Hunter Biden: What was he doing in China and Ukraine?

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Image caption,
Vice-President Biden in 2016 with his son Hunter looking on

Hunter Biden, second son of US President Joe Biden, is being investigated by the Justice Department over his finances including, according to US media reports, some of his business dealings in China.

During the 2020 election campaign, he and his father were frequently accused by Donald Trump and his associates of wrongdoing in regards to China and Ukraine, allegations which they both denied.

The New York Post reported on an alleged email in which an adviser from a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, apparently thanked Hunter for inviting him to meet his father, Joe Biden.

Asked about the allegations, Joe Biden told a reporter it was a "smear campaign". No criminal activity has been proven, and no evidence has emerged that Mr Biden did anything to intentionally benefit his son.

In an interview with the BBC months after his father was sworn in as president, Hunter Biden defended his qualifications for the position at Burisma but added that, in retrospect, he had "missed... the perception that I would create".

Claims of influence-peddling are common in Washington DC and Mr Trump's children have also been accused of conflicts of interest in lucrative business deals overseas. They, too, deny wrongdoing.

What do we know about the federal investigation?

The Justice Department is investigating Hunter Biden's finances including scrutinising some of his past Chinese business dealings and other transactions, a "person familiar with the matter" told The Associated Press in December.

The tax investigation was launched in 2018 but Hunter Biden said he had learned about it for the first time in December 2020.

Asked about the investigation by US broadcaster CBS this April, the president's son said: "I'm co-operating, completely. And I'm absolutely certain, 100% certain, that at the end of the investigation, that I will be cleared of any wrongdoing."

What have the Bidens been accused of in China?

The New York Post cited a purported email from Hunter Biden in August 2017 indicating he was receiving a $10m annual fee from a Chinese billionaire for "introductions alone", though it is unclear who was involved in the alleged introductions.

Another purported email, which Fox News said it had confirmed, reportedly refers to a deal pursued by Hunter involving China's largest private energy firm. It is said to include a cryptic mention of "10 held by H for the big guy".

Fox News cited unnamed sources as saying "the big guy" in the purported email was a reference to Joe Biden. This message is said to be from May 2017. Both emails would date from when the former US vice-president was a private citizen.

A former business associate of Hunter Biden has come forward to say he can confirm the allegations.

Tony Bobulinski told Fox News that, contrary to Joe Biden's statements that he had nothing to do with his son's business affairs, Hunter had "frequently referenced asking him for his sign-off or advice on various potential deals" in China.

Mr Bobulinski, who is reportedly a US Navy veteran, separately told Fox News' Tucker Carlson that he had met on two occasions with Joe Biden to discuss business deals with China, the first time in May 2017 when Barack Obama's former vice-president was a private citizen.

He says he asked Joe Biden's brother, James, whether the family was concerned about possible scrutiny of the former vice-president's involvement in a potential business deal with a Chinese entity. Mr Bobulinski told Fox News that James Biden had replied: "Plausible deniability."

Mr Bobulinski was invited by Mr Trump to be his guest at the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee on 22 October.

What is known about Hunter's dealings in China?

In 2013, Hunter flew aboard Air Force Two with his father, who was then vice-president, on an official visit to Beijing, where the younger Biden met investment banker Jonathan Li.

Hunter told the New Yorker he had just met Mr Li for "a cup of coffee", but 12 days after the trip a private equity fund, BHR Partners, was approved by the Chinese authorities. Mr Li was chief executive and Hunter was a board member. He would hold a 10% stake.

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Image caption,
Joe Biden walks out of Air Force Two with his granddaughter and son, Hunter Biden

BHR is backed by some of China's largest state banks and by local governments, according to US media.

Hunter Biden's lawyer said he had joined the board in an unpaid position "based on his interest in seeking ways to bring Chinese capital to international markets".

His lawyer also said his client did not acquire his financial stake in BHR until 2017, after his father had left office in the US.

Hunter resigned from the board of BHR in April 2020, but still held his 10% stake in BHR as of July this year, according to the company report.

What did the New York Post say about Hunter Biden and Ukraine?

The New York Post reported an email from April 2015, in which an adviser to Burisma, Vadym Pozharskyi, apparently thanked Hunter Biden for inviting him to meet his father in Washington.

