Ex-Giuliani associate Lev Parnas found guilty of violating US campaign finance law

Ukrainian-born businessman concealed source of donation made to former president Donald Trump

A federal jury on Friday convicted Lev Parnas, a one-time associate of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, of violating US campaign finance laws during the 2018 election cycle.

Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American businessman, and his former associate, Igor Fruman, were accused of soliciting funds from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev to donate to candidates in states where the group was seeking licenses to operate cannabis businesses in 2018.

The businessman concealed that he and Fruman, who pleaded guilty in September, were the true source of a donation to a group supporting then-president Donald Trump, prosecutors said.

He was charged with violating federal laws prohibiting foreigners from contributing to US election campaigns and barring donors from making contributions in the names of others.

The trial has drawn attention because of the role Parnas and Belarusian-born US citizen Fruman played in helping Mr Giuliani, who was Mr Trump's personal lawyer while he held office, to investigate Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Mr Biden won the election, denying Mr Trump a second term.

The case in federal court in Manhattan provided a glimpse into the inner workings of political fund-raising in the US.

“You saw the wires from Muraviev,” Assistant US Attorney Hagan Scotten told the jury during closing arguments on Thursday.

“You saw how that money came out on the other side, finding its way into American elections, where the defendants thought they had bought influence to further their business.”

Defence lawyers countered that Mr Muraviev's funds went towards business investments, not campaign contributions, and that the donation to the pro-Trump group was from a company founded by Parnas and broke no laws.

In his closing statement, Parnas's attorney, Joseph Bondy, characterised his client as a passionate proponent of marijuana legalisation who was “in well over his head”. He argued that Mr Muraviev's money funded business operations, not campaign contributions.

An associate of Mr Muraviev, Andrey Kukushkin, a California resident who was tried alongside Parnas, was found guilty of campaign finance abuses.

Deliberations in the trial began on Friday morning.

Mr Giuliani's lawyer has said the Parnas case is separate from a probe into whether he violated lobbying laws while representing Mr Trump.

A US prosecutor before he became New York mayor in 1994, Mr Giuliani has not been charged with any crimes and denies wrongdoing.

Fruman, who lives in Florida, pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting campaign contributions from a foreign national. His sentencing is scheduled for January 21.

Parnas and Kukushkin faced two counts of conspiring to make donations from a foreign national, and making the donations. Parnas also faced four other counts, including making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission.

Prosecutors also accused Parnas of making two contributions through a shell company to conceal that Fruman was the true source of the funds, and of lying to the commission about the funds.

Updated: October 22nd 2021, 8:28 PM