Since they were arrested earlier this month on campaign-finance charges, investigators have been working to untangle their dizzying web of business enterprises — and to discern whether they were operating on their own or backed by more influential interests.
Their claims of high-level connections have deepened questions about the motives of the two men, whose efforts to help Giuliani locate information in Ukraine have thrust them into the glare of the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
While they were helping Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman were also allegedly working with a Russian businessman who wanted to invest in marijuana dispensaries in the United States, channeling his money into illegal campaign donations, according to their indictment.
And during the summer, in a pitch that has not been previously reported, Parnas, Fruman and their associate David Correia proposed to serve as middlemen in a deal to sell natural gas from the Middle East to fertilizer companies owned by a Ukrainian billionaire, Dmytro Firtash, according to people familiar with their activities who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Parnas and Fruman claimed they had met with Firtash’s staff in Vienna to discuss the business deals, the people said.
Parnas has served as a translator for Firtash’s legal team in the United States, but the billionaire’s representatives have previously denied he has any kind of business relationship with Parnas and Fruman.
Federal prosecutors suspect there might be a broader relationship among Firtash, Parnas and Fruman, as The Washington Post previously reported.
Parnas also claimed ties to another foreign billionaire, gas magnate Farkhad Akhmedov, according to Parnas’s former business partners in Florida.
And, in April, Parnas and Fruman told another Ukrainian billionaire, Ihor Kolomoisky, that they could use their influence in Washington to secure the attendance of top U.S. officials at the inauguration of the new Ukrainian president in exchange for $250,000, said Bruce Marks, an attorney for Kolomoisky.
“This is going to end up in a bad scandal,” Kolomoisky predicted to friends just after meeting with the men this spring, Marks recounted.
An attorney for Parnas declined to comment, and an attorney for Fruman did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Correia, who was also charged as part of the alleged campaign-finance scheme, declined to comment. All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
“Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently,” Parnas said after a court appearance in New York on Wednesday. “I look forward to defending myself vigorously in court, and I’m certain that in time the truth will be revealed, and I will be vindicated.”
Trump has claimed that he does not know the duo. But he appeared in photos with both and hosted them for dinner at the White House last year, according to photos and videos Parnas posted on Facebook. The two men also told associates that they met with the president in the residence, according to people familiar with the discussions.
“I don’t know those gentlemen. . . . Now, it’s possible I have a picture with them, because I have a picture with everybody,” the president said earlier this month.
White House officials and Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment.
A highflying lifestyle
People who encountered Parnas and Fruman over the past year said the two appeared to be burning through cash at a high rate, zipping around the country on a private jet and staying at luxury hotels.
At the same time, they were pouring money into American political campaigns, including a $325,000 contribution in May 2018 to a pro-Trump super PAC that gave them access to elite donor events where they made new business connections, according to campaign finance filings and people who encountered the two men.
It is not clear where the duo was getting the money to support their luxury lifestyle, raising questions about whether they had financial backers. Public filings suggest the men have had financial challenges in recent years.
Sometime in the summer or fall of 2018, the two were introduced to Giuliani by a mutual friend, the former New York mayor has said. Giuliani has said his security firm was then hired by a business co-founded by Parnas, Fraud Guarantee, to offer advice on technology and regulatory issues.
For his services, Giuliani has said his firm was paid $500,000 in two installments in the fall of 2018. He said he knows the source of funds used to pay his fee.
“I know exactly where the money came from. I knew it at the time,” Giuliani told The Post earlier this month. “I will prove beyond any doubt it came from the United States of America … It’s not Russian money. I have seen the wires.”
People who encountered Parnas and Fruman around that time said the two spoke openly about their difficulty in finding money to pay Giuliani. “Can you loan me $500K so I can get Rudy off my back?” Parnas asked, said one person who spoke to him in that time period.
By early 2019, the two appeared to be growing closer to Giuliani. Parnas has said that in January he helped connect Giuliani to a former Ukrainian prosecutor who claimed he had been fired at the urging of then-Vice President Joe Biden because he was investigating a Ukrainian company whose board included Biden’s son.
In fact, the prosecutor’s ouster was supported by the international community, and former Ukrainian and U.S. officials have said the investigation into the company was dormant at the time.
In a phone call with Ukraine’s president in July, Trump pressed for Ukraine to open an investigation into the matter.
Claims of ties to billionaires
Parnas and Fruman claimed to have a deep book of influential foreign contacts.
According to two Florida developers and a lawsuit filed by Parnas, he dangled the prospect of securing a major investment from Akhmedov, an energy mogul, for a real estate project.
