world : The struggles and scandals of Hunter Biden

Wednesday 12 June 2024 10:51 PM

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter Biden (left) with his father, current US President Joe Biden

By Sam Cabral

BBC News, Washington

Hunter Biden has been found guilty of illegal possession of a gun and lying about his drug use when it was bought. The verdict leaves the US president's son facing a prison term.

He is the first child of a sitting US leader to be convicted of a federal crime, but he will be back in court in September to face tax charges in a separate trial.

It had looked far different last summer, when the 54-year-old looked set to resolve the trials and avoid prison time in a plea agreement with prosecutors.

But the deal unravelled in court, and the prosecutor leading the federal inquiry later went ahead with the gun charges.

In December, a second indictment alleged Hunter had failed to pay at least $1.4m (£1.1m) in federal taxes that he owed for tax years 2016-19.

Congressional Republicans have conducted impeachment hearings into President Biden to investigate alleged influence-peddling by his son. The months-long inquiry has not appeared to uncover any wrongdoing, however.

Meanwhile, Hunter's personal struggles - from alcohol and drug abuse, to relationship strife - have spilled into full public view.

So what more do we know about Hunter Biden?

A childhood steeped in tragedy

Beau, Joe, Hunter and Neilia Biden at Joe Biden's 30th birthday partyImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter (second from right) at his father's 30th birthday party

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1970 to Joe Biden and his first wife Neilia, Hunter was given his mother's maiden name as his first name.

He was only two years old in December 1972 when - less than six weeks after his father's election to the US Senate - a truck rammed into the family car.

The accident took the lives of his mother and his baby sister Naomi, while leaving him with a fractured skull and his older brother Beau with a broken leg.

Joe Biden - who was not in the car - took his oath of office by their bedside in hospital.

Hunter (extreme left) looks on with his family after Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in 1988Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter (extreme left) looks on with his family after Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in 1988

Hunter later attended Georgetown University and Yale Law School, graduating in 1996.

Between the two degrees, he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a Catholic group that serves marginalised communities.

There, he met his first wife, Kathleen Buhle, a lawyer, and they wed in 1993. They have three children - Naomi, Finnegan and Maisy - but the pair split in 2017.

The 'darkness' of addiction

His father is teetotal, but Hunter started drinking as a teenager and has acknowledged abusing cocaine as a college student. He has been in and out of rehab.

In 2013, he signed up for the US Navy Reserve and was sworn in before his father - then the vice-president - in a White House ceremony.

But on his very first day at the naval base, he tested positive for cocaine use and was discharged.

Hunter (extreme left) walks with his then-wife Kathleen, father Joe and step-mother Jill in 2009Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter walks with his then-wife Kathleen, father Joe and step-mother Jill in 2009

According to the New Yorker, he drank excessively after the death of his older brother, Beau, from brain cancer in 2015, sometimes only leaving the house to buy vodka.

"He and Beau were one," his daughter, Naomi, once wrote on Twitter. "One heart, one soul, one mind."

During their acrimonious divorce, Ms Buhle accused Hunter of "spending extravagantly on his own interests (including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs, and gifts for women with whom he had sexual relations) while leaving the family with no funds to pay legitimate bills".

Breaking her silence last year on how the 24-year marriage unravelled, she told Good Morning America: "He was struggling under a massive drug addiction, and that's heart-breaking and painful and that wasn't who I was married to."

In his 2021 memoir Beautiful Things, Hunter concedes that his infidelity was the final straw in their marriage.

A DNA test in 2019 found he was "the biological and legal father" of a child born to Lunden Alexis Roberts, an exotic dancer from Arkansas.

Hunter claimed to have "no recollection" of their encounter in his memoir, but he has settled a paternity suit with Ms Roberts and pays her child support.

None of the Bidens appear to have ever met Navy Roberts, now four years old. But amid a media pressure campaign, President Biden was last summer forced to acknowledge his seventh grandchild.

The gun

Before he finalised his split from Ms Buhle, Hunter entered into a relationship with his brother's widow, Hallie Biden.

During a two-year relationship, the pair bonded over their shared and "very specific grief" as a result of Beau Biden's death, he told the New Yorker.

Hunter (left), with father Joe and brother Beau, waves at supporters during Barack Obama's inauguration as presidentImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter, with father Joe and brother Beau, waves at supporters during Barack Obama's inauguration as president

Taking the stand at his Delaware trial, Hallie Biden testified that the president's son had introduced her to crack cocaine and bought drugs in her presence. She also said his frequent use left him "agitated" and "high-strung".

Two months after a stint in rehab in 2018, Hunter Biden purchased a handgun - what his defence team maintains was an impulse buy, under pressure from a pushy gun store owner.

Prosecutors said he lied on the firearm application form by claiming that he was not using drugs at the time. Hunter Biden's attorneys argued he did not consider himself an addict and had been clean at that time.

Hallie Biden, who told the court she had confronted Hunter Biden over his drug use, found the weapon and ammunition as she again cleared "remnants of crack cocaine and [drug] paraphernalia" from his vehicle.

She described how, in a moment of panic, she stuffed the gun in a shopping bag and tossed it in a garbage bin, 11 days after the firearm was purchased.

"I didn't want him to hurt himself or the kids to find it and hurt themselves" she said of her actions.

According to the New York Times, Hunter had ominously told a family friend at the time: "I know you all think the wrong brother died."

