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Viral Headlines Wrongly Report Indictment in Ukraine


Quick Take

Ukrainian prosecutors said they have expanded their investigation involving Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma, a gas company in Ukraine. But no “indictment” has been announced, as false headlines circulating on social media claim.


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A lot has been written in recent months about Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, and Hunter Biden, who sat on the company’s board of directors when his father, Joe Biden, was vice president. Not all of it has been accurate.

Erroneous posts circulating on social media and viral headlines falsely claim that the head of Burisma has been “indicted” by Ukraine’s prosecutor general. No such announcement has been made.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka did announce last month that his office would review a number of previous cases involving senior officials who worked under former President Viktor Yanukovych, including some cases related to former Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Mykola Zlochevsky.

Zlochevsky is the founder of Burisma, which had been the focus of previous investigations. (Hunter Biden’s relationship to Burisma was alluded to in the July phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which has spurred the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.)

On Nov. 20, the same day the falsehood about the “indictment” began to circulate, Reuters reported that Ryaboshapka announced his office had expanded the existing probe to investigate suspicions of Zlochevsky “embezzling state funds” on “an especially large scale,” but few details were provided. Reuters reported that the probe was “effectively on hold” because Zlochevsky’s whereabouts are unknown.

False word of an “indictment” evidently was a misrepresentation of a separate press conference earlier the same day, in which two Ukrainian members of Parliament floated a number of claims relating to Zlochevsky and corruption in Ukraine. Among the claims was an unconfirmed allegation that the company paid Hunter Biden and three other board members — his investment company partner Devon Archer, former Poland President Aleksander Kwasniewski and investment banker Alan Apter — about $16.5 million.

The previous investigations into Zlochevsky concerned “tax violations, money-laundering and licences given to Burisma during the period where Zlochevsky was a minister,” according to Reuters. Zlochevsky served as minister of ecology and natural resources from 2010 until 2012; he was also a deputy secretary for the country’s National Security and Defense Council from 2012 to 2014.

The time period of the new allegations of embezzlement isn’t clear, so we can’t say if the expanded probe includes the time when Biden served on the board.

As we’ve previously written, Hunter Biden served on Burisma’s board from 2014 to 2019. Biden reportedly made up to $50,000 per month for his role — which therefore could have amounted to $3 million during his time on the board from April 2014 to April 2019. In an interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden was asked about reports that he made $50,000 per month at Burisma. He said that, as a private citizen, he did not have to answer questions about how much money he earned. “But,” he added, “it’s all been reported.”

In October, when Ryaboshapka announced the review of previous investigations relating to Zlochevsky, the prosecutor general “told Reuters … he was not aware of any evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden,” according to the news organization.

One of the first websites to push the erroneous “indictment” claim, ZeroHedge, initially claimed in its headline that the allegations made by the Ukrainian members of Parliament were actually from a “Ukrainian Indictment.” It later changed the headline to say that the claims were those of a “Ukrainian MP.”

Other reports, such as one by the Gateway Pundit and a YouTube video by One America News Network, have not been updated and continue to present the nonexistent indictment as fact. And yet other posts falsely claim there was an indictment against the gas company itself or CEO Taras Burdeinyi.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Concerning investigation of the criminal proceedings related to the former Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources.” Press release, Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine. 4 Oct 2019.

Kiely, Eugene and Robert Farley. “Fact: Trump TV Ad Misleads on Biden and Ukraine.” FactCheck.org. 9 Oct 2019.

Polityuk, Pavel and Maria Tsvetkova. “Ukraine to review cases linked to founder of firm that employed Biden’s son.” Reuters. 4 Oct 2019.

Zhegulev, Ilyra. “Ukraine widens probe against Burisma founder to embezzlement of state funds.” Reuters. 20 Nov 2019.