Former PrivatBank owners used vast array of companies to steal, launder billions: DOJ
10 Aug 2020

The Justice Department on Thursday accused a Ukrainian oligarch who has been considered an ally of Ukraine’s president of stealing billions of dollars from a bank he once owned, then using a vast array of companies to launder that money in the United States and all over the world.

In a civil forfeiture complaint seeking to seize commercial properties in Kentucky and Texas, the Justice Department alleged that Ihor Kolomoisky and his business partner, Gennadiy Boholiubov, stole so much from PrivatBank that Ukraine’s national bank had to give the institution a $5.5 billion bailout “to stave off economic crisis for the whole country.”

Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest men, has ties to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and he played a role in the events that led to President Trump’s impeachment last year. He made a fortune in the rough-and-tumble capitalism that swept Ukraine after the Soviet Union’s collapse, amassing assets including airlines and financial institutions, and created a larger-than-life image for himself, going by the nickname “Benya,” and keeping a shark aquarium in his office.

Kolomoisky and Boholiubov were the two major owners of PrivatBank before it was nationalized in response to the fraud, the Justice Department said, and the men basically used it as a personal account to build a business empire in the United States. They requested money from PrivatBank — which they always received because they were owners — then moved the funds through a network of companies to “thoroughly disguise their nature, source, ownership, and control,” the Justice Department alleged.

Experts have expressed increasing concern that U.S. real estate — including factories and facilities important to American industry — has become a magnet for foreign money, including proceeds of criminal activities abroad. Among Kolomoisky’s and Boholiubov’s purchases were more than 5 million square feet of commercial real estate in Ohio; steel plants in Kentucky, West Virginia and Michigan; a cellphone manufacturing plant in Illinois; and commercial real estate in Texas, the Justice Department alleged. The forfeiture complaints sought to seize a roughly 19.5-acre office park in Dallas and the PNC Plaza building in Louisville.

Michael J. Sullivan, a lawyer for Kolomoisky, said in an email: “Mr. Kolomoisky emphatically denies the allegations in the complaints filed by the Department of Justice.” The allegations, which are not criminal charges, are similar to those in a lawsuit filed by the bank in a Delaware court. A lawyer for Boholiubov did not reply to an email seeking comment.

In a statement written in Russian, Kolomoisky said all the money used to purchase the U.S. properties was his own, received through a deal made with a mining company in 2007 and 2008 and from other businesses that banked with Privatbank.

Kolomoisky also has long been facing a criminal probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland for possible money laundering. As a part of that case, the FBI raided the office of Optima Management Group in downtown Cleveland on Tuesday, as well as an Optima office in the Southeast Financial Center building in Miami.

In court documents, the Justice Department alleged Thursday that two Miami-based business associates of Kolomoisky and Boholiubov’s — Mordechai Korf and Uriel Laber — helped acquire and manage the oligarchs’ holdings in the United States, which often bear some version of the name “Optima.” Optima Ventures at one point became the “largest holder of commercial real estate in Cleveland,” using stolen funds to buy major downtown office buildings and a hotel, the Justice Department alleged.

Last year, Marc Kasowitz, a New York lawyer who also represents Trump, signed on to represent Kolomoisky and Boholiubov in the Delaware case. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Under Ukraine’s last president, Petro Poroshenko, the government nationalized Privatbank, alleging that Kolomoisky and one of his business partners had defrauded the bank of billions of dollars. Kolomoisky denied those charges but decamped from Kyiv to Israel, where he also holds citizenship. He retained political power in Ukraine through his business holdings, which include a major Ukrainian television station.

By Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind S. Helderman, The Washington Post, 6 August 2020

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