Hunter Biden’s legal work in Romania raises new questions about his overseas dealings
Hunter Biden provided legal advice to a Romanian charged with real-estate fraud, at a time when his father was pushing corruption reforms in the country.
In the final year of the Obama administration, an American lawyer traveled to Romania to meet with a businessman accused of orchestrating a corrupt land deal.
The businessman was Gabriel “Puiu” Popoviciu, a wealthy Romanian real-estate tycoon. The lawyer brought in to advise him was Hunter Biden, the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Hunter Biden’s work for Popoviciu in 2016 went unreported at the time, but Joe Biden’s involvement in Romania was very much public. The vice president was among the leading voices pushing the government to crack down on corruption.
There is no evidence that Hunter or his father acted improperly or violated any laws. The arrangement, however, raises concerns that Hunter Biden was used as a prop in Popoviciu’s effort to dodge criminal prosecution.
“We don’t know what [Hunter Biden] was paid or what he was paid for but it does raise questions of whether this Romanian individual facing criminal charges was actually paying for a connection to the American vice president,” said Kathleen Clark, a Washington University law professor who specializes in government ethics.
Hunter Biden’s work overseas — primarily in the Ukraine and China — has become a subject of the presidential campaign because of his father’s incredulous insistence that he knew nothing about what his son was doing.
As the presidential race started heating up, Hunter Biden announced he would step down from the board of a Chinese investment company that he joined in October 2017. And in an interview with ABC News released last Tuesday, he acknowledged showing “poor judgment” but denied any ethical lapses in taking a position on the board of the Burisma gas company in Ukraine at a time when his father was leading American policy in the country.
Hunter Biden’s activities related to Romania have gotten far less attention.
The case against Popoviciu was set in motion in 2005 when a businessman lodged a criminal complaint against him and the rector of a Romanian university relating to the sale of a 550-acre plot of land near Bucharest, according to documents from the European Court of Human Rights.
The businessman claimed Popoviciu had purchased the land for “significantly less money than it was actually worth,” the documents say. Furthermore, the businessman alleged the plot wasn’t the property of the University of Agronomy, but was instead owned by the Romanian government, according to the documents.
Romanian prosecutors initially declined to investigate citing a lack of evidence. But in July 2008, the country’s National Anti-Corruption Protection Service took over the case.
The university rector was charged in March 2009 with abusing his position and Popoviciu was charged with “complicity in abuse of position,” the documents show. Two months later, Popoviciu was hit with a bribery charge.
Popoviciu was convicted in 2016 but launched an appeal. He assembled a high profile legal team to fight the conviction, which included former FBI director Louis Freeh, according to a release from Freeh’s firm.
That same year, Hunter Biden traveled to Romania to assist Popoviciu, according to two people familiar with the matter.
At the time he was brought in, Hunter Biden was performing work for the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP where he was “of counsel.” The firm did not respond to a request for comment.
Romania was by then a familiar place to the Biden family. A close friend and former staffer of Joe Biden, Mark Gitenstein, held the position of U.S. ambassador to Romania from August 2009 to December 2012. In March 2012, Hunter’s brother, Beau, was asked to do the ribbon-cutting at the new U.S. embassy in Bucharest.
Vice President Biden visited Romania in 2014 and delivered a forceful speech against graft. “Corruption is a cancer, a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy,” he said. “Corruption is just another form of tyranny.”
It is unclear how much assistance Hunter Biden provided in Popoviciu’s case. The Romanian real-estate tycoon’s bid to overturn his conviction ultimately failed. He was sentenced to seven years in prison in August 2017, according to a press release from Freeh’s firm.
Romanian police officers showed up at Popoviciu’s home to take him into custody on Aug. 2, but he was nowhere to be found and soon declared a fugitive, according to the news site romania-insider.com.
Popoviciu was arrested in London days later.
Freeh continued working on behalf of Popoviciu. Last year, he tapped Giuliani, his longtime friend, to assist in his Romanian work.
Giuliani’s hiring created what appears in hindsight a strange-bedfellows arrangement. Giuliani, who has been the loudest critic of Hunter Biden’s work in the Ukraine, was working on the same side as the younger Biden in Romania.
It wasn’t until several months later that Giuliani began publicly assailing Hunter Biden for his work in Ukraine.
Last month, Giuliani indicated that he was planning to broaden the line of attack against Hunter Biden.
“We haven’t moved to Romania yet. Wait ‘til we get to Romania,” Giuliani told Fox News host Howard Kurtz.
When NBC News asked Giuliani to elaborate on his claims about Hunter Biden relating to Romania, he offered a terse response. “I only know rumors about it,” Giuliani said.
Popoviciu, who is still in London, is fighting extradition to Romania, according to U.K. officials.
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit government watchdog group, said that “it’s hard to avoid the conclusion” that Hunter Biden secured his overseas positions because of his name.
Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, didn’t respond to a request for comment when asked about his client’s work in Romania. In the ABC News interview, Hunter Biden insisted that he would refrain from working for foreign-owned companies if his father became president and abide by any other ethics rules that a Biden administration imposed.