Politics

Ukraine police close Biden probe initiated by ousted prosecutor

Veronika Melkozerova
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks about health care and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) during a brief news conference at the theater serving as his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, November 10, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Ukrainian authorities have closed a criminal probe into Joe Biden, who was accused of improperly forcing the ouster of the country's prosecutor general in 2016, a police spokesperson said.

The investigation was launched in February after the ousted prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, appealed to a court.

Under Ukrainian law, anyone can go to court to request an investigation if the State Investigative Bureau declines to open one on its own. The courts overwhelmingly order law enforcement to launch criminal cases even in the absence of evidence, according to Vitaly Shabunin, the co-founder of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a Kyiv-based watchdog group.

President Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce a probe of this kind last year, a move that led to Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives. Trump was accused of corruptly using government power to push for political help from Ukraine in the form of investigations to try to discredit his Democratic political rivals. The president was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate in a mostly party-line vote.

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Shokin was a central figure in Rudy Giuliani's campaign to sully Biden, one of the main threads of the impeachment proceedings. Shokin claimed the former vice president pressured Ukraine's now ex-president Petro Poroshenko to fire him for investigating the oil and gas extraction company Burisma, where Biden's son Hunter was on the board of directors until 2019.

Shokin has alleged that he was forced to resign once he started looking into Hunter Biden's role at Burisma, but a deputy prosecutor working under Shokin has said the Burisma case had been dormant at the time the U.S. was pushing for Shokin's removal.

Multiple western governments, including the Obama administration, had demanded he be replaced for failing to prosecute corruption cases, and Ukrainian investigators and anti-corruption watchdogs have said that Shokin was fired because he had made no progress in the fight against corruption.

National Police of Ukraine spokesperson Iaroslav Trakalo confirmed to NBC News that the case was closed after the news was first reported by the Ukrinform news agency.

Ukrinform published a statement from the National Police that said it found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"After interrogation, we found out that in 2016 Shokin resigned from his post voluntarily," the statement says. "During the investigation we did not find any confirmation anyone pressured him to resign."

In an interview, Shokin said he was "outraged" by the decision.

"First, because this case was closed illegally," he said. "Second – in nine months of investigation, police has not conducted a single investigative action except for my own interrogation."

Shokin said he has already filed a claim to the court appealing the decision.

A Biden spokesperson declined to comment.

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