Federal prosecutors investigating associates of U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani have focused on a Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company, a move that suggests authorities are exploring whether a law prohibiting the payment of bribes to foreign officials has been violated.
The fresh line of inquiry has accelerated in recent weeks. New York federal prosecutors have interviewed two senior executives at Naftogaz, the Ukrainian state-run energy company, and requested interviews with at least two others who are believed to have some knowledge of the alleged scheme by Giuliani's associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to replace Naftogaz's chief executive in hopes of bettering their business prospects, as reported by CNN.
The questions connected to Naftogaz suggest prosecutors – who have been investigating Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani as part of a broad inquiry that includes potential foreign lobbying violations – are also looking at whether yet another law was violated, legal experts say. The law, called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, prohibits a U.S. company or individual from giving any payment, offer of payment or anything of value to a foreign official in order to obtain or retain business.
Parnas and Fruman were indicted in October on charges of violating campaign finance laws by funneling foreign money into U.S. elections and disguising the true source of other donations. Since then, prosecutors have pursued a broader case that includes questions about Giuliani's role, and prosecutors and FBI agents have interviewed political donors and fundraisers and subpoenaed others seeking any communications they've had with Giuliani about actual or potential business deals.
According to one grand jury subpoena issued as part of the inquiry, prosecutors are exploring whether laws including money laundering, undisclosed foreign lobbying, obstruction of justice and wire fraud may have been violated. Prosecutors said last week that additional charges are "likely." The Soviet-born American businessmen have pleaded not guilty.
In the case of Naftogaz, Parnas and Fruman approached a senior executive at the company and offered to make him CEO in hopes of drumming up business from Naftogaz for their newly created liquified natural gas operation.
While making their pitch to the senior executive, Andrew Favorov, he has said, the two touted their ties to Giuliani and suggested US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom they viewed as opposed to their interests, would soon be removed. Yovanovitch later lost her job at least in part as a result of a scheme conducted by Parnas and Fruman, according to prosecutors.
Favorov said he rejected the pitch. He and Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev have been interviewed by prosecutors, according to an attorney who represents both men.