By Ronit Pinto and Jaime Lubin
In the latest development in the mass of cases surrounding the impeachment probe, a federal judge declined to revoke bail for Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-American businessman with ties to Rudy Giuliani. Parnas was indicted in October and charged with conspiring to funnel foreign money into Republican campaigns in the U.S., to which he pled not guilty. Along with associate Igor Fruman, Parnas is alleged to have aided Giuliani’s investigation into Donald Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, and worked to start a smear campaign about U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ultimately ousted from her job due to the fallout. Since his indictment, Parnas has become a key figure in the Presidential impeachment inquiry, having agreed to comply with Congressional investigators to provide crucial documents and testimony.
“I thank God, and my wonderful wife, and mother, and all the supporters [and] well-wishers out there, and especially my lawyer,” Parnas said following his appearance at this afternoon’s bail hearing, which saw him declared a free man for the time being.
General public consensus remains that the government is using whatever measures possible to keep Parnas from testifying in the impeachment inquiry. Federal prosecutors from the U.S. Southern District of New York had argued that Parnas was a flight risk, pushing for him to be detained without bail. They claimed he violated the terms of his pre-trial release by not being forthcoming about changes in his finances at the initial time of bail-setting, pointing specifically to a $1 million loan that Parnas’s wife Svetlana had received from a Swiss attorney in September; an escrow down payment for a $4.5 million home; and two months’ pay as a contracted interpreter for a law firm at $50,000 a month.
Parnas’s attorney Joseph A. Bondy was quick to refute each and every one of the prosecutors’ charges. According to Bondy, Parnas – a U.S. citizen with five children – has had ample opportunity to flee and has not, also noting that returning to Ukraine is not a viable option for him as his life has been threatened by people there. Moreover, said Bondy, the items in discrepancy do not add up to revocation of bail. The $1 million was sent to Svetlana’s account as a loan, and would technically be considered her assets rather than her husband’s. The home was not closed on, and the payments for providing translational services were part of a four-month contract that was disclosed in bank statements, and which the U.S. government knew of when they agreed on the original terms of Parnas’s bail.
The loan to Svetlana Parnas has remained the biggest point of intrigue thus far. Both Bondy and the prosecutors stated that the money came from Ralph Oswald Isenegger, a Swiss lawyer representing Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash (currently facing bribery charges and battling extradition to the U.S.). Firtash, believed to have ties to “the upper echelons of Russian organized crime,” is living in Vienna and represented in the U.S. by husband-and-wife legal team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph Di Genova, who are close to Trump and Giuliani. Prosecutors have described Firtash as a benefactor for Parnas, who previously worked with the mogul’s American lawyers as an interpreter, though Isenegger has thus far declined to comment on the loan.
Bondy emphasized that Parnas has severed his connection to Firtash after offering to cooperate with the Congressional subpoena, telling Politico: “He has burned that bridge, to the extent that there ever was a bridge.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski, speaking for the prosecutors, asserted the government’s view that the loan must have been intended for Lev instead of Svetlana. “It’s an unsecured, undocumented loan to a housewife with no assets,” she stated to the judge. “That makes no sense, Your Honor.”
Yet Judge J. Paul Oetken concluded that, as Bondy argued, Parnas’s discrepancies in recounting his finances had logical explanations. The judge decided that while the information Parnas provided about his assets and income “may have violated the spirit” of the disclosure requirements, the factors between the pretrial and the present circumstances were not significant to add up to a major discrepancy of resources or a reason to flee. “I don’t know that it rises to the level of intentional misstatements warranting the revocation of bail,” Oetken told CNN.
And while Judge Oetken did deny Bondy’s request for his client to be allowed out of his home daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, as he wished, rejection of the prosecutors’ motion for revocation of bail is a great step forward for both Parnas and Bondy.
“It took a lot of time, it took a lot of energy, to have to make these arguments,” Bondy noted in a press conference directly following the court appearance. “We’re happy we got a fair audience in court. We believe the judge came to the right result and we’re looking forward to defending the matter in this court and also continuing to have Mr. Parnas try to speak his truth to Congress on behalf of all of us.”
**Stay tuned for more in-depth Honeysuckle coverage of this developing case with insights from attorney Joseph Bondy. Those who wish to support Parnas’s testimony to Congress can add their voices to the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #LetLevSpeak.