MIAMI — South Florida energy and asphalt tycoon Harry Sargeant III is pushing back on news reports that he worked this year with two Soviet-born businessmen — who are now embroiled in an ongoing impeachment investigation — to overhaul the leadership of a massive Ukrainian state gas company and steer contracts to President Donald Trump’s allies.

Sargeant, in a statement released Monday, disputed a report from The Associated Press that he schemed to create a pipeline of contracts from Ukraine’s Naftogaz, the state-owned oil and gas company, alongside two South Florida businessmen who have helped Trump’s personal attorney dig for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine.

Sargeant, a major Florida GOP donor, did meet with the two entrepreneurs and a Naftogaz executive in Houston last March at an energy industry convention, his attorney said. But he said Sargeant never discussed “any role or participation in any Ukraine venture, nor any specifics regarding the potential business ventures of the other dinner participants.”

“The news stories unfairly and inaccurately portray Mr. Sargeant as having involvement in Ukraine business affairs,” Sargeant’s attorney, Chris Kise, said in a statement. “Mr. Sargeant conducts no business of any kind in the Ukraine and has not visited Ukraine, even as a tourist, in well over a decade. Attending a single, informal dinner in Houston does not place Mr. Sargeant at the center of any Naftogaz or Ukrainian business plan.”

The AP reported late Sunday that Sargeant, along with South Florida businessmen Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, approached senior Naftogaz executive Andrew Favorov in Houston to discuss a plan to make Favorov the new Naftogaz CEO. The AP cited two sources and a memo submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, confirming the account.

Those talks were reportedly happening around the time that Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, was discussing changes to Naftogaz’s advisory board with the Ukrainian government. Meanwhile, starting in late 2018, Fruman and Parnas had also helped Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, dig for dirt on Biden in Ukraine, according to BuzzFeed.

The two South Florida men — whom Giuliani has identified as clients — were asked to turn over documents Monday to congressional committees leading the Trump impeachment investigation, and appear Thursday for depositions. Their attorney says the requested time frame is unreasonable, and they will not comply by the committees’ deadlines.

The AP said Fruman and Parnas pitched Favorov in Houston on a partnership that would export “up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine.” And Sargeant reportedly said during their meeting that he meets regularly with Trump at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

The AP said another energy executive, Dale W. Perry — no relationship to the energy secretary — confirmed the account of the meeting of the three men. Perry is a former business partner of Favorov, and said the Naftogaz executive relayed the story to him shortly after the dinner in Houston.

According to the AP, Perry was so alarmed that he wrote a memo and provided it to a State Department official.

Kise, Sargeant’s attorney, confirmed that a conversation took place in March at CERAWeek, an industry gathering he described as “one of the largest energy industry trade events in the world.” But he said that while Sargeant’s attendance was requested for “an informal dinner” with Favorov, Fruman and Parnas, there was no discussion of any Ukraine ventures.

“At the dinner, Mr. Sargeant simply provided broad industry guidance and his expert view on the challenges presented by operating in foreign markets,” Kise said. “Notably absent from this dinner was the media’s alleged ‘source,’ Dale Perry.”

Kise — who said Sargeant isn’t a Mar-a-Lago member and has never met Trump there — suggested that Dale Perry made up the account to create “stories to discredit his competitors and advance his own interests in the Ukraine.” And John Dowd, an attorney for Fruman and Parnas, told the AP that it was Naftogaz that reached out to his clients in search of a deal that ultimately fell through.

Dale Perry, though, didn’t say he attended the meeting in Houston. And in an email, he told the Miami Herald that, in fact, he welcomes competition in Ukraine because a lack of competition has actually hurt business due to Ukraine’s procurement rules.

“We are actively trying to convince competitors to enter the gas market in Ukraine,” he wrote.

Regardless, Sargeant’s dinner with Fruman and Parnas broadens the duo’s connections to the GOP in Florida and Washington.

They gave a $50,000 donation to current Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political committee in June of 2018 and $325,000 to a Trump-aligned Super PAC in May of 2018 through one of their companies. And their relationship with Sargeant — which remains ill-defined — connects them with a prominent Florida GOP donor and international businessman.

Sargeant, a former finance chairman for the Republican Party of Florida, has given significant sums to GOP candidates and the Republican Party through his companies and along with members of his family. He’s also executed a number of controversial national and international contracts.

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©2019 Miami Herald

Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): IMPEACHMENT-OILMAGNATE

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

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