The deal was years in the making, the culmination of forging contacts, hosting dinners, of flights to and from China. But on Aug. 2, 2017, signatures were quickly affixed, one from Hunter Biden, the other from a Chinese executive named Gongwen Dong.
Within a year, it would all begin to collapse.
While many aspects of Hunter Biden’s financial arrangement with CEFC China Energy have been previously reported and were included in a Republican-led Senate report from 2020, a Washington Post review confirmed many of the key details and found additional documents showing Biden family interactions with Chinese executives.
Over the course of 14 months, the Chinese energy conglomerate and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter Biden and his uncle, according to government records, court documents and newly disclosed bank statements, as well as emails contained on a copy of a laptop hard drive that purportedly once belonged to Hunter Biden.
The Post did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details about the transactions with CEFC, which took place after he had left the vice presidency and before he announced his intentions to run for the White House in 2020.
But the new documents — which include a signed copy of a $1 million legal retainer, emails related to the wire transfers, and $3.8 million in consulting fees that are confirmed in new bank records and agreements signed by Hunter Biden — illustrate the ways in which his family profited from relationships built over Joe Biden’s decades in public service.
Hunter Biden’s overseas work has been the subject of heightened scrutiny. He has been under federal investigation as part of an inquiry into his taxes, with witnesses called before a grand jury as recently as last month. Federal prosecutors had been attempting to determine if he failed to account for income from China-related deals, The Post has previously reported, although it is unclear whether that is still a focus. Republicans, meanwhile, have pointed to the Biden family’s business deals in China, along with Hunter Biden’s past membership on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, as potential conflicts of interest.
The CEFC deal became one of the most lucrative, if short-lived, foreign ventures Hunter Biden is known to have pursued. The Post review draws in part on an analysis of a copy said to be of the hard drive of a laptop computer that Hunter Biden purportedly dropped off at a Delaware repair shop and never came to collect. The laptop was turned over to the FBI in December 2019, according to documents reviewed by The Post, and a copy of the drive was obtained by Rudy Giuliani and other advisers to then-President Donald Trump a few months before the 2020 election.
After the New York Post began publishing reports on the contents of the laptop in October 2020, The Washington Post repeatedly asked Giuliani and Republican strategist Stephen K. Bannon for a copy of the data to review before the election, but the requests were rebuffed or ignored.
In June 2021, a copy was provided to The Post by Jack Maxey, an activist who received a copy from Giuliani in 2020, at a time when Maxey was working with Bannon and his “War Room” podcast.
The Post has explored the chain of custody, as well as the findings of forensic analyses of the data, in a separate story.
Biden aides and some former U.S. intelligence officials have voiced concern that the device may have been manipulated by Russia to interfere in the campaign. On Capitol Hill, Democrats have dismissed earlier reports about Hunter Biden’s work in China as lacking credibility or being part of a Russian disinformation campaign. The Post analysis included forensic work by two outside experts who assessed the authenticity of numerous emails related to the CEFC matter. In addition, The Post found that financial documents on the copy of Hunter Biden’s purported laptop match documents and information found in other records, including newly disclosed bank documents obtained by Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, a senior Republican on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees.
The potential energy projects Hunter Biden discussed with CEFC never came to fruition.
Nonetheless, accounts linked to Hunter Biden received $3.8 million in payments from CEFC through consulting contracts, according to bank records and joint agreements reviewed by The Post.
Biden received an additional $1 million retainer, issued as part of an agreement to represent Patrick Ho, a CEFC official who would later be charged in the United States in connection with a multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe leaders from Chad and Uganda. That retainer agreement, in a newly uncovered document, contains the signatures of both Hunter Biden and Ho, who was later convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.
Hunter Biden, who has a law degree, was not accused of wrongdoing in that scheme and appeared to have little role representing Ho in the federal case. Ho, through his attorney in that case, declined to comment.
Hunter Biden and his attorney did not respond to numerous messages left over the past week. The White House declined to respond on the record but pointed to previous statements that Joe Biden “has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any overseas business whatsoever.”
