(CNSNews.com) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday again denied having been put under any pressure by President Trump, during a July phone conversation, to investigate Joe Biden or his son’s business dealings in Ukraine – an allegation at the center of the Democratic impeachment inquiry.
In what was billed as his first major interview by non-Ukrainian media since the row erupted, Zelensky was quoted as telling Japan’s Kyodo News agency that neither his invitation to the White House nor the sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine were made conditional on his willingness to cooperate in the Biden matter.
“I was never pressured and there were no conditions being imposed” to secure an Oval Office meeting with Trump or the weaponry, he said.
Zelensky said he had had no discussions with Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, about investigations into Biden, as a condition for being invited to visit Washington. Neither would he have accepted such a condition, he said.
According to a memo on the July 25 phone call, released by the White House last month, after Trump raised concerns about the Biden issue Zelensky told him that Ukraine’s new prosecutor general will “look into the situation.”
Zelensky told Kyodo News he was merely stating that if U.S. investigators want help on the matter and take the necessary steps, then Ukraine could oblige by setting up a joint investigative committee.
He pointed out that under Ukraine’s Constitution the country’s president does not have the power to compel the prosecutor-general or investigative authorities to look into a particular case.
Zelensky said he told Trump that if U.S. prosecutors asked for Ukrainian cooperation in an investigation based on international law, then – in line with Ukraine’s domestic laws – it could set up a joint investigative committee to probe the issue at hand.
In 2014 Vice President Biden’s son, Hunter, joined the board of Ukraine’s largest independent gas producer, Burisma Holdings, whose owner, an oligarch and former government minister named Mykola Zlochevsky, was under suspicion of corrupt practices.
At a time of escalating tensions with Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine, President Obama had given his vice president the task of overseeing U.S.-Ukraine relations.
In the course of his dealings with Ukraine – he visited the country six times as vice president – Biden in 2016 threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees for Kyiv unless then-President Petro Poroshenko fired his prosecutor-general, Viktor Shokin.
Shokin, who was widely viewed as ineffective in combating endemic corruption in Ukraine, was soon thereafter removed from his post. But the fact he had been in the process of investigating Burisma’s oligarch owner Zlochevsky prompted suspicion in some quarters that Biden’s threat to withhold the loan guarantees had been improper.
Armed with a complaint by an anonymous whistleblower, Trump’s Democratic critics are accusing him of abusing his power as president to pressure Zelensky to provide damaging information on Biden, who is campaigning for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
They claim that his decision to hold up military aid for Ukraine that Congress had appropriated was part of this supposed pressure; Trump denies that, asserting that he withheld the aid because of concerns of corruption in Ukraine, and out of frustration that Ukraine’s European neighbors were not doing more to help.
Zelensky told the Japanese news outlet that he believes different parties and camps are releasing information in their own self-interest ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
Ukraine’s Interfax news agency on Friday quoted the country’s current prosecutor-general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, as saying his office was conducting an audit of previous investigations relating to Burisma Holdings.
“We are now reviewing all the cases which were closed, fragmented or investigated earlier in order to make a decision on cases where illegal procedural decisions were taken,” he said.
Hunter Biden reportedly stood down from the Burisma board in April this year.