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A misleading claim about the head of the Ukrainian energy company at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry went viral across conservative pockets of social media Wednesday, receiving hundreds of thousands of retweets and shares from some of the president’s most ardent online supporters.
The incorrect story, first disseminated by the finance blog ZeroHedge, claimed that Mykola Zlochevsky, the head of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, had been indicted over money laundering related to the Biden family. Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, was previously on Burisma’s board of directors.
In fact, there was no announcement of an indictment. Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, announced in October his office would conduct a wide-ranging review of all previous cases involving Burisma, and Wednesday said he was including possible embezzlement in the investigation, according to Reuters.
ZeroHedge apparently misconstrued the original Russian article from the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency, which did not mention an indictment. The Interfax-Ukraine News Agency operates as part of Interfax, a Russian news outlet.
But that didn’t stop allies of President Donald Trump from widely disseminating the false account of an indictment, seizing on some truthful elements while wildly extrapolating others to offer conservatives and Trump loyalists a welcome alternative to the day’s news, in which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, implicated numerous members of the Trump administration in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Within an hour of ZeroHedge publishing its story, the claim of an indictment had been spread on Twitter by tens of thousands of users. According to results on the Twitter analytics tool Hoaxy, the indictment claims were propelled by Charlie Kirk, the leader of the conservative group Turning Point USA, as well as a conspiracy theorist, Jack Posobiec, and the anonymous @BreakingNLive, an account that has become notorious for spreading misinformation. The account also boasts of being retweeted by the president.
More than 10,000 users engaged with the ZeroHedge story on Facebook, which was shared to dozens of pages that totaled more than 3 million followers.
Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation researcher for the The Wilson Center and a former adviser to Ukraine’s foreign ministry, told NBC News that claims of a new indictment appear to be a misinterpretation of a press conference related to an already existing corruption probe.
“There’s been an investigation into Burisma for a long time,” Jankowicz said. “The allegations are about corruption with Burisma’s head, which have been well known for a long time.”
Jankowicz said Burisma and its owner, Zlochevsky, have been under investigation several times in the last decade. She said she believes the press conference might have been political maneuvering by two Ukrainian politicians eager to gain Trump’s attention.
“It certainly seems like these two guys are trying to influence that already existing investigation, probably to curry favor with the Trump administration,” Jankowicz said.
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who researches kleptocracy in Russia, called the two Ukrainian members of parliament, Oleksandr Dubinsky and Andriy Derkach, who pushed the new allegations, “not credible.”
“These two both are professional disinformers,” Aslund said. “This is generally known in Ukraine. This is not outstanding news. Anybody who’s anybody knows about these two. They are not credible.”
originally posted by: OccamsRazor04
a reply to: HalWesten
Yep, I assume it is fake news until I see named sources and can verify it's not fake news.
originally posted by: HalWesten
This is the reason I don't jump on information when it's brand new. And despite what the Twitter world does, it does not reflect the behavior of most of us on the Right. Twitter sucks. It should have died a quick death when it first came out.
originally posted by: Grimpachi
No way the timing on this can be a coincidence.
This was orchestrated to take the focus off of Sondland throwing everyone under the bus.
so seems the issue is muddied least in ukraine by them not exactly wanting to pick a side as far as going after Burisma goes
One of the troubling questions at the center of the impeachment inquiry, at least for Republicans, has been the work that Hunter Biden did for Burisma, one of Ukraine’s largest gas companies, while his father was serving as Vice President. But the intensity of interest in Washington is only making it more difficult to resolve the mystery. To this day, Burisma’s connection to Hunter Biden has made it much harder for Ukrainian authorities to investigate the company for corruption, current and former officials in Ukraine tell TIME. In that sense, Burisma is still getting its money’s worth for the reported $50,000 per month it paid the younger Biden to sit on its board from 2014 until earlier this year. Ukraine’s government insists that it has no evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden or his father. But Burisma, they say, is a different story. Since taking office in May, the government has sought to explore past claims of corruption against Burisma and its owners. Yet, as an unintended consequence of the impeachment inquiry, Ukraine has felt the need to treat the company with kid gloves.
Update 2: Dobinsky, the MP, says one of the leaked documents is a "signed suspicion" at 1:19 in the video below. This has been described in Ukrainian media as an investigative step which documents allegations against an individual or individuals, similar to a criminal referral. While Donibsky says during the press conference that "Zlochevsky was charged," we have updated our headline and report accordingly.
A transcription of key portions of the press conference can found here, via Tanya Tay Posobiec.