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US Justice Department moves to seize Ukrainian tycoon’s property

Department of Justice. (Scott "Skippy"/Flickr)

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

The United States has moved to seize U.S. real estate belonging to a powerful Ukrainian tycoon with links to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Justice Department’s August 6 civil forfeiture complaint targeted commercial properties in Texas and Kentucky belonging to a company controlled by Ihor Kolomoyskiy. It came two days after FBI agents raided offices of Kolomoisky’s and his partners in Miami and Cleveland.

The civil complaint accuses Kolomoyskiy and his Ukrainian partner, Hennadiy Boholyubov, of stealing “billions of dollars” from their PrivatBank through bogus loans and laundering it into the United States with the help of two American partners.

The Ukrainian tycoons and the two American partners, Uriel Laber and Morechai Korf, then used the money to acquire U.S. commercial properties as well as U.S. steel and alloy plants.

The men “rarely paid it back,” the FBI said in its complaint.

“When the loans came due, other loans were used to pay off the old loans, or, in some cases, they were repaid with income from the investment of the misappropriated funds,” the FBI said.

In a written comment to RFE/RL, Kolomoyskiy, whose media company informally backed Zelenskiy’s successful 2019 presidential bid, denied the allegations.

“All investments in the United States were made from own funds received in 2007-2008 from the deal with Evraz and from the income from other businesses, held at PrivatBank. All other [allegations] are categorically rejected,” he said.

The Ukrainian government nationalized PrivatBank in December 2016 after regulators discovered a $5.5 billion hole they said was caused by the tycoons directing their bank to issue loans to companies they controlled.

The FBI on August 4 raided the headquarters of their U.S. business partners in Miami as well as an office of theirs in Cleveland, where they own three commercial properties. A spokesperson for the two men declined to comment on the raids.

Kolomoyskiy, Boholyubov, and their Miami partners jointly owned their U.S. assets via various Delaware-registered companies under the Optima umbrella name, including Optima Ventures, their real estate holding company.

The FBI is seeking to seize the former CompuCom headquarters in Dallas, claiming the men “misappropriated” $15 million from PrivatBank to help purchase the property.

Optima Ventures agreed to buy the building in 2010 for $47.4 million, taking out a $32.2 million mortgage in the process.

Optima Ventures paid down the mortgage last year but did not pay the property’s taxes that were due by July, a possible sign the company suspected the FBI would attempt to seize it.

Kolomoyskiy, a billionaire who owns metals and energy assets, is considered to be one of the most influential tycoons in Ukraine.

He fled Ukraine in 2017 amid concerns over prosecution and a falling out with then-President Petro Poroshenko.

However, he returned to the country from self-imposed exile in Israel a month after Zelenskiy defeated Poroshenko in April 2019 in a landslide.

Western officials and institutions have expressed concerns over Kolomoyskiy’s proximity to the president and his attempts to recover PrivatBank.