Trump al­lies pressed Ukraine

Sources say group sought prof­its from state firm

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Des­mond But­ler, Michael Biesecker and Richard Lardner

As Rudy Gi­u­liani was push­ing Ukrainian of­fi­cials to in­ves­ti­gate one of Trump’s main po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, a group of in­di­vid­u­als with ties to the pres­i­dent and his per­sonal lawyer was try­ing to in­stall new man­age­ment at the top of Ukraine’s state gas com­pany, sources say.

KYIV, Ukraine — As Rudy Gi­u­liani was push­ing Ukrainian of­fi­cials last spring to in­ves­ti­gate one of Don­ald Trump’s main po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, a group of in­di­vid­u­als with ties to the pres­i­dent and his per­sonal lawyer were also ac­tive in the for­mer Soviet repub­lic.

Their aims were profit, not pol­i­tics. This cir­cle of busi­ness­men and Repub­li­can donors touted con­nec­tions to Gi­u­liani and Trump while try­ing to in­stall new man­age­ment at the top of Ukraine’s mas­sive state gas com­pany. Their plan was to then steer lu­cra­tive con­tracts to com­pa­nies con­trolled by Trump al­lies, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple with knowl­edge of their plans.

Their plan hit a snag af­ter Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko lost his re­elec­tion bid to Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, whose con­ver­sa­tion with Trump about for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den is now at the cen­ter of the House im­peach­ment in­quiry of Trump.

But the ef­fort to in­stall a friend­lier man­age­ment team at the helm of the gas com­pany, Naftogaz, would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new pres­i­dent by U.S. En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry, whose slate of can­di­dates in­cluded a fel­low Texan who is one of Perry’s past po­lit­i­cal donors.

It’s un­clear if Perry’s at­tempts to re­place board mem­bers at Naftogaz were co­or­di­nated with the Gi­u­liani al­lies push­ing for a sim­i­lar out­come, and no one has al­leged that there is crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity in any of these ef­forts. And it’s un­clear what role, if any, Gi­u­liani had in help­ing his clients push to get gas sales agree­ments with the state-owned com­pany.

A spokes­woman for the U.S. En­ergy Depart­ment said Perry, a for­mer Texas gov­er­nor and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, was not ad­vanc­ing any­one’s per­sonal in­ter­ests. She said his con­ver­sa­tions with Ukrainian of­fi­cials about Naftogaz were part of his ef­forts to re­form the coun­try’s en­ergy sec­tor and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where Western com­pa­nies can do busi­ness.

The Trump and Gi­u­liani al­lies driv­ing the at­tempt to change the se­nior man­age­ment at Naftogaz, how­ever, ap­pear to have had in­side knowl­edge of the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s plans in Ukraine. For ex­am­ple, they told peo­ple that Trump would re­place the U.S. am­bas­sador there months be­fore she was ac­tu­ally re­called to Wash­ing­ton, ac­cord­ing to three of the in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­viewed by the AP. One of the in­di­vid­u­als said he was so con­cerned by the whole af­fair that he re­ported it to a U.S. Em­bassy of­fi­cial in Ukraine months ago.

At the cen­ter of the Naftogaz plan, ac­cord­ing to three in­di­vid­u­als fa­mil­iar with the de­tails, were Soviet-born Florida real es­tate en­trepreneur­s, Lev Par­nas and Igor Fru­man, and an oil mag­nate from Boca Ra­ton, Florida, named Harry Sargeant III.

Par­nas and Fru­man have made hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions to Re­pub­li­cans, in­clud­ing $325,000 to a Trump-al­lied po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee in 2018. This helped the rel­a­tively un­known en­trepreneur­s gain ac­cess to top lev­els of the Repub­li­can Party — in­clud­ing meet­ings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

The two have also faced law­suits from dis­grun­tled in­vestors over un­paid debts. Dur­ing the same pe­riod they were pur­su­ing the Naftogaz deal, the two were co­or­di­nat­ing with Gi­u­liani to set up meet­ings with Ukrainian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and push for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Bi­dens.

Sargeant, his wife and cor­po­rate en­ti­ties tied to the fam­ily have do­nated at least $1.2 mil­lion to Repub­li­can cam­paigns and PACs over the last 20 years, in­clud­ing $100,000 in June to the Trump Vic­tory Fund, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral and state cam­paign fi­nance records. He has also served as fi­nance chair of the Florida state GOP, and gave nearly $14,000 to Gi­u­liani’s failed 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

In early March, Fru­man, Par­nas and Sargeant were tout­ing a plan to re­place Naftogaz CEO An­driy Kobolyev with an­other se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at the com­pany, An­drew Fa­vorov, ac­cord­ing to two in­di­vid­u­als who spoke to the AP as well as a mem­o­ran­dum about the meet­ing that was later sub­mit­ted to the U.S. Em­bassy in Kiev.

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 gas­sales plan had the pres­i­dent’s full sup­port, ac­cord­ing to the two peo­ple who said Fa­vorov re­counted the dis­cus­sion to them.

These con­ver­sa­tions were re­counted to AP by Dale W. Perry, an Amer­i­can for­mer busi­ness part­ner of Fa­vorov. He told AP in an in­ter­view that Fa­vorov de­scribed the meet­ing to him soon af­ter it hap­pened and that Fa­vorov per­ceived it to be a shake­down. Perry, who is no re­la­tion to the en­ergy sec­re­tary, is the man­ag­ing part­ner of En­ergy Re­sources of Ukraine, which cur­rently has busi­ness agree­ments to im­port nat­u­ral gas and elec­tric­ity to Ukraine.

CHARLES KRUPA/AP 2018

A group tied to Pres­i­dent Trump and Rudy Gi­u­liani, above, sought new ex­ec­u­tives of Ukraine’s state gas com­pany.

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