Hunter was a director on the board of Burisma - a Ukrainian-owned private energy company while his father was the Obama administration's pointman on US-Ukrainian relations. Hunter was one of several foreigners on its board.

The New York Post article did not provide evidence that the meeting had ever taken place. The Biden election campaign said there was no record of any such meeting on the former vice-president's "official schedule" from the time.

But in a statement to Politico, the campaign also acknowledged that Mr Biden could have had an "informal interaction" with the Burisma adviser that did not appear on his official schedule, though it said any such encounter would have been "cursory".

"Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as 'not legitimate' and political by a GOP colleague, have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official US policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing," said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr Biden.

Media caption,
What we know about Biden-Ukraine corruption claims

Mr Biden's team has also decried the New York Post story as "Russian disinformation", though it did not say the emails were bogus.

The New York Post article was shared by President Trump and his allies. Two of his former advisers, Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, were involved in providing the story and the hard drive containing the alleged emails, to the newspaper.

Mr Giuliani says the messages were found on a laptop that Hunter dropped off at a Delaware repair shop in April 2019.

Sceptics have noted that Mr Giuliani travelled in December 2019 to Kyiv where he met Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, whom the US Treasury has designated as a longtime Kremlin agent. Mr Giuliani has acknowledged trying dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine.

But the US Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, told Fox Business that the purported emails were not connected to a Russian disinformation effort.

Other US media say they have been unable to verify the authenticity of the emails. Hunter has neither confirmed nor denied that he dropped off a laptop at the location.

Hunter joined Burisma in 2014, and remained on the board until April 2019, when he decided to leave.

Speaking to the BBC, he said Burisma had seen his name "as gold" and that it had played a large part in his appointment to the board.

What are the Bidens accused of in Ukraine?

Donald Trump and his allies accused Joe Biden of wrongdoing because he had pushed, while vice-president, for the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor, who was investigating the company for which Hunter worked.

In 2016, Joe Biden called for the dismissal of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, whose office had Burisma and other companies under investigation.

However, other Western leaders and major bodies that give financial support to Ukraine also wanted the prosecutor dismissed because they believed he was not active enough in tackling corruption.

What else has the Biden campaign said?

Shortly before the final presidential debate last year, the Democrat's camp released a statement denying wrongdoing.

"Joe Biden has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever," said the statement.

"He has never held stock in any such business arrangements nor has any family member or any other person ever held stock for him.

"What is true is that Tony Bobulinski admitted on the record to Breitbart that he is angry that he was *not* able to go into business with Hunter and James Biden [Joe Biden's brother]."

What did this have to do with impeachment?

In 2019, details emerged of a phone call Mr Trump, the then president, had made to the president of Ukraine, in which he had urged the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Bidens.

This led to charges by the Democrats that Mr Trump was trying to illegally pressure Ukraine to help damage his election rival, resulting in impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Mr Trump denied he had done anything wrong, and he was later acquitted by the Republican-controlled US Senate.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
President Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post the day after the US Senate acquitted him on two articles of impeachment

Has anything been proven against the Bidens?

While no criminal activity has been proven, it has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest.

A senior State Department official raised such concerns as far back as 2015.

US Republican lawmakers launched an investigation and found last year that Hunter's work for the Ukrainian firm had been "problematic" - but there wasn't evidence that US foreign policy was influenced by it.

No criminal charges were proven against Burisma either. The company issued a statement in 2017 saying "all legal proceedings and pending criminal allegations" against it were closed.

Last year, Yuriy Lutsenko, the prosecutor in Ukraine who succeeded Viktor Shokin, told the BBC that there was no reason to investigate the Bidens under Ukrainian law.

There is nothing illegal about sitting on a board of a company whilst family members serve in government.

Hunter Biden's lawyers said in statement in October 2019 that he had undertaken "these business activities independently. He did not believe it appropriate to discuss them with his father, nor did he."

Hunter told the New Yorker magazine that on the only occasion he had mentioned Burisma: "Dad said, 'I hope you know what you are doing.'"

Amid all the scrutiny, Joe Biden promised last year that if he was elected president, no-one in his family would hold a job or have a business relationship with a foreign corporation or foreign government.