Federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating Rudy Giuliani are seeking to interview people with knowledge of Ukraine’s state-run oil-and-gas company, Naftogaz, according to two people familiar with the matter, suggesting investigators have opened a line of inquiry into whether Giuliani and his associates sought to secure energy deals by asserting influence on the company.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have contacted people associated with the company in recent weeks, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for SDNY declined to comment. There is no indication of wrongdoing by Naftogaz.
Naftogaz stands at the center of an effort by Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and their purported natural-gas company, Global Energy Producers, to replace Naftogaz’s chief executive officer with someone who would be more beneficial to their own business interests earlier this year.
They pursued that outcome, CNN has reported, around the same time they were working with Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, to encourage Ukranian officials to investigate Trump’s political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. They were also actively pushing to have the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, removed.
An American energy consultant who operates in Ukraine, Dale Perry, described the efforts to oust Naftogaz’s CEO, Andriy Kobolyev, who is known for his anti-corruption reforms at the company. At an energy conference in Houston last March, Parnas and Fruman asked a senior Naftogaz executive Andrew Favorov if he would go along with their plan to oust the company’s current CEO and become its head, according to Perry, who is Favorov’s former business partner.
“(Parnas and Fruman) basically just flat out said to him, hey, to do the deals we want to do, we were not able to get through to your CEO, and we think that the business needs a new CEO,” Perry told CNN.
Parnas and Fruman also told Favorov that Trump would soon replace the then-US ambassador to Ukraine, and that an ambassador more amenable to their energy-business interest would be appointed, according to Perry.
“What they said was, not that we can, but they are removing her, and that has already been agreed at the highest level of the US government,” Perry said.
Giuliani also pushed for the removal of Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post in May. Giuliani has maintained he’s acted appropriately in the interests of his client, President Donald Trump.
Perry believes Parnas and Fruman, who have no prior experience in the gas business, may have had assistance from indicted Ukranian oligarch Dmitri Firtash, who made his fortune being the intermediary between Naftogaz and Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy corporation. The two men mentioned Firtash in their meeting with Favorov, according to Perry, saying Firtash believed Naftogaz owed him money. Firtash has been fighting extradition into the United States since he was indicted on bribery charges in 2013. Firtash’s spokesperson told CNN Parnas was just a translator for Firtash, and the two have no business arrangement.
Two sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Perry’s description of the meeting between Parnas, Fruman and Favorov was accurate. The Associated Press first reported the details of that meeting. An attorney for Fruman declined to comment, an attorney for Parnas did not reply to a request for comment.
As they pursue interviews with associates of Naftogaz, prosecutors in New York are also investigating Giuliani’s ties to Global Energy Producers, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Wall Street Journal first reported prosecutors’ examination of whether Giuliani stood to personally profit from GEP.
Robert Costello, an attorney for Giuliani, told CNN, “Mr. Giuliani had no interest in GEP at anytime. This is quite simply a false story and I am sure counsel for Mr. Fruman will say the same thing. Someone is spending a lot of time and imagination dreaming up one false story after another.”
Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani’s activities have been raised multiple times in Congressional testimony in the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser, said an American member of Naftogaz’s board told her in May that a number of Ukrainians had complained to him about Giuliani discussing investigations and pushing to change the board of Naftogaz.
Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, testified before congress that the board member was aware of effort by Giuliani to “facilitate financial transactions.”
Parnas and Fruman told Ukranian officials that Giuliani was involved in their liquified natural gas venture, according to Kenneth McCallion, a former federal prosecutor who has represented Ukrainians, including Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, he said learned of the natural gas plan.
McCallion added that they mentioned Giuliani in order to lend credibility to the project.
“It’s really not just about the Bidens,” McCallion said of their interactions with Ukrainian officials. “It’s really about the money.”
Prosecutors’ interest Naftogaz indicates they may be conducting an examination far beyond the campaign-finance scheme with which they charged Parnas and Fruman in October. Along with two other men, Parnas and Fruman were indicted for allegedly funneling foreign donations to US political campaigns.
As part of that scheme, prosecutors said, the two created Global Energy Producers and used it to donate $325,000 to a political action committee, America First Action, which supports President Donald Trump. Prosecutors allege Parnas and Fruman used the company to hide the source of their donation.
At the time of the donation in May 2018, according to the indictment, “GEP had not engaged in the [liquified natural gas] business, and had no income or significant assets.”
Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty.
Naftogaz did not respond to questions for this article, but a spokesperson previously told CNN Naftogaz has met with potential suppliers of liquified natural gas, and as part of that effort met with Parnas and Fruman. A non-profit media organization, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, reported that Parnas and Fruman met with Naftogaz in May.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately reflect when the energy conference Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman attended took place. It was last March.