Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Hunter Biden’s Family Name Aided Deals With Foreign Tycoons

At WSJ, "Business dealings of Joe Biden’s son are at the center of a federal tax investigation and loom over the start of his presidency":

Hunter Biden ramped up business activities with European and Chinese tycoons as his father exited the vice presidency four years ago. For him it was a potential path to income; for the tycoons, the Biden family name promised to burnish their reputations.

The dealings got the younger Mr. Biden a discounted stake in a private-equity firm in China and consulting arrangements with a Romanian property magnate and overall allowed him to maintain a globe-trotting lifestyle, according to interviews, documents and communications reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. A Chinese energy tycoon gave Mr. Biden a 2.8-carat diamond, and entities linked to him wired nearly $5 million to Mr. Biden’s law firm, according to an investigation by Senate Republicans.

These arrangements now loom over President-elect Joe Biden. A federal criminal tax investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings is under way, with findings potentially trickling out in coming months. His business ties to well-connected people in China and other places could add to scrutiny of foreign-policy decisions taken by the Biden administration over possible conflicts of interest. All are likely to provide ammunition to Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who has led the Senate Finance Committee whose Republican staff helped investigate Hunter Biden, has said he would continue to look into what he says are possible counterintelligence and criminal concerns related to Mr. Biden’s business dealings.

“Based on all the facts known to date, Joe Biden has a lot of explaining to do,” Mr. Grassley said recently. Hunter Biden has said he takes the tax investigation “very seriously” and is “confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately.” He declined to comment for this article and his lawyer, George Mesires, didn’t respond to questions. In 2019, Mr. Biden said he wouldn’t work with any foreign companies if his father were elected U.S. president. None of the Journal’s reporting found that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s business activities. The tax investigation doesn’t implicate the president-elect, according to people familiar with the matter. In a statement this month about the investigation, the president-elect said he is “deeply proud of his son.”

He told reporters Tuesday he had not and would not discuss the federal tax investigation with prospective attorney general candidates.

“The attorney general of the United States of America is not the president’s lawyer,” the president-elect said. “I will appoint someone who I expect to enforce the law as the law is written, not guided by me.”

Joe Biden also has previously said his family members won’t be involved in businesses that appear to create a conflict of interest and won’t have “a business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country.”

Some of Hunter Biden’s business deals appeared to go nowhere. Sometimes his contribution mainly consisted of making introductions to important people in business and government, according to people involved and documents.

Still, legal and consulting services he provided offered a way to generate income; the Senate Republicans’ report says the millions of dollars in wire transfers from entities linked to Shanghai energy entrepreneur Ye Jianming were described as payment for such services.

The tycoons who sought out Mr. Biden as a business partner were looking to build ties to the Washington establishment that Joe Biden inhabited for decades, and by doing so, smooth the way for major deals or ward off legal troubles, according to interviews, documents and communications. For businessmen in some countries, paying for introductions and getting close to people in power or their relatives is a normal part of doing business, and the son of a veteran American politician offered a potential trove of connections.

Mr. Ye “would say if you find a strong partner, then opportunities can flow just from this relationship,” said a former subordinate.

Mr. Biden, in an exchange about putting together a venture with Mr. Ye, pointed to the value of his family name: “Just happens that in this instance only one player holds the trump card and that’s me. May not be fair but it’s the reality because I’m the only one putting an entire family legacy on the line,” he wrote in a 2017 text message to an associate in the venture and viewed by the Journal.

A graduate of Yale Law School, Hunter Biden was for a period a registered lobbyist in Washington. He also worked in boutique investment and property development firms along with American partners who sometimes tried to raise capital among the newly well-heeled in the former Soviet Union and China.

Mykola Zlochevsky was looking to raise the standing of Ukraine’s Burisma Holdings in Washington when Hunter Biden joined its board in 2014.

President Trump and some Republican allies have tried over the past two years to draw attention to Hunter Biden’s business activities—an effort that took off as Joe Biden emerged as a likely presidential challenger.

A particular focus was Hunter Biden’s board seat with Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings. When he joined the board in 2014, Burisma’s founder Mykola Zlochevsky was looking to raise the company’s standing in Washington, as he parried legal inquiries abroad and at home where the government was vowing to clean up corruption. Mr. Biden was paid roughly $50,000 a month from 2014 to 2019. For the first three years, then-Vice President Joe Biden served as the Obama administration’s point man for international anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.

Mr. Trump and his allies have alleged corruption by the Bidens. Mr. Trump’s request to Ukraine’s president in 2019 to announce an investigation into the Bidens figured into Mr. Trump’s impeachment; the GOP-controlled Senate ultimately acquitted him.

Joe and Hunter Biden denied any wrongdoing...

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