A bespectacled Ukrainian oligarch with a strongman reputation popped up over and over throughout the Donald Trump impeachment saga.
And now, little-noticed filings in Delaware Chancery Court allege a closer relationship than previously known between that oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, and a South Florida businessman who donated to a member of Congress. It’s another example of how people and companies linked to some of the former Soviet Union’s most controversial oligarchs end up with connections to Capitol Hill.
In Kolomoisky’s case, this is far from the first congressional link. In 2017, Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS) secured a room in the basement of the Capitol Building for a fake congressional hearing. The focus of that hearing: lambasting a former Ukrainian official who seized control of PrivatBank, a bank Kolomoisky had previously owned.
And now a lawsuit filed in Delaware last spring alleges that a South Florida businessman named Uriel Laber played a key role in an alleged scheme by Kolomoisky to steal billions from that bank. (Laber strongly denies the allegations.) In 2017 and 2018, Laber gave a total of $2,500 to then-candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, now a Democratic member of Congress who flipped a Florida seat previously held by Republicans. Mucarsel-Powell sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which helped helm impeachment proceedings targeting President Donald Trump over his pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government. Mucarsel-Powell’s husband previously worked for firms linked to Kolomoisky, as The Daily Beast first reported.
“Previous reports long ago debunked far-fetched theories involving Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell,” said her spokesperson in a statement. “Moreover, one of the first things Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell did in Congress is fight for a bill to protect our government from foreign influence.”
The oligarch, who has not been charged with a crime in the U.S. or Ukraine, has allies in high places. His TV channel aired the show that propelled Ukraine’s now-president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to fame. And one of Kolomoisky’s former lawyers, Andriy Bohdan, was the president’s chief of staff until last month. Rudy Giuliani—who was at the center of Trump’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden—telegraphed to Ukrainian officials that he wanted Bohdan out. However, a lawyer for ex-Giuliani associate Lev Parnas told The Daily Beast that Trump’s personal lawyer also delivered a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) calling for sanctions on a host of Kolomoisky’s Ukrainian foes. On the list: the former regulator who was also the target of the Capitol basement fake hearing.
Given Biden’s newfound frontrunner status in the Democratic presidential primary, the Ukraine story is finding its way back into the center of American politics after a brief post-impeachment respite. Senate Republicans, helmed by Chairman Ron Johnson of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, are ramping up their probe into the work Biden’s son did for a Ukrainian energy company controlled by a different allegedly corrupt oligarch.
Laber, according to allegations in the lawsuit, has a peripheral connection to the long and sprawling saga of PrivatBank. According to the litigation—from a bank now controlled by the Ukrainian government—he played a meaningful role in Kolomoisky’s alleged scheme to seize billions from PrivatBank.
Laber’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the suit last year. And a spokesperson for Laber strongly denied the allegations in a statement to The Daily Beast.
The allegations contained in the May 21 Delaware Chancery Court lawsuit are not only 100% false and defamatory, but they are outlandish. Unfortunately, people can make whatever allegations they want about someone else even when they are not true. This lawsuit is a perfect case in point. Messrs. Laber and Korf are outraged that the hard-earned reputation they have earned over the last 20 years as honest businessmen can be threatened by a lawsuit that is nothing more than a fictional orchestrated political attack on an investor in our businesses. They plan to fight the allegations vigorously and fully expect to be fully cleared of these allegations. With respect to the donations you referenced, Mr. Laber’s recollection is that he made a personal donation of $500 in 2017 and $2000 in 2018 to Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Debbie Powell’s husband was hired by the company of which Messrs. Laber and Korf were owners more than ten years prior to her decision to run for Congress. Mr. Powell stopped working for the company in 2017, of which Messrs. Laber and Korf were owners. Mr. Kolomoiskys company is a shareholder of the company where Mr. Powell used to work. He is not the owner. Mr. Powell did not work for Mr. Kolomoisky; Mr. Kolomoisky has no involvement in any hires or HR decisions.
Mr. Laber does not work for Mr. Kolomoisky and has never worked for Mr. Kolomoisky. Mr. Laber has had a very successful business career entirely separate from Kolomoisky and significant sources of his assets and earnings are entirely separate from Mr. Kolomoisky.
The allegations themselves, leveled against Kolomoisky, Laber, and a number of other people, are eyebrow-raising. The plaintiffs claim “hundreds of millions of dollars in damages” from unjust enrichment, fraudulent transfer of funds, and violation of Ohio’s RICO statute (legislation designed to fight organized crime). Laber and other defendants, the suit alleges, used millions of ill-gotten dollars to buy Miami real estate.
Laber and other defendants acted as “trusted lieutenants… in the United States and abroad” for Kolomoisky and his business partners, the suit alleges.
Kolomoisky has spent years trying to regain control of the bank. And in his time in public life, he’s gained a reputation of using hardball tactics to get what he wants. The lawsuit said that in one case, Kolomoisky and his business partner “are alleged to have employed an ‘army of thugs’ to descend upon a competitor’s plant with baseball bats, gas, rubber pistols, iron bars, and chainsaws.”
Kolomoisky was governor of a province in Eastern Ukraine when Russian-backed separatists started a war there. He used his billions to fund a private army that took on those forces. His militarism has also frightened many of his critics. And while The Wall Street Journal dubbed him “Ukraine’s secret weapon” because of that fight, years later he took a much more Kremlin-friendly stance. In an interview with The New York Times in the middle of the impeachment process, he called for Ukraine to seek better relations with Russia, even at the expense of its standing with Western powers.
“They’re stronger anyway,” he said of the Kremlin.