Originally from Azerbaijan, Akhmedov served for several years in the Russian senate. In an interview last year, Turkey’s foreign minister credited Akhmedov with using his personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to improve ties between the two countries.
In 2017, Parnas and Correia made an unsuccessful attempt to secure a $100 million investment from Akhmedov to finance the purchase and renovation of the 100-year-old historic St. Louis Railway exchange, according to the suit.
“They were trying to secure investment from him for our projects and I believe other business deals of theirs,” Steven Michael, managing partner of the railway project, wrote in an email to The Post. Michael said that Parnas and Correia’s involvement with the project was limited and has now ended.
A spokesman for Akhmedov said he met the men during a visit to Florida, but he later declined several investment opportunities they presented to him. Akhemedov “has no relationship with any of those individuals, business or personal, and was not aware they were using his name in their business dealings,” the spokesman said.
This summer, Parnas and Fruman began telling potential business partners that their luxury lifestyle was being bankrolled by a different billionaire: Firtash.
The two men claimed to associates that they and Correia were pitching a lucrative business deal involving Middle East natural gas that would involve the powerful Ukrainian, and that he was paying their expenses, according to the people familiar with the discussion.
Firtash is a major player in the fertilizer industry in Ukraine and owns fertilizer plants in neighboring countries, as well.
The proposal did not get off the ground before Parnas and Fruman were arrested earlier this month, the people said.
Attorneys for Firtash have denied he has had any business dealings with the two men. A Firtash spokesman did not respond to questions about the gas proposal.
Firtash was charged in Chicago in 2013 with being involved with a bribery conspiracy in India related to mining interests. Prosecutors have alleged in court filings that he has ties to Russian organized crime. Firtash has denied all wrongdoing.
As he fights extradition to the United States, Firtash has made moves aligning himself with Trump and the president’s allies. This summer, he replaced his longtime lawyer, a Democrat, with the husband-and-wife team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who appear frequently on Fox News to defend Trump and have served as informal advisers to Trump’s legal team, including Giuliani.
Parnas, who met Firtash in Vienna this summer through a mutual Ukrainian friend, had recommended Toensing and diGenova, as The Post previously reported. The lawyers, in turn, hired Parnas to serve as a translator.
Another business pitch by the two men in April placed them even more squarely at the intersection of U.S. and Ukrainian politics.
That month, the two men secured a meeting with Kolomoisky in Tel Aviv, where the billionaire had been living in self-imposed exile after the Ukrainian government nationalized a bank he had controlled.
Kolomoisky has been seen as an ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. His business holdings include the television station that aired a comedy series that starred Zelensky before the comedian was unexpectedly elected as Ukraine’s president in May. Zelensky also tapped Kolomoisky’s former lawyer to be his chief of staff.
Marks, a Pennsylvania-based attorney who represents Kolomoisky in several U.S.-based matters, said Parnas and Fruman bragged to Kolomoisky of their ties to top Republicans, taking out their phones to show the Ukrainian photos of themselves with Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Giuliani.
Then, Marks said, they told Kolomoisky that they could arrange for top U.S. officials, including Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, to attend Zelensky’s inauguration should he win the presidency. In exchange, Marks claims, Parnas and Fruman asked that Kolomoisky pay them $250,000. Marks’s allegations were first reported by CNN.
Marks said Kolomoisky immediately threw the two men out of his office. “It made no sense why private people would pay these two guys to bring U.S. government officials over. Presumably, governments would deal with that,” Marks said.
Perry ultimately attended Zelensky’s inauguration, but Pence was instructed by Trump to stay away, The Post has reported.
Pence officials have said he had never committed to the event.
“If this account is true, the vice president was unaware of the meeting or the men’s request for money,” said Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for Pence.
A spokesman for Perry did not respond to a request for comment.
After the meeting, Parnas and Fruman accused Kolomoisky of threatening them during the session and filed a lawsuit against the billionaire in Ukraine. Giuliani has said that he provided legal advice to the two men in the dispute.
He also defended the two publicly, tweeting about the Ukrainian businessman three times in May and suggesting that “Kolomoisky’s representatives and enemies of Pres. Trump” were advising Zelensky.
Marks said Giuliani was wrong to suggest that Kolomoisky opposes Trump. In fact, Marks said he keeps a photo of himself and Kolomoisky in Geneva from shortly after the presidential election, with both of them sporting “Make America Great Again” hats. And Marks said he himself represented the Trump campaign in court on several matters during the 2016 campaign.
“It was surprising that Giuliani would have involved himself, saying the things he said without having done any real due diligence on his clients,” Marks said.
Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey and Alice Crites contributed to this report.