Hunter Biden’s relationship with CEFC took root during a time of financial strain and turmoil for his family, according to court filings and Hunter Biden’s accounts. The Bidens were reeling from the May 2015 death of Hunter’s older brother, Beau, and Hunter was struggling with drug use.
“I was in the throes of addiction,” Hunter wrote in a memoir published last year.
During divorce proceedings with his wife Kathleen, a court filing in the case described “outstanding debts [that] are shocking and overwhelming,” with the couple carrying maxed-out credit cards, double mortgages on both properties they owned and a tax debt of $313,970. Three checks to their housekeeper had bounced, and they owed money to medical providers and therapists, according to a February 2017 filing in D.C. Superior Court.
An intermediary from CEFC initially reached out to Hunter Biden in December 2015 to set up a meeting between the then-vice president’s son and Ye Jianming, the founder and chairman of the Chinese firm, according to verified emails from a purported copy of the laptop hard drive reviewed by the outside experts for The Post.
Vuk Jeremic, a Serbian politician who had recently served as president of the U.N. General Assembly, wrote in an email to the younger Biden that he was hosting a small private dinner in Washington with Ye — whom he called “one of the 10 wealthiest Chinese businessmen” — and wanted Hunter to attend.
“He’s young and dynamic, with the top-level connections in his country,” Jeremic wrote in the Dec. 1, 2015, email.
Hunter Biden was unable to attend the dinner and Jeremic said in an email to The Post that while he knew both men, he was “not involved in their mutual introduction” and found out from media reports that the two had eventually connected.
CEFC, a massive oil and gas company founded in 2002, had financing from government development banks and ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army, according to people who studied the firm. Ye’s official biography said he was once deputy secretary of the China Association for International Friendly Contact, an organization that a 2011 U.S. congressional report called “a front” for the People’s Liberation Army.
While CEFC was ostensibly private, experts on the Chinese economy say it is unlikely that it operated independently of the government.
The Chinese Embassy declined to comment on CEFC ties to the Chinese government or Hunter Biden’s involvement with the firm.
Shortly after Joe Biden left the vice presidency, Hunter Biden and Ye met over dinner in Miami.
The two discussed business opportunities for CEFC in the United States, including a $40 million joint venture to produce liquefied natural gas in Louisiana, according to a July 2019 New Yorker report based on extensive interviews with Hunter Biden.
That deal failed. But Ye was so pleased with his initial meeting with Hunter Biden that after dinner he sent a 2.8-carat diamond to Hunter’s hotel room with a card thanking him for the conversation, according to the New Yorker.
In divorce proceedings, Hunter’s wife would claim the diamond was worth $80,000. Hunter Biden told the New Yorker the value was closer to $10,000, that he gave the diamond to his associates, and that he doesn’t know what they did with it.
In the summer of 2017, Hunter Biden received a request from Ye that would foreshadow subsequent problems for CEFC. Ye said that a top CEFC associate, Patrick Ho, might be under investigation by U.S. law enforcement and he asked Hunter Biden for help. Hunter Biden told the New Yorker that he agreed to represent Ho and to try to figure out if he was under scrutiny by law enforcement.
The execution of the bigger consulting deal between Hunter Biden and CEFC occurred rapidly in early August 2017.
The contract, signed on Aug. 2, 2017, stated that Hunter Biden would get a one-time retainer of $500,000 and would then receive a monthly stipend of $100,000, with his uncle James Biden getting $65,000 a month.
An unsigned copy of the agreement was found on the purported copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive. A signed copy was included with bank records provided to Grassley and reviewed by The Post. Under the 26-page agreement, they agreed to jointly pursue investments under a company named Hudson West III LLC.
The money began flowing almost immediately, with the first incoming wire of $5 million arriving on Aug. 8, 2017, according to documents found on the copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop and corroborated by identical bank statements that Grassley’s office obtained from Cathay Bank for an account jointly held by Hunter Biden and CEFC executives.
