A made-in-Miami money-laundering saga develops even deeper Ukraine roots
08 Apr 2021

Take a couple of Ukrainian oligarchs sanctioned for alleged money laundering. Add a mix of Florida-based businessmen who employed the husband of a prominent Democratic politician. Throw in some political connections tracing back to Rudy Giuliani, former Ukrainian presidents and even the Kremlin.

What you get is a tangled story about money and power, one that demonstrates the magnetic pull of Miami when money laundering is alleged.

A lawsuit, Oleg Zhukovskiy v. National Bank of Ukraine, adds an extra layer onto an already complicated saga about alleged dirty money flowing through South Florida.

But first, a recap.

Last year, the FBI raided the properties of a scandal-plagued Ukrainian oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, and his Miami-based associates, Mordechai Korf and Uriel Laber, in connection with a money-laundering investigation. Nobody was charged but the Justice Department filed forfeiture requests for properties in Texas, Kentucky and Ohio, which were owned or controlled by the three.

Kolomoisky had been in the news in Florida as far back as 2018: Robert Powell, the husband of Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, had, for a decade, served as general counsel to firms owned or controlled at least in part by Kolomoisky before leaving in 2017. Her husband’s link to the firms became a political headache for Mucarsel-Powell, who served a stint in the U.S. House before losing a close race this past November.

In a 2019 statement issued well before the raid, Powell said he has never “worked for, represented, answered to, or received any payment from Mr. Kolomoisky.” Politifact found “no indication” he was involved.

Some of the Kolomoisky-linked firms ⁠— Optima Acquisitions, Felman Trading and Felman Productions and the Miami-based Georgian-American Alloys ⁠— are at the center of the FBI’s money-laundering charges, a forfeiture request by the Department of Justice states.

The State Department sanctioned the oligarch, a one-time provincial governor in Ukraine, and designated his wife and two children as ineligible for entry into the United States this past March 5. Kolomoisky has been accused of siphoning off billions from PrivatBank, a Ukrainian bank.

Kolomoisky had a tangential role in the scandal that led to Donald Trump being impeached for the first time in 2019.

The new civil lawsuit filed in the Southern District court of Florida in January alleges that Serhiy Kurchenko, a second Ukrainian oligarch, illegally acquired Brokbusiness Bank, another Ukrainian financial institution, siphoned off its clients’ money and laundered it through Kolomoisky’s Miami network.

The Treasury Department placed Kurchenko on its sanctions list in 2015 to “target the misappropriation of state assets” in Ukraine.

The disputed money — $393 million — belongs to two companies, ZUKK Trading and Intertransgroup, and two individuals, Vitaly Didylivsky and Nikolay Kovzel, according to the civil complaint and attached documents. They are not the plaintiffs themselves but their interests are being represented by Washington state-based businessman Oleg Zhukovskiy. Zhukovskiy, according to his attorneys, has been Nikolay Kovzel’s business associate for many years. Kovzel, a former member of Ukraine’s parliament, headed Intertransgroup till a couple of years before their investments in Brok Bank, according to the recent lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed against the National Bank of Ukraine, the country’s central bank, claiming bank officials looked the other way while Kurchenko illegally took control of Brok Bank.

The complaint also alleges that the national bank managed to re-acquire some of the disputed funds in 2014, but instead of returning them to Brok Bank’s clients it declared Brok Bank insolvent and used that money to settle Ukrainian government debt.

The lawsuit cites the Miami raid from last year and alleges that Miami men Uriel Laber and Mordechai Korf helped both Kolomoisky and Kurchenko launder money through their “Optima” group of companies. Marc Kasowitz, their lawyer, denied that his clients had any involvement with any of the parties in the new lawsuit and added that they are contesting the prior DOJ allegations as well.

He said the lawsuit “appears to be an attempt to capitalize on the well-publicized dispute between Mr. Korf and Mr. Laber and … PrivatBank.”

FROM FAR AWAY TO MIAMI

Ihor Kolomoisky was born in 1963 in Dnipropetrovsk, an industrial province in eastern Soviet Ukraine. He graduated in 1985 from Dnipropetrovsk Metallurgical Institute with a degree in engineering. After the fall of the Soviet bloc, Kolomoisky started trading in consumer goods from Singapore and in 1991 founded the oil supplier Sentosa Ltd. with Oleskiy Martinov and Gennadiy Boholiubov. The next year, the three established PrivatBank Group.

Amid the drive to privatize previously nationalized state assets ⁠— real estate, infrastructure, raw materials ⁠— Kolomoisky and his two partners assembled a sizable portfolio.

By Shirsho Dasgupta and Olena Loginova, Miami Herald, 7 April 2021

Read more at Miami Herald

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