A Ukrainian oligarch who played a key role in the events that spurred President Trump’s impeachment last year has been accused by the Justice Department of stealing billions of dollars from a bank he once owned and laundering the cash in the US.
According to the DOJ, Ihor Kolomoisky and his business partner, Gennadiy Boholyubov, stole so much money from PrivatBank that Ukraine’s national bank had to give the institution a $5.5 billion bail out to ‘to stave off economic crisis for the whole country.’
The two men were majority owners of PrivatBank before it was nationalized in 2016 in response to the fraud. The men used the bank as their own personal account to build a business and property empire in the US, the Justice Department said.
The allegation was made in a civil forfeiture complaint seeking to seize commercial properties from the men in Kentucky and Texas.
Ihor Kolomoisky (above) and his business partner, Gennadiy Boholyubov, stole so much money from PrivatBank that Ukraine’s national bank had to give the institution a $5.5 billion bail out to ‘to stave off economic crisis for the whole country’
The two men were majority owners of PrivateBank before it was nationalized in 2016 in response to the fraud. The men used the bank as a personal account to build an illicit business empire in the US, the Justice Department said
Kolomoisky and Boholyubov reportedly used their status as owners to repeatedly request money from the bank, which they would then move through a vast network of shell companies to ‘thoroughly disguise their nature, source, ownership, and control’.
Gennadiy Boholyubov, Ko was also accused in the scheme. He is the longtime business partner of Kolomoisky, and previously owned Privatbank with him
Among their purchases were more than five 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 forfeiture complaints sought to seize a near-20 acre office park in Dallas and the PNC Plaza building in Louisville.
Kolomoisky, who is one of Ukraine’s richest men, ‘emphatically’ denied the allegations made in the Justice Department’s complaint, in a statement issued through his attorney to the Washington Post.
He made a fortune in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, amassing assets from airlines to financial institutions. Known by the nickname ‘Benya’, he also crafted a a larger-than-life image for himself, even keeping a shark aquarium in his office.
Despite his pleas of innocence, he has long been facing a criminal probe by the US Attorney’s Office in Cleveland for potential money laundering. In relation to that case, the FBI raided the office of his Optima Management Group in the city on Tuesday, in addition to another Optima office in Miami.
The forfeiture complaints sought to seize a near-20 acre office park in Dallas (left) and the PNC Plaza building in Louisville (right).
In court documents released Thursday, the DOJ claimed that two Miami-based associates of Kolomoisky and Boholyubov, Mordechai Korf and Uriel Laber, helped to acquire and manage the oligarchs’ capital in the US – which often bear a variation of the name ‘Optima’.
At one stage, Optima Ventures became the ‘largest holder of commercial real estate in Cleveland’, having used stolen funds to acquire major downtown office buildings and a hotel, the DOJ said.
Kolomoisky and Boholyubov were ousted from Privatbank after Ukrainian’s last president, Petro Poroshenko, nationalized the bank. Poroshenko accused Kolomoisky and his partners of defrauding the bank out of billions of dollars.
Kolomoisky insisted he was innocent, but absconded from Kyiv to Israel amid the fallout. He retained political power in Ukraine through his various business holdings, which include a major television network.
He also has close ties to Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and played a role in the events that led to President Trump’s impeachment in 2019.
Kolomoisky is considered an ally of Zelensky, who was an actor before his presidency and starred in a comedy series that aired on Kolomoisky’s network.
Kolomoisky (right) and Boholyubov were ousted from Privatbank after Ukrainian’s last president, Petro Poroshenko (left), nationalized the bank. Poroshenko accused Kolomoisky and his partners of defrauding the bank out of billions of dollars.
Zelensky’s election was considered a huge advantage for Kolomoisky, particularly after he made the oligarch’s personal layer the head of his administration, the Washington Post reported.
Their relationship was viewed with suspicion back in the US, as their apparent connection came as a contradiction to Zelensky’s pledge of anti-corruption reform.
However, Zelensky has not voiced support of surrendering PrivatBank back to Kolomoisky’s control and has since fired his lawyer as his top aide.
Kolomoisky, meanwhile, has returned from his self-imposed exile in Israel and is back in Kyiv where he maintains relations with members of Zelensky’s administration.
The oligarch also found himself caught up in a political crossfire in the US in spring last year, when Trump’s attorney Rudy Guiliani pressed on with a mission to pressure Zelensky to open an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Associates of Guiliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, met with Kolomoisky in April 2019 to request a meeting between the former New York mayor and Zelensky.
The meeting, it seems, did not go well. In the days that followed, Parnas and Fruman accused Kolomoisky of physically threatening them, and pressed charges against him in Ukraine.
Guiliani said he provided legal counsel to his two associates in their suit against Kolomoisky. He also tweeted a number of times about his dislike of the oligarch in May 2019, just as he was pressuring Zelensky to investigate the Bidens at the behest of Trump.
Kolomoisky is considered an ally of Zelensky (above), who was an actor before his presidency and starred in a comedy series that aired on Kolomoisky’s network
Associates of Guiliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (right), met with Kolomoisky in April 2019 to request a meeting between the former New York mayor and Zelensky
Kolomoisky, however, said that during the meeting Parnas and Fruman claimed they could get top US officials to attend Zelensky’s inauguration – including Vice President Mike Pence – if he paid them several hundred thousand dollars.
He said he refused to pay the money and kicked them out of his office, his lawyer Bruce Marks told the Post.
According to Marks, Kolomoisky predicted to friends at the time ‘This is going to end up in a bad scandal’.
Trump was later impeached after a formal House inquiry alleged that he had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election to help his re-election bid, and then obstructed the inquiry itself by telling his administration officials to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony.
The inquiry reported that Trump withheld military aid and an invitation to the White House to Zelensky to pressure him into launching the Biden probe.
Parnas and Fruman, meanwhile, were charged with campaign finance violations last year. They have denied any wrongdoing.