From 2013 through 2018 Hunter Biden and his company brought in about $11 million via his roles as an attorney and a board member with a Ukrainian firm accused of bribery and his work with a Chinese businessman now accused of fraud, according to an NBC News analysis of a copy of Biden’s hard drive and iCloud account and documents released by Republicans on two Senate committees.
The documents and the analysis, which don’t show what he did to earn millions from his Chinese partners, raise questions about national security, business ethics and potential legal exposure. In December 2020, Biden acknowledged in a statement that he was the subject of a federal investigation into his taxes. NBC News was first to report that an ex-business partner had warned Biden he should amend his tax returns to disclose $400,000 in income from the Ukrainian firm, Burisma. GOP congressional sources also say that if Republicans take back the House this fall, they’ll demand more documents and probe whether any of Biden’s income went to his father, President Joe Biden.
“No government ethics rules apply to him,” said Walter Shaub, a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics who is now an ethics expert with the Project on Government Oversight. Shaub added, however, that “it’s imperative that no one at DOJ and no one at the White House interfere with the criminal investigation in Delaware.” Shaub had previously raised questions about Hunter Biden’s new line of work, selling his own paintings, which created the potential to purchase a painting to buy perceived influence, and also because the White House became involved in the transactions, arranging that none of the buyers’ names be known to Biden, the White House or the public.
Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI’s former assistant director for counterintelligence, said there is a national security risk when foreign powers like China see an opportunity to get close to someone like Biden. “It’s all about access and influence, and if you can compromise someone with both access and influence, that’s even better,” said Figliuzzi, now an NBC News contributor. “Better still if that target has already compromised himself.”
The documents and the analysis indicate that few of Biden’s deals ever came to fruition and shed light on how fast he was spending his money. Expenditures compiled on his hard drive show he spent more than $200,000 per month from October 2017 through February 2018 on luxury hotel rooms, Porsche payments, dental work and cash withdrawals.
Biden has admitted to burning through cash to pay for drugs and partying with strangers who routinely stole from him, and he struggled to pay multiple mortgages or keep up with alimony and child support payments to his ex-wife. In his autobiography, “Beautiful Things,” he says the money from Burisma “turned into a major enabler during my steepest skid into addiction” and “hounded me to spend recklessly, dangerously, destructively. Humiliatingly. So I did.”
In a February 2017 divorce filing, an attorney for Biden’s ex-wife said the couple’s outstanding debts were “shocking and overwhelming” and that they owed $313,000 in back taxes. According to the filing, they had bounced checks to their housekeeper and owed money to doctors and therapists. The filing alleged that Hunter Biden had spent copiously on drugs, strip clubs, prostitutes and girlfriends “while leaving the family with no money to pay legitimate bills.”
A representative for Biden says all of his tax responsibilities to the IRS are now satisfied. Two sources familiar with the matter have confirmed to NBC News that Hollywood attorney Kevin Morris began advising Biden in 2020 and arranged to pay off the approximately $2 million Biden owed the IRS.
Legal experts say, however, that paying the bill won’t relieve Biden of criminal liability or necessarily erase his debts.
NBC News analyst Chuck Rosenberg, a former Justice Department official, said that Biden’s paying what he owes could even be seen as an admission of criminal violations. Not paying taxes for many years, rather than one or two, Rosenberg said, helps establish intent, which can otherwise be a struggle for prosecutors in white-collar cases.
Paying the bill, Rosenberg said, might help Biden if he faced sentencing and “mitigate some of the damage, but it doesn’t undo the crime. That would be like returning money to a bank that you robbed. You still robbed the bank.”
Biden is represented by former federal prosecutor Christopher Clark in the ongoing criminal investigation in Delaware. Clark declined to comment on the record. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware declined to comment.
NBC News obtained a copy of Biden’s laptop hard drive from a representative of Rudy Giuliani and examined Biden’s business dealings from 2013 to 2018 based on the information available on the hard drive and the scope of the documents released by the Senate.
The Republicans on the Senate Finance and Homeland Security committees, then chaired by Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, respectively, issued their first report on Biden’s business dealings in September 2020. The 87-page report said Biden had “cashed in” on his name, but Johnson said in an interview before its release that the report included “no massive smoking guns.”
Now in the minority, the Republicans from the two committees are still reviewing and analyzing several hundred pages of financial and business documents tied to Biden and his business associates, according to a person familiar with the committee’s work.
Biden has denied any illegal activity, and he told CBS News in an interview that he is “cooperating completely” with the federal investigation in Delaware. “And I’m absolutely certain, 100 percent certain,” he said, “that at the end of the investigation, I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Biden and China
Biden made $5.8 million, more than half his total earnings from 2013 to 2018, from two deals with Chinese business interests.
Biden’s most lucrative business relationship was acting as a consultant in a project with a company that belongs to a once-powerful Chinese businessman who is now thought to be detained in his homeland.
According to business records referred to in the Senate report, Hudson West III, a venture funded by the Chinese oil and natural gas company CEFC and its chairman, Ye Jianming, paid $4,790,375.25 to Owasco P.C. over about one year.
Filings with the Washington, D.C., government show Owasco P.C. is controlled by Hunter Biden.
A review of the personal and corporate emails on Biden’s hard drive yield little information about any business he conducted on behalf of Hudson West III, and his autobiography doesn’t discuss his Chinese business dealings in any detail.
One of the few potential business opportunities discussed appears in a series of email exchanges among Biden, several U.S. partners and Chinese individuals associated with Hudson West III.
