Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS
Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS

Moscow/Kiev — Ukraine must investigate the activities of Joe Biden’s son to establish whether his role in a Ukrainian gas company complied with the country’s laws, Mykola Azarov, Ukrainess former prime minister, has said in an interview.

Hunter Biden’s role in the company Burisma Holdings is in focus after the White House published a memo showing US President Donald Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call to get prosecutors to look into his activities. Zelensky agreed.

Joe Biden, former US vice-president and a contender in the 2020 US presidential race, has denied using his influence to get Ukraine’s prosecutor-general fired to prevent him investigating his son’s involvement and has said that he and his son have done nothing wrong.

Ukraine’s national anti-corruption bureau said on Friday it was investigating activity at Burisma between 2010 and 2012, but that it was not looking into changes to its board in 2014 when Hunter Biden joined. Hunter Biden was a director on Burisma’s board from 2014 until at least 2018, according to documents filed by the company in Cyprus where it is registered.

Azarov, who was prime minister from 2010 to 2014, is himself wanted by Ukrainian authorities for alleged abuse of power. He said he was not aware of any evidence suggesting wrongdoing on Hunter Biden’s part, but said it was in the Ukrainian public interest to ascertain the legality of his activities.

In particular, he said it was important to investigate what Hunter Biden had done for Burisma to justify his fee.

“I think it’s essential,” Azarov told Reuters in Moscow where he fled after street protests toppled Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. “Given that this question has been raised there is a real reason for this to be looked into. It’s a fact [that his directorship and fees] are not made up. It should be investigated so that the Is can be dotted and the Ts crossed.”

Azarov said the key thing for investigators to establish from a Ukrainian legal viewpoint would be whether Hunter Biden’s fee was a token one or whether he actually did any work to justify it.

“If, using his knowledge, he played an active role then there’s nothing scandalous about it. But if he was simply on the books and getting money then that could be seen as a violation of the law.”

Though he said he was deeply sceptical of the allegations, Azarov said he also thought it was right that the circumstances of the prosecutor-general’s sacking in 2016 be looked into.

In a separate interview in Kiev, Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s former foreign minister, told Reuters he and others were surprised by the White House’s decision to release confidential details of Trump’s call with Zelensky.

According to Ukrainian law, such calls are strictly confidential and Zelensky could not be compelled to release the Ukrainian transcript or a summary memo, said Klimkin.

Klimkin listened in when former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko held phone calls with Trump, but said he had never heard Trump raise the Bidens in those conversations or try to extract a personal favour in return for US military aid.

Said Klimkin, “The style and the way in which Trump communicates was probably similar but the content was different. That’s all I can say without releasing details.”

Reuters