20 May 2020
One of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs, whose name emerged in the center of the Trump impeachment saga, is under investigation by a US federal grand jury for allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in US real estate, BuzzFeed News has learned.
Billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is accused by Ukraine regulators of orchestrating a scheme to siphon money from the country’s largest bank and funnel it into prime properties, including landmark office towers and steel facilities across the US.
The US grand jury is examining the finances of Kolomoisky, a key supporter of President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a probe that has tracked the money from the Ukrainian bank through a maze of offshore companies to the US, according to two sources familiar with the inquiry.
The grand jury investigation in Cleveland represents a rare effort by the US justice system to target an influential oligarch and trace the millions that he and his associates allegedly sent through US correspondent banks.
Among the purchases: a 484-room, luxury hotel in Cleveland with lakefront views and a 21-story office tower just blocks away with vaulted ceilings and murals that once featured the largest bank lobby in the world.
The action also sets in motion what could be a test for President Zelensky, who once starred in a comedy show on a TV channel owned by Kolomoisky and had a personal relationship with the billionaire, who controls an energy, media, and real estate empire.
With no existing extradition treaty between the US and Ukraine, Zelensky and the country’s prosecutor general could face a difficult decision as to whether they would stand in the way in case of an indictment or allow the process to unfold.
Just last year, the relationship between the Ukrainian president and the oligarch became a source of controversy when it was revealed that two US business partners running the infamous back-channel campaign in Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden went to Kolomoisky to set up a meeting between Zelensky and Rudy Giuliani. The meeting ended abruptly when the oligarch refused.
Kolomoisky returned to his native country last year after spending two years in self-imposed exile in the wake of a government takeover of PrivatBank, which he cofounded in the 1990s.
A subsequent investigation by Ukraine regulators found a $5.5 billion shortfall in PrivatBank’s ledgers from what they called “a large-scale and coordinated fraud” that involved the bank’s major shareholders, Kolomoisky and fellow Ukrainian billionaire Gennadiy Bogolyubov. To keep the bank from collapse, the government tapped into taxpayer funds to plug the hole.
By Michael Sallah, Tanya Kozyreva and Christopher Miller, BuzzFeed News, 19 May 2020
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