Hunter Biden has paid the tax bill, but the federal investigation continues

WASHINGTON — In the year since the disclosure of a federal investigation into his “tax affairs” in late 2020, President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, has paid a large tax debt, even as a grand jury continued to gather evidence in a high-profile review. of its international trade relations, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr Biden’s non-payment of all his taxes has been the focus of the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation. While erasing his liability won’t prevent criminal charges against him, the payment could make it harder for prosecutors to secure a conviction or lengthy sentence for tax-related offenses, legal experts say. fiscal, as juries and judges tend to be friendlier. defendants who have paid their bills.

But Mr. Biden’s taxes are just one part of the larger investigation stemming from the work he has done around the world. A Yale-educated lawyer, Hunter Biden’s professional life intersected with his father’s public service, including working as a registered lobbyist for national interests and, while his father was vice president, pursuing business and clients in Asia and in Europe.

Just last month, the federal grand jury heard testimony in Wilmington, Del., from two witnesses, one of whom was a former employee of Hunter Biden whose attorney was later subpoenaed for records financials reflecting the money that Mr. Biden received from a Ukrainian. energy company.

The investigation, which began as a tax probe under the Obama administration, expanded in 2018 to include possible criminal violations of tax laws, as well as foreign lobbying and money laundering rules, according to people close to the investigation.

But prosecutors face a number of hurdles in bringing criminal charges, people familiar with the investigation said, including proving that Mr. Biden intentionally violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. , which requires disclosure to the Justice Department of lobbying or public relations assistance. on behalf of foreign customers.

The Justice Department has given no public indication that it has made any decisions on any element of the case, and Mr. Biden has not been charged with any crime.

When disclosing the investigation after the 2020 election, Hunter Biden said that “a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I have conducted my affairs lawfully and appropriately.”

Mr. Biden’s attorney, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware, which is overseeing the investigation, all declined to comment.

It is unclear if the criminal investigation is focused solely on Hunter Biden, or if he is part of a group of individuals and businesses being examined. Prosecutors also asked about potential violations of FARA by a Washington consulting firm, Blue Star Strategies, which worked for the Ukrainian energy company as part of a deal Mr. Biden helped negotiate, according to documents and people close to the investigation.

For President Biden, the long-running affair is both politically and personally strained. Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company, became a flashpoint in his father’s 2020 run against President Donald J. Trump and helped spark the events that led to the Mr. Trump’s first impeachment.

The elder Mr Biden now oversees the Justice Department which is leading the investigation. And Hunter Biden, who in recent years has pursued a career as a painter, admitted to serious substance abuse and other issues during his time seeking international business, while coping with the illness and death of his brother Beau.

The investigation is overseen by David C. Weiss, the US Attorney for Delaware. He worked in the office during the Bush and Obama administrations and was appointed to lead it by Mr. Trump. Mr. Weiss was allowed to remain in office until the Biden case is resolved.

Hunter Biden has told associates in recent months that he has paid federal taxes that have come under Justice Department scrutiny. He told an associate the tax debt was over $1 million and he needed to take out a loan to pay it off.

Federal tax prosecutors typically fight to prevent jurors from knowing whether defendants paid their back taxes, arguing that the crime occurs when the return is falsely filed or not filed at all, former tax prosecutor Jeffrey Neiman said. of the Department of Justice and associate of Marcus, Neiman, Rashbaum and Pineiro. Such knowledge could influence jurors, even if a judge asks them to disregard it.

Mr. Neiman said defense attorneys encourage clients to pay their back taxes if they think they could be charged with federal tax offenses because that often helps in sentencing.

Mr. Biden’s extensive work with foreign companies has come under scrutiny from prosecutors over whether he should have registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent .

Investigators looked into Mr. Biden’s dealings with interests in Kazakhstan, a Chinese energy conglomerate and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company, according to people familiar with the investigation.

They said prosecutors investigated payments and gifts Mr. Biden or his associates received from foreign interests, including a vehicle paid for with funds from a company associated with a Kazakh oligarch and a diamond from a Chinese energy magnate. Prosecutors also searched for documents related to corporate entities through which Mr. Biden and his associates conducted business with interests around the world.

But there has been debate within the Justice Department over whether the available evidence proves that Mr. Biden intended to violate FARA, which the government must prove to secure a criminal conviction. Prosecutors have discussed approaching potential FARA violations as a civil matter, which would require Mr. Biden to retroactively register as a foreign agent, but avoid criminal charges, according to people familiar with the matter.

Such a resolution could complicate a potential money laundering case, since money laundering is usually charged in connection with another crime.

Over the past two years, federal prosecutors in Delaware have issued dozens of subpoenas for documents related to Hunter Biden’s work abroad and for bank accounts linked to him and his associates, including two former close business partners, Eric Schwerin and Devon Archer, according to people. familiar with the survey.

Last year, prosecutors questioned Mr. Archer and subpoenaed him for documents and testimony before a grand jury, the people said. Mr. Archer, who was convicted last month in an unrelated securities fraud case in which a decision to overturn his conviction was overturned, had served with Mr. Biden on the Burisma board from 2014.

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors reviewed emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others regarding Burisma and other foreign business activities. These emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appear to be from a laptop that Mr. Biden left behind at a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache have been authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

In some of the emails, Mr. Biden showed familiarity with FARA and a desire to avoid triggering it.

In an email to Mr. Archer in April 2014, Mr. Biden outlined his vision for working with Burisma. In the email, Hunter Biden indicated that the upcoming announcement of a trip to Ukraine by Vice President Biden – who is referred to in the email as “guy”, but not by name – should “to be characterized as part of our advice and reflections”. — but what he will say and do does not depend on us.

The announcement “could be a very good thing or it could end up creating too much of an expectation. We need to temper expectations around this visit,” Hunter Biden wrote.

Vice President Biden traveled to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, about a week after the email.

In the same April 2014 email, Hunter Biden indicated that Burisma officials “must know unequivocally that we will not and cannot intervene directly with national decision-makers, and that we must respect FARA and any other U.S. law in the strictest sense”. at all levels.

He suggested bringing in the law firm where he worked at the time, Boies Schiller Flexner, to help Burisma through “direct discussions with the state, energy and the NSC”, referring to two cabinet departments and the White House National Security Council.

The company “can design a media plan and arrange for legal protections and mitigate negative US press regarding the current leadership if necessary,” Biden wrote in the email.

Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer, Boies Schiller Flexner and Blue Star Strategies have not registered with FARA on behalf of Burisma.

In another series of emails reviewed by prosecutors, Hunter Biden and Mr. Archer discussed inviting foreign associates, including a Burisma executive, to an April 2015 dinner at a Washington restaurant where Vice President Biden would stop. It is unclear whether the Burisma executive attended the dinner, although the vice president made an appearance, according to people familiar with the event.

Prosecutors also subpoenaed cases related to a lawsuit filed by former Biden employee Lunden Alexis Roberts in Arkansas state court, according to his attorney.

Ms Roberts sued Mr Biden for alimony and paternity in 2019, after one of his companies stopped paying her and providing her with health insurance, court records show.

Mr Biden and Ms Roberts reached an out-of-court settlement in the paternity case in March 2020.

Last year, prosecutors traveled to Little Rock, Ark., and questioned Ms. Roberts and her attorney about Mr. Biden’s finances, including the corporate entity he used to pay her and whether that entity had received payments from Burisma, according to one person. familiar with questioning.

And last month, in response to another subpoena, Ms Roberts testified before the Delaware grand jury, according to her lawyer.

Helen L. Cuellar