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Two Florida businessmen tied to President Donald Trump’s lawyer and the Ukraine investigation were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations.

The charges relate to a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump’s re-election.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested Wednesday night trying to flee the country with one-way tickets at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, according to Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney in Manhattan.

Lev Parnas in a booking photos following his arrest.
Lev Parnas in a booking photos following his arrest.
Igor Fruman was also arrested.
Igor Fruman was also arrested.

Mr Giuliani said the men were headed to Vienna, Austria for “reasons related to their business”.

Parnas and Fruman were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records.

The Wall Street Journal reports the men had lunch with Mr Giuliani on the same day they were arrested.

The men had key roles in Mr Giuliani’s efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The indictments mark the first criminal charges related to the Ukraine controversy.

While they do not suggest wrongdoing by the president, they are likely to add fuel to the House impeachment inquiry, raising additional questions about whether those close to Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani sought to use their influence to affect US foreign policy decisions.

Lev Parnas, with Donald Trump, has been arrested on campaign finance violations. Picture: AP
Lev Parnas, with Donald Trump, has been arrested on campaign finance violations. Picture: AP

Mr Trump has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as baseless and politically motivated.

Records show that Parnas and Fruman used wire transfers from a corporate entity they controlled to make the $325,000 donation to the America First Action committee in 2018.

But wire transfer records that became public through a lawsuit show that the corporate entity reported as making the transaction was not the true source of the money.

The two arrested men are tied to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Picture: AFP
The two arrested men are tied to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Picture: AFP

Prosecutors also allege that Parnas urged a US congressman to seek the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine, at the behest of Ukrainian government officials.

That happened about the same time that Parnas and Fruman committed to raising more than $20,000 for the politician.

Lev Parnas (second from right) and Igor Fruman (far right) are pictured with Donald Trump Jr in Los Angeles in 2018. Picture: AP
Lev Parnas (second from right) and Igor Fruman (far right) are pictured with Donald Trump Jr in Los Angeles in 2018. Picture: AP

The congressman wasn’t identified by name in court papers, but the donations to “Congressman 1” in the indictment match campaign finance reports for former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who lost his re-election bid in November 2018.

In May 2018, Parnas posted a photo of himself and his business partner David Correia with Sessions in his Capitol Hill office, with the caption “Hard at work !!”

John Dowd, an attorney for the men, hung up on an Associated Press reporter calling about the case.

Mr Giuliani said he couldn’t comment on the case and that he didn’t represent them in campaign finance matters.

The men were arrested around 6pm Wednesday (US time) and booked at a local jail in Alexandria, Virginia.

They were expected to appear in federal court.

Two other men, Correia and Andrew Kukushkin, a Ukrainian-born US citizen, were also charged in the case.

The indictment says Parnas and Fruman “sought to advance their personal financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working” and took steps to conceal it from third parties, including creditors.

They created a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers, and “intentionally caused certain large contributions to be reported in the name of GEP instead of in their own names,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors charge that the two men falsely claimed the contributions came from GEP, which was described as a liquefied natural gas business.

At that point, the company had no income or significant assets, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege that Parnas and Fruman conspired to make illegal contributions in an effort to skirt the limit on federal campaign contributions.

The men are also accused of making contributions to candidates for state and federal office, joint fundraising committees and independent expenditure committees in the names of other people.

The political donations were made “for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians, so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working,” the indictment charges.

The commitment to raise more than $20,000 for the congressman was made in May and June 2018.

The politician had also received about $3 million in independent expenditures from a super political action committee that Parnas and Fruman had been funding.

A super PAC can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate but isn’t allowed to directly co-ordinate with the official campaign.

TRUMP LASHES POLL

More than half of US voters want Donald Trump impeached and removed from office, according to a Fox News poll.

According to the New York Post, the poll found that 51 per cent of registered US voters want Mr Trump impeached and removed, while another four per cent of those polled want him impeached but for him to remain in office.

US President Donald Trump is under fire from all angles. Picture: AP
US President Donald Trump is under fire from all angles. Picture: AP

Another 40 per cent of voters oppose impeachment proceedings. The numbers show a nearly double-digit rise in the number of voters who want Mr Trump impeached and removed compared to a Fox News poll from July, which found 42 per cent of voters supported it.

Mr Trump took to Twitter to slam his critics.

“Impeached for what, having created the greatest Economy in the history of our Country, building our strongest ever Military, Cutting Taxes too much?”

The July survey also found that five per cent of voters wanted Mr Trump impeached but not removed, according to Fox’s report.

The voters who did not want Mr Trump impeached in the survey gave a number of reasons for their scepticism, such as: they don’t believe the allegations; they believe the impeachment is politically motivated; and they believe Mr Trump did nothing wrong.

Voters who support Mr Trump’s impeachment and removal from office have increased across the political spectrum since July, according to the Fox poll.

Donald Trump is under fire over a phone call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Picture: AP
Donald Trump is under fire over a phone call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Picture: AP

Democrats who support impeachment increased by 11 per cent, while Republicans who support the move increased by five per cent and independents shot up by three per cent, according to the survey.

Despite the impeachment numbers, Mr Trump’s approval rating dropped just two points since last month. His approval rating is now 43 per cent, compared to 45 per cent of voters who supported the job he was doing in September.

Originally published as Giuliani associates ‘tried to flee’



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