[Note: Serhiy Klyuyev and his brother Andriy are (or were) Freeh clients]
In May 2013, the Republican lobbyist Vin Weber welcomed Serhiy Klyuyev, one of Ukraine’s most powerful political operatives, to Washington. For two days, Weber squired the member of parliament around Capitol Hill to spread the message that then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was leading his country on the path to reform and was seeking to embrace the West.
Klyuyev had come to Washington as part of a lobbying campaign carried out on behalf of an obscure Brussels-based think tank, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU), which was founded by veterans of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. On the recommendation of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman who worked as a political fixer for Yanukovych, ECFMU hired two powerhouse Washington lobbying firms, the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC.
Working with Manafort and his deputy, the two firms pushed Yanukovych’s agenda in Washington, but none at the time documented their work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) — passed to counter the influence of foreign propaganda on American politics. In the controversy that has ensued since Trump’s victory and allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Podesta, Mercury, and Manafort’s firm have all conceded that their work benefited the Ukrainian government and have filed paperwork under FARA.
On Capitol Hill, aides perceived the campaign as a run-of-the-mill lobbying effort. While in Washington, Klyuyev met with Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the co-founder of the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, and later traveled to his Pennsylvania district, a hot spot of shale gas production. Ukraine at the time was eager to develop its own shale gas resources. “This kind of thing happens all the time,” said one Murphy aide.
Concerns over corruption, human rights, and governance had made European officials leery of propping the door wide open to Ukrainian EU membership. But the lobbyists’ message to Washington was, “Don’t let that get in the way of bringing Ukraine into the fold,” said one of the sources familiar with the lobbying effort.
When he refused to sign the EU deal at a summit meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Nov. 29, 2013, Ukrainians poured into city streets in protest, and the resulting popular uprising soon toppled Yanukovych and laid bare his regime’s fantastic corruption.
Documents revealed Klyuyev, the parliamentarian whom Weber had shepherded around Capitol Hill, as the owner of the president’s fantasyland estate, Mezhyhirya, complete with a private zoo, a collection of rare cars, and even a pirate ship. Ukrainian prosecutors have accused Klyuyev and his brother, who served as Yanukovych’s chief of staff, of fraud related to illegal privatizations and failing to repay loans in excess of $500 million.
Described by anti-corruption activists as one of the masterminds of Yanukovych’s kleptocracy, Klyuyev fled the country in 2015 before he could be arrested. That year, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Klyuyev’s brother, Andriy, for his role in raiding Ukrainian state coffers.
Serhiy Leshchenko, a crusading Ukrainian journalist and now a member of parliament, described the Klyuyev brothers as Yanukovych’s “most loyal and permanent allies.”
“They were architects of Yanukovych’s autocracy and widespread corruption,” Leshchenko said. “They were not only political partners but also in business with Yanukovych.”
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