Ever since Rudy Giuliani decided to torch his legacy by gallivanting across Europe in search of potential “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden, the repercussions have been as swift as they’ve been mind-boggling.
Through the former New York City mayor’s enabling, Donald Trump has become the first president in American history to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival—tossing open the floodgates for foreign operators to stick their paws in America’s upcoming presidential election. And there’s a world of heinous governments and criminal networks more than willing to take Giuliani and Donald Trump up on their global smear efforts—whether Trump’s ultimate opponent is Biden or someone else.
The ramifications are stupefying. Whatever antediluvian assurances Americans had about the sanctity of their elections, at least as pertained to keeping foreign hands off the vote, are gravely endangered, if not gone, displaced by the grotesquery of Trump’s willingness to do whatever it takes to remain in power. Against this calamity, Democrats had a moral obligation to attempt Trump’s impeachment, without regard for whether or not they would succeed.
It’s not just governments like those in Moscow or Beijing that are willing to cater to Trump’s autocratic whims. The recent example out of Ukraine, for instance, doesn’t necessarily place the Ukrainian government at the heart of the anti-Biden efforts that have brought us to the brink of impeachment. Rather, the canker at the center of the anti-Biden campaign appears to be a crooked Ukrainian oligarch named Dmytro Firtash.
Stuck in Vienna and awaiting extradition to the United States, Firtash—who has an outspoken grudge against Biden—just happens to be connected to every member of Giuliani’s grubby network rooting around for anti-Biden dirt. Not only has Firtash, whom the Justice Department described as an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,” hired Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, a pair of pro-Trump conspiracy theorists, to plead his case in Washington, but he also shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire Giuliani’s post-Soviet bagman, Lev Parnas, as a supposed “translator.” All of those in Firtash’s pay have also happened to be the main tip of Giuliani’s efforts to smuggle anti-Biden conspiracies out of Ukraine and onto Fox News—and directly into the White House.
But as the past few weeks have made clear, Firtash is no longer the only Ukrainian oligarch racing down this path, offering to upend an American election with tales of Biden’s malfeasance. There is another, plying tales about Biden in order to erase what may well be the largest money-laundering case the U.S. has ever seen—a man now embodying the way our collapsing electoral guardrails might help cement America’s central role in global kleptocracy.
You probably haven’t heard of Ihor Kolomoisky. A Ukrainian oligarch, as much blubber as he is scruff, Kolomoisky rose to acclaim in the West when he helped combat Russian-backed separatists in the fallout of Ukraine’s successful Euromaidan Revolution, directing a private militia against the Kremlin’s proxies. Buoyed by his substantial wealth—Forbes currently pegs him as a billionaire—Kolomoisky enjoyed a few, brief moments in the glow of Western approbation.
That acclaim, though, quickly soured. Along with a partner, Gennadiy Bogolyubov, Kolomoisky established PrivatBank in Ukraine, an institution that eventually covered some 20 percent of Ukraine’s banking assets. But by 2016, the bank faced a staggering $5.5 billion hole. As Ukraine’s central bank governor explained, this giant crater in the bank’s balance sheets was caused by corporate loans that went “to individuals or entities linked to the bank or [Kolomoisky or Bogolyubov], both among Ukraine’s top five richest men.” Stating that PrivatBank had effectively become a massive laundromat for Kolomoisky’s financial operations, Kyiv nationalized the bank, with Ukrainian officials accusing Kolomoisky of threatening Ukraine’s economic health.
Kolomoisky, however, had an out. He fled to Switzerland and then to Israel, holing up and waiting for brighter days. His luck appeared to change this April, when the Ukrainian election brought Volodymyr Zelenskiy to the presidency. Zelenskiy had worked for years at a television station owned by Kolomoisky; they were, by all indications, close. Zelenskiy’s treatment of Kolomoisky—and his ability to return PrivatBank to Kolomoisky’s hands—immediately became a litmus test for Zelenskiy’s broader anti-corruption platform.
The bottom fell out a month later. In May, the new owners of PrivatBank filed a lawsuit in Delaware against Kolomoisky and his network, alleging that the oligarch used a range of American shell companies and American real estate purchases to launder hundreds of millions of dollars swiped from PrivatBank. According to the 104-page suit, Kolomoisky skimmed money from both public bonds and PrivatBank’s millions of Ukrainian clients to set up a “loan recycling scheme”—a “Ponzi scheme,” effectively—using shell companies, a bank in Cyprus, and willing associates in Miami. (Kolomoisky, his associates, and the companies named in the suit all deny any wrongdoing.)
From there, Kolomoisky’s network allegedly went on a shopping spree. As with so many others in the global kleptocratic elite, Kolomoisky turned to the safe harbor of American real estate to hide his ill-gotten gains. But instead of plopping his funds in Manhattan high-rises or Miami beachfronts, Kolomoisky’s network tried a different tack, opting to stuff his boodle in metallurgy plants across the Rust Belt and buildings in downtown Cleveland. At the time, Kolomoisky’s associates pegged the purchases—which reached into hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of square feet of downtown Cleveland real estate—as wise investments, predicated on helping out a tired, forgotten part of America. As one naïve realtor in Cleveland gushed about Kolomoisky’s point man leading these purchases, “His fondness for this city is really apparent.” By the end, per the suit, Kolomoisky had become “the largest commercial real estate holders” in the entire city.
