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Around the time U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland made some unflattering allegations about President Donald Trump and other administration officials during an impeachment hearing, new claims about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma started to spread on social media.
"BREAKING NEWS," began one such post on Facebook. "The Ukrainian government just indicted the Burisma gas company & named Hunter Biden for accepting millions of dollars from a slush fund. Your move, Dems."
Another post appears to show Clint Eastwood — though it’s not really him — tweeting about the "breaking" and "developing" news.
"#Ukraine just indicted Taras Burdeinyi, the chief executive officer of #Burisma," this post said. "Including naming #HunterBiden as the recipient of millions of dollars from slush fund. The tide is turning folks."
Both posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The Facebook account called "Educating Liberals" that shared the first post also wrote: "Before the Facebook ‘fact-checkers’ try to call this fake news & take away my reach again…. here’s a source."
The account linked to a story published on Interfax-Ukraine, a news agency that’s part of the Russian outlet Interfax. The story’s headline says, "MPs demand Zelensky, Trump investigate suspicion of U.S.-Ukraine corruption involving $7.4 bln."
However, the story doesn’t describe an indictment. Rather, it says Ukrainian members of parliament held a press conference at Interfax-Ukraine to demand Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and Trump investigate what they called suspected money laundering involving Burisma founder Minister Mykola Zlochevsky and former President Viktor Yanukovych.
According to the story, one of the members of parliament, Andriy Derkach, said that the money transferred to "representatives of the Burisma Group, including Hunter Biden," amounted to $16.5 million.
Burisma is central to the U.S. House impeachment inquiry. Trump is accused of holding up U.S. aid to Ukraine on the condition that Zelensky announce an investigation into Burisma and Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Hunter Biden was on Burisma’s board of directors until this year. His involvement has led to scrutiny from Republicans and inspired conspiracy theories.
But as NBC News reported, there was no announcement of an indictment Wednesday, as the Facebook posts claim. And according to the Daily Beast, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, said there is no investigation into the Bidens by his office.
Here’s what did happen: In October, Ryaboshapka, announced his office would conduct a wide-ranging review of all previous cases involving Burisma, according to NBC. And on Nov. 20, Reuters reported that Ryaboshapka said the country would widen its investigation into Burisma founder Zlochevsky to include suspicion of embezzling state funds.
Reuters reported that the prosecutor’s announcement followed the press conference that Interfax-Ukraine wrote about, in which members of parliament called for an investigation into Burisma-related money laundering. There, a document from the general prosecutor’s office was leaked, Reuters said, showing that another prosecutor suspected Zlochevsky, the Burisma founder, of using his official position to embezzle $33 million from the country’s central bank.
According to NBC News, the finance blog ZeroHedge appears to have misconstrued the Interfax-Ukraine story and within an hour of publishing its own dispatch, the claim of an indictment had spread on Twitter by tens of thousands of users.
Nina Jankowicz, a former adviser to Ukraine’s foreign ministry and a disinformation researcher at the Wilson Center, told NBC the claims appear to be a misinterpretation of a press conference related to allegations "about corruption with Burisma’s head, which have been well known for a long time." She speculated that the lawmakers who held the press conference were angling for Trump’s attention and trying to "curry favor" with his administration.
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who researches kleptocracy in Russia, told NBC that the lawmakers pushing new allegations at the press conference — Oleksandr Dubinsky and Andriy Derkach — are "professional disinformers."
"This is generally known in Ukraine," he said, "this is not outstanding news. Anybody who’s anybody knows about these two. They are not credible."
We rate these Facebook posts False.
Facebook post, Nov. 20, 2019
Facebook post, Nov. 20, 2019
The Washington Post, Sondland’s bombshell testimony leaves Trump’s Republican allies scrambling, Nov. 20, 2019
Interfax-Ukraine, MPs demand Zelensky, Trump investigate suspicion of U.S.-Ukraine corruption involving $7.4 bln, Nov. 20, 2019
PolitiFact, Fact-checking Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and Ukraine, May 7, 2019
NBC News, As Sondland testified, a misleading Ukraine story spread among conservatives on social media, Nov. 20, 2019
Reuters, Ukraine widens probe against Burisma founder to embezzlement of state funds, Nov. 21, 2019
The Daily Beast, Ukrainian pols are playing games with impeachment info, Nov. 21, 2019
The Washington Post, Ukraine’s new chief prosecutor to ‘audit’ Burisma gas company cases, Oct. 4, 2019
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