies which were producing natural gas.
KIM: That's Alexander Paraschiy, the chief of research at the Ukrainian investment bank Concorde Capital. After the bloody revolution on Kyiv's streets five years ago, Mykola Zlochevsky, like many other government officials, fled the country. Burisma was facing a money laundering investigation and questions over how it had obtained its licenses.
Again, Alexander Paraschiy.
PARASCHIY: Hiring some reputable guys with recognition in the world is one of the easiest and maybe cheapest ways to protect your business in Ukraine.
KIM: Burisma appointed Hunter Biden, son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, to its board of directors. A former president of Poland also joined the board.
DARIA KALENIUK: I believe the only reason Burisma and Zlochevsky were inviting people with such names was to whitewash their reputation and to present themselves as the company which is doing legitimate business in Ukraine.
KIM: Daria Kaleniuk is the head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, an advocacy group in Kyiv.
KALENIUK: I haven't seen any evidence of Hunter Biden doing something illegal in Ukraine or outside of Ukraine. I think what he did was unethical, for sure.
KIM: In other words, the appearance of a conflict of interest arose because Hunter Biden's father, Joe Biden, was responsible for U.S. policy on Ukraine as vice president. But Joe Biden, like many other Western leaders, was criticizing Ukraine exactly because it failed to convict a single high-level official for corruption, including Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma.
As for Burisma, the company has continued to try burnishing its reputation. In 2017, it added another American to its board, Cofer Black, a former CIA official and a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KIM: In a promotional video, Burisma presents itself as a company on the rise.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Burisma is striving to become an active market player across Europe, as well as worldwide, and to stand out by virtue of its value and experience.
KIM: But for a company with global ambitions, it's hardly transparent. Burisma is registered in Cyprus, keeps a low profile in Kyiv and has ignored NPR's repeated requests for comment. Nobody knows where its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, lives. But behind the scenes, he's continuing to buy influence.
Burisma supports the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, and hosts an annual energy conference on the French Riviera attended by the prince of Monaco and former European and U.S. government officials. Hunter Biden, for one, no longer works at Burisma. He left the company earlier this year as his father was launching his presidential campaign.
Lucian Kim, NPR News, Kyiv.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEP MAPS' "BIOLOGIC TRUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.