That fondness ultimately proved to be hollow. Years after Kolomoisky’s network finalized these purchases, the occupancy rates of some of these properties have plummeted, leaving many of the buildings in the oligarch’s holdings somewhere between “disrepair and vacancy” and “gaping hole,” as reported by Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. His metallurgy investments fared no better. A steel plant purchase just east of Cleveland—one the Kyiv Post described as a “keystone” in Kolomoisky’s global ferroalloy portfolio—folded completely in 2016, with 162 employees laid off as a result.
All of these details in the lawsuit point to one clear conclusion: that Kolomoisky did what so many oligarchs and kleptocrats before him did, spying wide-open real estate deals in the U.S. as a means to hiding their pilfered loot. Thanks to a supposedly “temporary” exemption from anti–money laundering regulations for American realtors, America’s real estate industry has provided a giant sponge for the world’s dirtiest cash. Coupled with the continued mass availability of anonymous American shell companies, this means the U.S. real estate industry, as developers like Trump himself know well, is now the largest extant magnet for illicit money. Much like the pelf allegedly laundered by Kolomoisky and his network, it pours into American real estate with no questions asked.
“[The Kolomoisky lawsuit is] probably the most detailed study of large-scale money laundering into the United States,” the Atlantic Council’s Anders Åslund wrote. Added an American official who’s closely monitored foreign money-laundering operations, “The simplicity of it—when I read the affidavit, [that’s] what caught me. It’s 100 pages of the exact same thing over and over and over again.”
Back in Ukraine, Zelenskiy, to his credit, showed few signs of welcoming Kolomoisky back into the fold. But while Kolomoisky’s fortunes faded, he watched the lawyers for Firtash—facing his own DOJ indictment on massive corruption charges—get a remarkable sit-down with Attorney General Bill Barr. Along the way, Firtash emerged as an apparently newly minted backroom broker between Giuliani’s team and those in Ukraine who were willing to lie their way into Trump’s good graces.
Kolomoisky, as reporting indicates, spied an opportunity. In the midst of Giuliani’s outlandish claims of Biden’s supposed corruption, Kolomoisky hopped aboard the narrative. While Kolomoisky had earlier brushed off meetings with those in Giuliani’s orbit, by October he was dangling his own claim of dirt on the former vice president. According to Politico, Kolomoisky “has been claiming to have damaging information on the Bidens.” As one attorney familiar with Kolomoisky’s efforts said, Kolomoisky used the promise of scandalous intel “to keep himself relevant to the whole discussion, and he would also like to ingratiate himself to Trump.”
Along the way, Kolomoisky began publicly skipping to Trump’s tune. He recently hired Marc Kasowitz, a longtime Trump lawyer, and Bud Cummins, a lawyer who had tried to connect American law enforcement officials to those in Ukraine, speciously claiming Kyiv had “interfered” against Trump in 2016.
In recent weeks, the oligarch has also dived headfirst into the fertile ground of conspiracy theories that the White House and its defenders have gleefully promulgated. When Giuliani visited Ukraine earlier this month, he sat down with a former Ukrainian official named Kostyantyn Kulyk, who—much like many other former Ukrainian officials credibly accused of corruption—claimed to have damaging information on Biden. But as Sergii Leshchenko, one of Ukraine’s leading anti-corruption voices, noted, Kulyk also happens to be Kolomoisky’s “secret weapon,” working at Kolomoisky’s behest. Leshchenko pointed out that Giuliani also had a sit-down meeting with Oleksandr Dubinsky, who “heads Kolomoisky’s influence group in the Ukrainian parliament” and who has “joined a public campaign … aimed at shifting responsibility for interference in the 2016 U.S. election from Russia to Ukraine.”
The signs are unmistakable. Hiring pro-Trump lawyers, watching his proxies ply Giuliani with all manner of anti-Biden conspiracies, pledging details of dirt to come: Kolomoisky is simply following the path Firtash laid out before him, and which Giuliani and Trump so eagerly lapped up. As one political analyst told Talking Points Memo, “Kolomoisky seems to be trying the same thing as Firtash.”
For the moment, the efforts aren’t bearing the hoped-for fruit: Giuliani, in a series of texts with The New Republic, revealed that he was still unsure of Kolomoisky’s claims about Biden, writing that Kolomoisky’s alleged money-laundering “was so ubiquitous that it would have been impossible [for the Obama administration] not to know about it.” (Giuliani also wondered if Kolomoisky could “open up money laundering to Biden?”)
Give it time. As the rest of Giuliani’s conspiracies continue to collapse, he’ll need to turn to newer—and equally unfounded—conspiracy theories about supposed Biden malfeasance. And Kolomoisky, as all signs make clear, will be only too happy to provide them. In so doing, he will illustrate the depths to which the U.S. has sunk: as the ultimate home of kleptocrats’ thieved fortunes and as a country whose executive branch is now willing to farm out pressure campaigns against political opponents to all and sundry, no matter how much dirty money they’ve laundered.
Kolomoisky is the logical end point for America’s collapse into becoming the global capital of kleptocracy. A man who allegedly piled untold millions into American real estate, with little more than a desire to obscure his jaw-dropping money-laundering operations, can now turn to a president to try to get those charges lifted, with the promise of unfounded “dirt” against a leading Democratic candidate in return. Through Kolomoisky, the marriage of kleptocracy and foreign interference in the era of Trump is complete—and whatever comes next is anyone’s guess.