After expenses and personnel costs, the bulk of the money, about $4.8 million, was directed over a 14-month period, usually in increments of $165,000, to an account linked to Hunter Biden, the documents show. During that time period, about $1.4 million was transferred from Hunter’s account to the Lion Hall Group, the consulting firm that James Biden ran, according to other government records reviewed by The Post.
“No comment,” James Biden said when reached on his cellphone and asked about the CEFC deal.
A few weeks after he went into business with the CEFC executives, in the fall of 2017, Hunter Biden requested changes to the fifth-floor office space he was renting at the House of Sweden, an airy building in Georgetown that is home to the Swedish Embassy and other offices.
On Sept. 21, 2017, Hunter Biden wrote to a building manager requesting new office signage to reflect a new family enterprise and a new business relationship: “The Biden Foundation and Hudson West (CEFC-US),” he wrote in emails to the property manager.
He also requested keys for his new office mates: his father, Joe; his mother, Jill; his uncle James; and the Chinese executive, Gongwen Dong.
As part of the request, he provided what he said was his father’s cellphone number, saying an office representative could use it to contact his new office mates.
Hunter Biden referred to Ye, the chairman of CEFC, as “my partner” and described Dong as the “Chairman Ye CEFC emissary.”
The email exchanges that discuss Hunter Biden’s plan to open a Biden-CEFC office were included on the copy of his hard drive and were confirmed through public records released by the Swedish government to The Post. The contents of the records were first reported by the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
“We are very excited and honored to welcome your new colleagues!” the manager wrote back to Hunter Biden.
Jeffrey Peck, the Biden Foundation board member most involved in details like setting up the office, said there was never any consideration of that location.
“I recall discussions about other possible spaces and the so-called House of Sweden was never on any lists,” Peck said. “There was never any thought — like zero thought or consideration — given to that building.”
A spokeswoman for the Swedish authority that oversees the property said that the four keys were made available, as requested, but that Hunter Biden never picked them up. The signboard on the door wasn’t changed, she said.
Around the time Hunter Biden was asking for changes to his office space, email exchanges with the property manager grew tense — with a reminder to Hunter Biden to stop violating office policies by bringing visitors in through a side entrance rather than signing them in at the front desk, where they go through metal detectors.
Hunter Biden responded angrily, saying that one was a homeless woman he could vouch for — and accused the office managers of racism because that woman is Black. He wrote that another guest was Lunden Roberts, a woman he described as “my youngest daughter’s basketball mentor.”
Within a year, Roberts would have a baby that Hunter denied was his until she filed a paternity suit and DNA testing confirmed it was his. They settled the case in March 2020 and court documents show he is paying an undisclosed amount in child support.
Roberts’s lawyer, Clint Lancaster, said his client had worked for Biden at the time of the House of Sweden incident. He said Roberts was called to testify for several hours before a grand jury in Wilmington, Del., in mid-February, an indication that the federal investigation of Hunter Biden remains active. Lancaster declined to comment on the nature of her testimony. The Justice Department and the Delaware U.S. attorney’s office also declined to comment.
During the time the CEFC relationship was active, funds were being transferred from Hunter Biden to his uncle, records show. All told, nearly $1.4 million went from Hunter’s company to one controlled by James Biden, according to a 2020 report produced by Grassley and fellow Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The transactions were identified as potential criminal activity, a designation meant to flag potential money laundering, political corruption or other financial crimes, according to a report from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the Treasury Department that was reviewed by The Post.
When James and Sara Biden’s bank contacted them about the transactions, they would not provide supporting documentation to explain the activity and closed the account, according to records reviewed by The Post.
James Biden did not respond to a detailed list of questions about the financial transactions.
Meanwhile, CEFC executives were concerned about Justice Department inquiries into officials tied to the company. As would become clear later in court records, federal investigators had obtained a foreign intelligence surveillance warrant on Ho and were monitoring his communications.
On Sept. 18, 2017, Hunter Biden signed a two-page attorney engagement letter to represent Ho, with a $1 million retainer. The agreement specified that Hunter Biden was to provide “counsel to matters related to US law and advice pertaining to the hiring and legal analysis of any US Law Firm or Lawyer.” Ho signed the document four days later, on Sept. 22, 2017.
