Kolomoisky
© Intellinews
Ihor Kolomoyskyy
The Biden administration sanctioned a powerful Ukrainian oligarch who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. real estate on Friday.

Ihor Kolomoyskyy, a former Ukrainian governor and billionaire oligarch, once owned PrivatBank, among the largest banks in Ukraine, and Ukrainian authorities along with U.S. investigators have accused him and his associates of embezzling and defrauding the bank of billions of dollars for nearly a decade before the scheme was unearthed and the bank was nationalized in 2016.

The State Department says his time as a top politician in Ukraine was marked by significant corruption as the Justice Department investigates the real estate empire he built in the United States, allegedly through theft and money laundering.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the "public designation" of Kolomoyskyy on Friday "due to his involvement in significant corruption." Blinken said that when the oligarch was governor of Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk Oblast from 2014 to 2015, Kolomoyskyy
"was involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public's faith in their government's democratic institutions and public processes, including using his political influence and official power for his personal benefit...express concern about Kolomoyskyy's current and ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine's democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to its future."
The designation by Blinken made Kolomoyskyy, his wife, his son, and his daughter ineligible for entry into the U.S. The secretary of state said this move
"reaffirms the U.S. commitment to supporting political, economic, and justice sector reforms that are key to Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic path and promise that the State Department will continue to use authorities like this to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally."
As part of his sprawling business empire in Ukraine, Kolomoyskyy owned the TV station that aired Servant of the People, the comedy show about a fictional Ukrainian president starring Volodymyr Zelensky, who would go on to become Ukraine's actual president in 2019. The U.S. began investigating Kolomoyskyy for corruption in recent years, and Zelensky has begun moving against some of PrivatBank's former top executives. The Ukrainian oligarch has taken a more pro-Russian stance since 2019.

The DOJ alleged last year that Kolomoyskyy and his associates conducted a "multi-billion dollar loan scheme." Prosecutors said his allies operated out of offices in Miami to create a "web of entities," usually under some variation of the name "Optima," to launder the funds stolen from PrivatBank and invest them in the U.S., saying Kolomoyskyy and associates "purchased hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate and businesses across the country."

The DOJ filed civil forfeiture complaints against Kolomoyskyy in August related to properties he owned, including PNC Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky, and the former CompuCom Headquarters in Dallas, and filed a December forfeiture complaint against him in December related to 55 Public Square in Cleveland. The buildings have a combined value of more than $60 million.

The DOJ contended "the magnitude of the fraud and theft" by Kolomoyskyy and his associates was so great that the National Bank of Ukraine "was forced to bail out the bank by providing $5.5 billion in order to stave off economic crisis for the whole country." Investigators say Kolomoyskyy and others used a "labyrinth of accounts all over the world," including shell companies in Cyprus, to funnel money out of Ukraine and that the U.S. was used further to launder the stolen funds.

In May 2020, BuzzFeed reported that Kolomoyskyy was being investigated by a U.S. federal grand jury in Cleveland for allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars through real estate holdings in the U.S. He appeared to embrace a more pro-Russia tone recently after years of opposing Kremlin influence.

Kolomoyskyy spent millions of dollars helping provide equipment to Ukrainian fighters resisting Russia's advance into the eastern part of the country in 2014 but seemed to shift gears in 2019 during an interview with the New York Times.

Speaking about the U.S., he said, "You all won't take us" in a Western alliance and claimed, "Russia would love to bring us into a new Warsaw Pact." He said if he had been Ukraine's president, he would have conducted the investigations requested by Trump during his phone call with Zelensky in the summer of 2019. When asked if that might cause blowback if a Democrat won, Kolomoyskyy said:
"If they get smart with us, we'll go to Russia. Russian tanks will be stationed near Krakow and Warsaw. Your NATO will be soiling its pants and buying Pampers."
The Ukrainian oligarch also said: "The death penalty must be brought back" for former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who took away Kolomoyskyy's control over PrivatBank.

When recorded calls between now-President Biden and Poroshenko were leaked by a Kremlin-linked Ukrainian parliamentarian last year, Poroshenko responded with outrage on his Facebook page, claiming that "the Kremlin's fifth column started a large-scale operation against Ukraine" and suggested the leaks were part of a broader strategy by Russia to drive a wedge between Ukraine and the West. He said the "main information sponsors of the provocation" were "three Russian channels" and Kolomoyskyy.

Former President Donald Trump's July 2019 call with Zelensky spurred a whistleblower complaint, which sparked Democrat-led impeachment proceedings in the House. In the call, immediately after Zelensky expressed interest in purchasing anti-tank weaponry from the U.S., Trump asked Zelensky "to do us a favor, though," to look into a CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and any possible Ukrainian election interference in 2016. Trump urged Zelensky later in the call to investigate "the other thing," referring to allegations of corruption related to Joe and Hunter Biden.

The House impeached Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but he was acquitted after a trial in the Republican-led Senate in February 2020.