A prominent member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian oil and gas conglomerate at the center of the impeachment inquiry, admitted on Friday that Hunter Biden was tapped to join the company because of his father’s political influence.
Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former president of Poland who joined Burisma’s board around the same time as the younger Biden, told the Associated Press it was normal for corporations to seek out well-connected figures for advisory positions. The former president admitted that both he and Hunter Biden secured their posts with Burisma, which at times paid as much as $83,000 per month, due to the influence afforded by their names.
“I understand that if someone asks me to be part of some project it’s not only because I’m so good, it’s also because I am Kwasniewski and I am a former president of Poland,” Kwasniewski said. “And this is all inter-connected. No-names are a nobody. Being Biden is not bad. It’s a good name.”
The former president proceeded to claim that Hunter Biden was an integral part of the board, despite having no background in the energy sector and never once visiting Ukraine during his five-year tenure with Burisma.
“He collected information,” Kwasniewski said, claiming Hunter Biden helped the company with corporate governance. “He was useful for us because he knew something that we didn’t know.”
Kwasniewski’s comments come as Burisma and it ties to Hunter Biden have taken center stage in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. The company became central to the proceedings when Trump suggested the Ukrainian government investigate how Hunter Biden was able to secure a seat on its board of directors in the first place.
Democrats claim the president’s suggestion amounted to asking a foreign power for dirt on a political opponent, which they argue is an impeachable offense. Trump and his allies, on the other hand, have countered that Hunter Biden’s appointment, coming around the same time former Vice President Joe Biden was tapped to lead Obama-era policy towards Ukraine, and his relative inexperience in the energy industry warrant investigation.
As Peter Schweizer, senior contributor at Breitbart News, detailed in his book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends, Hunter Biden’s background in investment banking, lobbying, and hedge fund management paled in comparison to that of current and past members of Burisma’s board.
Adding to concerns is the fact that at the time Hunter Biden joined Burisma, the company was seen as actively courting leaders in the West to prevent further scrutiny of its business practices. The same month Hunter Biden and Kwasniewski were tapped to join the group’s board, the government of Great Britain froze accounts belonging to Burisma’s founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, under suspicion of money laundering.
A Ukrainian official with strong ties to Zlochevsky admitted in October the only reason that Hunter Biden secured the appointment was to “protect” the company from foreign scrutiny. The claim has credence given that at the time, Joe Biden, as the sitting vice president, was tasked with leading the Obama administration’s policy towards Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
It is in the context of Burisma and Zlochevsky’s legal troubles that Joe Biden’s political influence has raised the most red flags. The former vice president has particularly drawn questions over his conduct in demanding the Ukrainian government fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016.
Joe Biden, who has publicly bragged about the firing, reportedly threatened to withhold more than one billion dollars in U.S. aid if the Ukrainian government did not remove Shokin. He has claimed the demand came from then-President Barack Obama, who had allegedly lost faith in the prosecutor’s ability to tackle corruption.
Unofficially, though, it was known that Shokin was investigating both Burisma and Zlochevsky for public corruption. It is uncertain if the probe extended to Hunter Biden, although Shokin has recently admitted that prior to his ouster, he was warned to back off the matter. Regardless of what occurred, Shokin’s successor, who is now himself being investigated for public corruption, dropped the investigation into Burisma and Zlochevsky.
Since the start of the impeachment inquiry, the Ukrainian government has reopened its case into Zlochevsky, this time broadening the investigation to include public corruption and embezzlement. Even if the Ukrainian government or U.S. law enforcement is unable to prove Zlochevsky and the Bidens acted inappropriately, comments like those by Kwasniewski will continue to create negative public perception around the matter.
Hunter Biden himself has not helped the situation, especially when he admitted during an ABC News interview in October that his father’s political influence was the likely reason for his appointment to Burisma’s board.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably not, in retrospect,” the younger Biden said when asked if he would have been tapped for the lucrative job had his father not been the sitting vice president. He quickly added, though, that his family’s political prominence had always played a large role in his dealings. “But that’s—you know—I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden.”