A signed copy of the two-page agreement was contained on the purported copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop drive, stored as an attachment to an email that did not contain sufficient data to be verified by The Post’s outside experts. But the bank records obtained by Grassley show $1 million was eventually deposited into an account associated with Hunter Biden, with a note describing the payment as “representation” of Ho.
On Nov. 18, a few weeks after Hunter Biden signed the agreement to represent Ho, his client was arrested by two FBI agents at JFK Airport. He was read his Miranda rights at 2 p.m.; nine minutes later, he called James Biden, according to police records.
James Biden told the New York Times in 2018 that he assumed Ho was looking for Hunter Biden, and he passed along contact information for his nephew.
Almost immediately after Ho’s arrest, according to verified emails, Edward Y. Kim, an attorney at Krieger Kim, was enlisted to represent Ho. Kim and Ho declined requests for comment.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Ho had bribed leaders in Chad and Uganda, aiming to obtain oil permits for CEFC. They also said Ho had offered CEFC as a resource in helping Iran evade oil sanctions.
Things fell apart quickly. Ho was in jail awaiting trial. Ye, the head of CEFC, had been detained in China in mid-February 2018 and hadn’t been heard from since. The reasons for the arrest were unclear, although Reuters reported that it was related to suspected economic crimes.
Ye could not be reached for comment, and the Chinese Embassy declined to comment on Ye’s arrest.
By March 2018, Hunter Biden’s uncle was seeking access to the $1 million retainer that Hunter was owed for the Ho representation. James Biden on March 21, 2018, wrote to CEFC officials with “wiring instructions,” providing the address and routing numbers for how to transfer to the account linked to Hunter Biden.
“Received and will take care of this ASAP,” Mervyn Yan, one of the CEFC officials, wrote back in a verified email.
At 9:43 the next morning, the wire went through and was deposited in the account just as James Biden had instructed, with the routing number in his email matching the routing number received by the bank, according to bank records.
Hunter Biden began exchanging hostile messages with remaining executives, including Dong and Mervyn Yan. The two had questioned several of Hunter Biden’s business expenses, asking for receipts to back up the charges. Yan, in a verified email, wrote Hunter that some of the expenses for which he sought reimbursement did not appear related to the Chinese energy company’s business, including, he wrote, “house in Sweden.”
Hunter Biden threatened to sue both Yan and Dong for balking at paying, claiming they had no right to question his expenses — and explaining that the House of Sweden was his D.C.-based office.
“I will bring suit in the Chancery Court in Delaware — which as you know is my home state and I am privileged to have worked with and know every judge in the chancery court,” he wrote on March 14, 2018.
“You cannot sue us for not paying incorrect expenses,” Dong wrote in response, according to a verified email.
Dong and Yan did not respond to requests for comment.
JiaQi Bao, an assistant with whom Hunter Biden had worked closely on CEFC business, wrote in a March 26, 2018, email that the company was being dissolved and she would lose her job — but that Hunter Biden should “take whatever money you can take, as long as the money is available to claim.”
“Take as much as possible, or figure out a way to spend them for your own benefit,” she wrote.
Bao did not respond to numerous phone and email messages.
Over the next six months, nearly $1.4 million was transferred to Hunter Biden’s account, according to bank records.
But troubles also loomed. Hunter Biden continued to battle addiction issues that created strains within his family, and his father began paying some of his bills. The younger Biden’s problems loomed large over his father’s decision to run for president, a campaign Joe Biden would announce formally in April 2019.
Hunter Biden’s personal battles would continue. But the business saga of CEFC would soon come to a close.
Yan signed a document on Nov. 2, 2018, dissolving Hudson West III LLC, the company that linked the Bidens to CEFC. Yan filed it with an office based in Dover, Del., less than an hour’s drive from the Biden family home.
Josh Dawsey, Alice Crites, Devlin Barrett and Roland Matifas contributed to this report.