They talked about a potential gas deal on Monkey Island in Louisiana in 2017, but it appears no deal was made, and no publicly available documents indicate any sort of purchase, sale or agreement.
Britt Singletary, the attorney who conducted due diligence for the Monkey Island deal and another deal, told NBC News that ultimately the deals didn’t come together because they just didn’t make sense.
“Financially, it wasn’t going to work,” said Singletary, because the deals were too big and too risky for Hunter Biden, his uncle Jim Biden and their Chinese partners.
Citing attorney-client privilege, Singletary said he couldn’t discuss his advice on the deals to Hunter Biden, his uncle Jim or two Chinese employees of Hudson West III, Mervyn Yan and JiaQi Bao. He described Yan and Bao as “very smart” and said two meetings occurred, one in Atlanta and one in New Orleans. Hunter Biden attended the meeting in New Orleans.
Singletary was counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1970s, where he met then-Sen. Joe Biden. Singletary says he believes he was chosen because Joe Biden and ultimately Hunter Biden knew he wouldn’t get the Chinese businesspeople or the Bidens into bad business deals.
In 2018, Chinese prosecutors accused Ye Jianming of “economic crimes,” including alleged fraud and bribery, and detained him for questioning. He hasn’t been seen in public since.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington told NBC News, “We are not familiar with the case you mentioned, and I’m afraid we can’t offer information on this.”
According to the Republican Senate report, Hudson West III, CEFC and another firm were involved in certain transactions that were “among those identified as potential efforts to layer funds.”
The U.S. Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network describes the layering of funds as “separating the illegally obtained money from its criminal source by layering it through a series of financial transactions, which makes it difficult to trace the money back to its original source.”
But the report doesn’t say whether or not Hunter Biden was personally involved in any transactions that were suggested to involve “layering.”
Biden also appears to have done work for one of Ye’s business associates. Patrick Ho was convicted in U.S. federal court of bribing top officials in Chad and Uganda in pursuit of oil deals in those countries starting in September 2014. A jury found that Ho, while working for CEFC, bribed or attempted to bribe officials as much as $2 million. He was sentenced to three years in prison in March 2019 and then expelled from the U.S. at the end of his prison term.
Federal court filings and emails on Biden’s hard drive indicate Ho was employed by CEFC and was an associate of Ye. Ho worked on the failed Monkey Island project.
Hudson West wired Biden’s company, Owasco, $1 million from Hudson West III in March 2018 with a memo line for “Dr Patrick Ho Chi Ping Representation,” according to the Senate report and emails on the Biden hard drive.
Biden never made an appearance on the docket in Ho’s case, and there are no emails on his laptop that indicate he was involved in the legal strategy of the case or drafted any legal documents outside his suggestion of whom to use as Ho’s counsel.
‘I did not drill down’
Biden wrote in his book about how few of his business deals brought tangible results. He said he wasn’t “desperate” before he landed a position on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma in 2014 but that the money was “helpful” and that it came at a “fortuitous” time. He said it meant he didn’t have to work so hard to find clients, “the most time-consuming part of my work — drilling twenty dry wells to finally hit pay dirt,” and that it let him spend more time with his dying brother, Beau.
Biden’s addition to the company’s board as head of legal affairs was reported in a news release in May 2014. At some point from May to December 2014, Burisma allegedly paid a bribe to a Ukrainian official to help stop a joint British/U.S. money-laundering investigation into Burisma’s top executive, according to a State Department email that quotes a Ukrainian prosecutor.
In his book, Biden describes the efforts he made before he took the Burisma job to be sure the company was ethical, as well as steps he didn’t take. He read a report from a corporate investigations firm called Kroll, which gave the company a clean bill of health, but he was “concerned” that the report was a year and a half old. He wrote that his law firm then commissioned its own study and that Burisma “checked all the important boxes.” His law firm recommended that Burisma impose still stricter ethical guidelines, and it was Biden’s job to implement them.
According to Biden, neither of the investigating firms knew of the probe into Burisma’s top executive. Biden said the U.K. unfroze the executive’s U.K. assets in early 2015 and dropped the case in 2018.
Biden also said, “I did not drill down to determine whether or not [Mykola] Zlochevsky acquired his wealth fairly during the decades of kleptocracy and corruption that dated back to when Ukraine was a former republic of the Soviet Union.”
He wrote that he is always aware that his name is a commodity but that he was qualified for the job. He said there is nowhere in the world that isn’t part of his father’s sphere of influence but that no one at Burisma “even hinted at wanting me to influence the administration.”
Money for the ‘family’
While Republicans have suggested that Biden’s reference in an email to needing money for his “family” refers to the larger Biden clan, nothing in the Senate documents or on the hard drive indicates he was earning money expressly to share with other family members, including his father.
Anecdotal evidence from the hard drive and the documents, as well as Biden’s autobiography and the 2017 divorce filing by his ex-wife, is consistent with Biden’s needing the money for his ex-wife and children, tuition and mortgage and for his profligate personal spending. However, should Republicans take control of Congress, as seems likely, they will use their subpoena power to try to find and highlight any financial connections between father and son.
“Family members of presidents and other political officials are going to make money,” said Shaub, the ethicist. “They’re going to have jobs. They’re private citizens. And it’s really not for us to say how or when they make money. … Unfortunately, Hunter Biden seems a lot like somebody whose primary profession is being Joe Biden’s son. But unless there’s a direct connection to Joe Biden, that’s really more of a criticism of one private citizen rather than a government official or an administration.”