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FBI raids offices of US companies belonging to Ukrainian tycoons

FBI agents. (Melanie Rodgers Cox/US Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The FBI has raided the offices of U.S. companies belonging to a Ukrainian tycoon linked to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The FBI searched offices in Cleveland and Miami on August 4 belonging to billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy, whose media company informally backed Zelenskiy’s successful presidential bid in 2019.

“I can confirm that we are at both locations,” FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson-Gregg confirmed in an August 4 telephone interview with RFE/RL from Cleveland.

She said she could not discuss the details of the investigation as the case “is under seal right now.” Anderson-Gregg said that no one had been detained in the raid.

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Kolomoyskiy and his Ukrainian partner, Hennadiy Boholyubov, control several companies run out of Miami that own U.S. real estate as well as steel and alloy companies.

U.S. media reports in April 2019 and May 2020 said that the FBI was investigating Kolomoyskiy for money laundering. However, the FBI never confirmed those earlier stories.

Kolomoyskiy and Boholyubov — billionaires who own energy, metals and media assets in Ukraine — are among the most influential businessmen in the country.

The tycoons returned to Ukraine from self-imposed exile a month after Zelenskiy won the presidential election in a landslide in April 2019.

Kolomoyskiy’s 1+1 channel aired the TV comedy series produced by Zelenskiy’s production company.

Zelenskiy appointed Andriy Bohdan, Kolomoyskiy’s former lawyer, as his first chief of staff before replacing him in February.

The president’s reported close ties to Kolomoyskiy have been a concern for Ukraine’s Western partners, who have tied financial and political support to Kyiv to reforms that reduce the influence of tycoons.

RFE/RL could not immediately reach the tycoons for comment.

PrivatBank Lawsuit

The confirmation of the FBI investigation follows on the heels of a civil lawsuit filed against the tycoons by Ukrainian lender PrivatBank in Delaware in May 2019.

Kolomoyskiy and Boholyubov owned PrivatBank until December 2016, when Ukraine nationalized it after the tycoons failed to inject capital to stabilize the lender during a severe economic downturn.

PrivatBank claims the men laundered $780 million into the U.S. financial system through a series of bogus loans issued to companies they control.

The tycoons then used the money to acquire commercial property, ferroalloy plants, and specialty steel companies in the United States — along with several Cleveland office buildings — without ever returning the money, the bank claims.

PrivatBank has dubbed the alleged fraud the Optima Schemes because the U.S. assets were largely controlled by companies with the name Optima.

The Optima businesses are run out of Miami by the tycoons’ U.S. business partners, Mordechai Korf and Uriel Laber. A spokesperson for Korf and Laber declined an RFE/RL request for comment about the August 4 raids.

Anderson-Gregg confirmed the FBI agents were at the Cleveland office of Optima Management, which oversees the tycoons’ local real-estate investments.

Optima Management is located inside One Cleveland Center, which is one of the local commercial buildings owned by the tycoons.