NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Friday refused to release an associate of U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, from house arrest while he awaits trial on charges of illegally funneling money to a pro-Trump election committee and other politicians.
U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan said at a hearing that there was a risk the Belarus-born businessman, Igor Fruman, would flee the country. Fruman, who lives in Florida, did not appear in court.
Fruman was arrested on Oct. 9 at a Washington-area airport along with another Florida businessman, Ukraine-born Lev Parnas, carrying a one-way ticket to Vienna. He was released on bail, but ordered confined to his home and subject to electronic monitoring.
Federal prosecutors have accused Fruman and Parnas of using a shell company to donate $325,000 to the pro-Trump committee and of raising money for former U.S. Representative Pete Sessions of Texas as part of an effort to have the president remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
That effort was carried out at the request of at least one Ukrainian official, prosecutors said. Trump ordered the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, removed in May.
Fruman and Parnas have pleaded not guilty.
Fruman’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, said at Friday’s hearing that any claim Fruman was trying to flee was “completely false” and that he often bought one-way tickets when traveling.
Blanche said Fruman needed to move more freely in order to take care of his three school-age children. He said there was no risk that Fruman, who has been a U.S. resident for 25 years and a citizen for 15, would flee, adding that he “has his entire life” in the United States.
Oetken, however, said Fruman also had substantial business ties in Ukraine, and that it was “impossible to know” based on the available evidence whether he had been trying to flee when he bought the one-way ticket.
The case is unfolding amid an impeachment inquiry by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives, centered on Republican Trump’s request in a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Yovanovitch testified in the inquiry that Trump had ousted her based on “unfounded and false claims” after she had come under attack by Giuliani. Giuliani has said Parnas and Fruman helped his efforts in Ukraine to investigate Biden and denies wrongdoing.
Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool
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