Ukraine-born businessman becomes national figure after his role in Trump’s attempt to find harmful information about Biden is revealed
Those efforts were a central part of the first Trump impeachment investigation, which began in 2019 and resulted in the Senate acquittal of the president for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
In a Manhattan courtroom, Mr. Parnas faces six criminal charges, including an alleged scheme to funnel money from a wealthy Russian citizen to US candidates and the actual source of a $325,000 contribution to a supporter. A different alleged plan to hide is involved. Trump Super Pac. Federal law prohibits a foreign national from making political donations to US elections. It is also illegal to make political contributions in the name of another person.
In October 2019, the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York charged Mr. Parnas and another of Mr. Giuliani’s associates, Igor Fruman, of alleged straw-donor schemes. Prosecutors have described Messrs Parnas and Fruman as Florida-based businessmen who in 2018 made a flurry of donations to bolster their influence in political circles.
Mr Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondi said his client, a US citizen who immigrated from Ukraine as a young child and only had a high school education, did not know he was breaking federal election laws.
“We would argue that he had no knowledge or intention of violating federal election laws,” Mr Bondi said.
Mr Fruman pleaded guilty on 10 September to soliciting political contributions from businessman Andrey Muraviev, a Russian citizen, that could be used to support candidates who could help the cannabis business.
A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Following his arrest, Mr. Parnas publicly broke ties with Mr. Trump and expressed his desire to work with congressional investigators. But Mr Bondi has said he is concerned about finding an impartial jury after the negative portrayal of Mr Parnas in the media. Trump and Giuliani and other political figures are likely to attend the trial, potentially further polarizing the jury.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. US District Judge J. Paul Oetken has said that it is possible to meet an impartial jury, but that he may question potential jurors privately about their political beliefs.
Mr Giuliani’s lawyer declined to comment. Mr. Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing with M/s Parnas and Fruman.
Representatives for Mr Trump did not respond to a request for comment. Mr Trump has said that he does not know Messrs Parnas and Fruman, although they have admitted to having taken photographs together.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections is also likely to emerge as a topic in the trial. Prosecutors said in court papers that extensive coverage of the investigation in 2018 suggests that anyone following the news would have known that donating Russian money to US political candidates was illegal.
Andrey Kukushkin, a California businessman, is also undergoing trial along with Mr. Parnas. He is accused of conspiring with Messrs Parnas and Fruman to make political donations over $25,000 from the funds of Russian businessman Mr. Muraviev in a calendar year.
According to the indictment, in September and October of 2018, Mr. Muraviev transferred $1 million to a bank account controlled by Mr. Fruman for charity.
Mr Kukushkin has pleaded not guilty. Mr. Muraviev is not accused in this case.
Mr Kukushkin’s lawyer Gerald Lefcourt did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Muraviev’s money was a loan to a cannabis business venture, Mr Lefcourt has said in the court filing. M/s Muraviev and Kukushkin were victims of fraud, Mr Lefcourt has said. M/s Parnas and Fruman used the money to cover their personal expenses and did not invest any money in the cannabis business, they have said.
Mr. Parnas is the only of two defendants in the lawsuit who in May 2018 accused the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action of donating $325,000 in the name of him and Mr. Fruman’s company, Global Energy Producers, instead of the presence of a successful business. There is no real money. In fact, the money came from a personal loan that Mr Fruman had obtained, according to prosecutors.
Mr Bondi has said that Global Energy Producers was a legitimate energy startup designed to buy liquefied natural gas in the US to ship overseas.
—Dina Paul contributed to this article.