Retrieving the discarded gun would ultimately involve local police, the FBI and an elderly man who had been fishing in the trash for aluminium and plastic.

Reports of an "amicable" split between Hallie and Hunter surfaced in 2019, less than a week after his father launched his third bid for president.

Mere weeks later, Hunter wed South African filmmaker Melissa Cohen after a whirlwind six-day romance. They have one son.

Hunter and Melissa Cohen Biden enter the courtroom in DelawareImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter and Melissa Cohen Biden

At his trial, Hunter Biden did not take the stand in his own defence but he and several family members sat through emotional testimony from three ex-partners, including Ms Buhle. His daughter, Naomi, also testified.

Speaking out in 2019 on his struggle with addiction, he said: "You don't get rid of it. You figure out how to deal with it."

In Beautiful Things, Hunter Biden credits his survival to his family's love, recounting an intervention that ended with his father tightly embracing him and saying: "I don't know what else to do. I'm so scared. Tell me what to do."

The president's son has turned in recent years to painting as a form of therapy, telling the New York Times that it "keeps me away from people and places where I shouldn't be".

But sales of his artwork - for up to $500,000 a piece - have created an ethics dilemma for the Biden White House.

President Biden has defended his son on multiple occasions, including in a feisty presidential debate with Mr Trump in 2020.

Ahead of the trial, he released a statement: "I am the President, but I am also a Dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today."

But he has said that, if a jury convicts Hunter Biden in this trial or the next, he should not expect to be pardoned.

Mixing family and business

Hunter and Joe Biden, and Barack Obama at a college basketball game in 2010Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter laughs with Joe Biden and Barack Obama in 2010

After graduating from Yale, Hunter worked at MBNA America, a bank holding company headquartered in Delaware and later acquired by Bank of America.

Joe Biden's close ties to the bank - one of the largest employers in Delaware and a top contributor to his political campaigns - earned him the unfavourable moniker of "the senator from MBNA".

As Hunter was promoted to the rank of executive vice-president, Joe pushed bankruptcy reform legislation favourable to MBNA through the Senate.

In the early 2000s, while still receiving consulting fees from the bank, Hunter opened a Washington lobbying practice.

It saw him land "clients with interests that overlapped with [his father's] committee assignments and legislative priorities", according to Politico Magazine.

The father-son relationship at the time, he told the New Yorker, was that neither would speak to the other about lobbying work.

President Biden has maintained this to be true in the case of more recent allegations of wrongdoing as well.

Hunter (left) and sister Ashley wave as they arrive at their father's presidential inaugurationImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter and sister Ashley wave as they arrive at their father's presidential inauguration

In 2006, with then-Senator Biden set to re-assume chairmanship of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Hunter and another relative made an ill-fated purchase of a hedge fund group.

Their tenure at Paradigm Global Advisors extended through Joe Biden's 2008 run for president and selection as vice-president to President Barack Obama.

During this time, the fund was connected with several alleged fraudsters, including a Texas financier convicted of running one of the largest Ponzi schemes in US history.

The Bidens denied any wrongdoing and faced no charges. In 2010, they liquidated the fund and returned money to investors.

China and Ukraine

Much has been made in recent years about Hunter's foreign business interests while his father was vice-president.

In 2013, he took a founding board seat at BHR, a Chinese private equity firm - first as an unpaid member and later owning a 10% equity stake in the fund.

The company was registered in Shanghai less than a fortnight after Hunter flew with his father on an official vice-presidential trip to China and met BHR's chief executive, but only for "a cup of coffee", the first son later said.

After his father left office in 2017, Hunter partnered with Chinese oil tycoon Ye Jianming on a natural gas project in Louisiana.

The deal collapsed after Ye was detained by Chinese authorities on corruption charges and subsequently went missing.

Hunter, Joe and Finnegan Biden in China in 2013Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Hunter accompanied his father on his official trip to China in 2013

Hunter's dealings in Ukraine have stoked even more controversy, given that his father was the Obama administration's point man for US-Ukraine relations.

In 2014, he joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, where he was paid as much as $1.2m (£943,000) per year.

As part of an anti-corruption drive, Vice-President Biden was at the time rallying for the ouster of the country's top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin.

Mr Shokin was removed by parliament in 2016, but critics argue the prosecutor only lost his job because he was investigating Burisma.

Republicans alleged both Joe and Hunter Biden had received $5m payouts from Burisma executives in exchange for Mr Shokin's firing. But those claims fizzled when an ex-FBI informant was charged with fabricating the whole bribery scheme.

A former business partner to Hunter also testified Joe had been on speakerphone several times during Hunter's calls with various contacts.

Allegations of corruption formed the centrepiece of both President Trump's first impeachment in 2019, and are stoking the nascent impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Media caption,

Watch: Why Hunter Biden is important to Republicans

A laptop abandoned by Hunter at a Delaware repair shop, and the seedy contents of its hard drive, also featured prominently in the 2020 presidential campaign.

The Biden team argued at the time it was a "smear campaign" engineered by Russian disinformation, but the hard drive has been authenticated by US media and the FBI has it.

Analysis of its contents has provided proof of Hunter's extensive earnings from his work in China and Ukraine, as well as evidence of his alcohol- and drug-fuelled escapades.

As the president revs up his re-election campaign, the extensive fallout from his son's legal drama, business interests and tabloid-friendly life is proving to be an unwelcome distraction.

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