© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas speaks in front of Manhattan Federal Court in the Manhattan borough of New York, USA, February 3, 2020. REUTERS / Bryan R Smith
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lev Parnas, a former partner of Donald Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, used $ 100,000 from a wealthy Russian businessman to make illegal donations to American politicians, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
Parnas used the funds to “grease the wheels” to help businessman Andrey Muraviev obtain licenses to operate legal cannabis companies in the United States, Assistant United States Attorney Aline Flodr said in her opening argument in Parnas’ trial for charges of violating campaign finances. laws.
“They wanted these politicians to do their business favors,” Flodr told a jury in Manhattan federal court, referring to Parnas and his co-defendant, Andrey Kukushkin.
“This is what the secret foreign money that infiltrates the American elections looks like,” he said.
The trial overseen by US District Judge J. Paul Oetken has drawn attention because of Parnas’s ties to Giuliani, a staunch supporter of Trump’s false claims that the former president, a Republican, lost. the 2020 election before Democrat Joe Biden due to widespread voter fraud. .
Ukraine-born Parnas has said he worked closely with Giuliani to investigate Biden’s son Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine.
Parnas’s role was highlighted when the U.S. House of Representatives indicted Trump in 2019 for abusing his office’s powers to investigate political rivals. Later, the Senate acquitted Trump in a trial.
Parnas’s trial could shed light on how behind-the-scenes campaign finance works. Flodr also said that Parnas concealed an illegal donation of $ 325,000 to Trump’s failed 2020 reelection bid, a separate indictment from the marijuana business-related charges.
Kukushkin and Parnas have pleaded not guilty. Another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, has already pleaded guilty to soliciting money from a foreign national.
In his opening statement, Parnas defense attorney Joseph Bondy said that Muraviev’s money was not used for donations, but for other purposes.
“There was no plan to take this money from a foreign national and violate electoral law,” Bondy said, adding that the $ 325,000 donation came from a legitimate business, not a “shell company” as Flodr argued.
Bondy said that Parnas’ interest in the marijuana business waned as he grew closer to Giuliani, whom Bondy described as “not a type of cannabis.”
Kukushkin’s attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, said his client, a Muraviev associate, had nothing to do with campaign contributions.
Wesley Duncan, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran to be Nevada’s attorney general in 2018, testified that he requested a $ 10,000 donation from Parnas, but ultimately received the funding from Fruman.
Duncan said his campaign returned the funds to Fruman because he suspected they were illegal. He did not say why he suspected the origin of the money.
Parnas’s case is separate from a federal investigation into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, including whether the former New York mayor violated lobbying laws while working as Trump’s attorney.
Giuliani has not been charged with any crime and has denied wrongdoing. His attorney has said that the Parnas case and the lobbying investigation are unrelated.