In an explosive legal complaint filed last month in Delaware, attorneys for a major Ukrainian bank alleged that two oligarchs who founded the bank and controlled it from 2006 to 2016 laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent corporate loans to purchase assets in the United States and unjustly enrich themselves and their associates.
Dubbed the “Optima Schemes” in the 104-page document, these “brazen fraudulent schemes” were successful, among other things, in making the oligarchs and their co-defendants the largest commercial real estate holders in Cleveland.
With money siphoned from public bonds and 20 million private Ukrainian citizens who’d opened accounts with PrivatBank, the oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Bogolyubov doled out corporate loans to shell companies that they controlled. They used PrivatBank “as their own personal piggy bank,” in the words of the complaint.
Those loans were then laundered in multiple digital transactions, sent through dozens of other shell companies that had been created exclusively for the purpose of laundering. These accounts were managed by co-conspirators at PrivatBank’s branch in Cyprus.
The true origin of the money thus concealed, funds were then shipped to LLCs in Delaware (hence the legal filing there). Those LLCs — “One Cleveland Center, LLC,” to take just one example — were used to acquire properties and metalworking facilities in the U.S. Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov are mineral magnates and own mining factories and metalworking plants in Ukraine.
The men on the ground in the United States, according to the complaint, were a Miami-based trio: Mordechai “Motti” Korf, his brother-in-law Chaim Schochet, and Uriel Laber. These three men managed the “Optima” companies: Optima International, Optima Ventures and Optima Acquisitions, all of which were created and ultimately controlled by Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov.
“Optima Ventures” should be a familiar local name. It was the company, launched in 2007, used to acquire properties in the U.S. for Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov. The majority of these properties were in Cleveland.
Chaim Schochet was Optima’s “front man” in Northeast Ohio. He told the Plain Dealer in 2012that his local goals were twofold: “making money for investors betting on the upside of a Midwestern city, and contributing to the betterment of a downtown that more high-profile buyers ha[d] passed by.”
But his investors’ funds were ill-gotten, according to the complaint, proceeds from “massive, systematic and fraudulent loan misappropriation and recycling schemes. (In the 2012 PD piece referenced above, Schochet was reportedly “circumspect about discussing how [Optima Ventures] is structured or who the major investors are.”)
The loan recycling schemes were functionally identical to a ponzi scheme, except instead of paying purported profits to early investors with funds from more recent investors, the Ukrainian oligarchs and their cronies within PrivatBank paid off early fraudulent corporate loans with money from new fraudulent corporate loans. . . .
A journalist friend of mine has been reporting on corruption. Specifically two types:
1) “Veteran” Land grabs. Corrupt oligarchs are partnering with real and fake veterans to take advantage of a land-donation privilege which has been extended to veterans of the war with Russia.
2) Illegal lumber. Corrupt gangsters team up with everybody from cheap local labor, to the forestry service, to the police, to the prosecutor, to the local governor. Everyone makes money.
I asked him if exposing such corruption may be a threat to his safety. He shrugged it off. “Nowadays it’s cheaper to bribe a judge than to kill a journalist.”
Kyiv, Ukraine – The ongoing transformation and modernization of Ukraine’s healthcare system was dealt a blow this week when a Kyiv District Court judge issuing a bizarre ruling that prohibited Dr. Ulana Suprun, the country’s Minister of Healthcare, from performing her duties. Having lost the battle in parliament in October 2017, and with sociology showing the key elements of the reform being solidly popular, the medical mafia retreated to the murky court system in a last ditch effort to thwart the transformation of the healthcare system. Now the country’s progress in healthcare hangs in the balance as the battle continues in the courts next week.
Serhiy Karakashiyan, an odious judge, from Kyiv’s notorious District Administrative Court, issued the dictate on February 5th stating that Dr. Suprun could not serve as an “Acting Minister” for more than a period of a month, and also made mention of her citizenship. Based on these arguments, Karakashiyan prohibited Dr. Suprun from performing her duties as the Acting Minister of Healthcare. However, the basis for the ruling is dubious. Dr. Suprun has served as the Acting Minister of Health since her appointment by the Cabinet of Ministers, led by Premier Volodymyr Groysman, since August 2016. The post of Minister, which requires parliamentary approval, has been vacant since April 2016. Constitutionally, the Parliament is responsible for approving government ministers, but in their dereliction of duty, the Cabinet of Ministers can appoint Acting Ministers. Without Acting Ministers, medicines can’t get to patients, hospitals can’ receive state funding, and medical professionals can’t be paid. For example, currently, more than $23 million dollars of medicine is held hostage by Karakashiyan’s ruling and is prevented from getting to patients and doctors.
This month, we are moving away from our crazy and oppressive land lady. We found out from a neighbor whom we said goodbye to that she got the property in a deeply immoral way. She was hired to help an aging couple that lived there. She either forged documents or somehow manipulating or tricking them into signing the property over to her.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior isn’t unusual in post-communism. I would like “post-communism” to be thought of and discussed as its own distinct social order.
“The court refused to open proceedings due to the fact that the former owner of PrivatBank cancelled registration in the Dnipropetrovsk region in March, 2017, and sold his local apartments. The court did not find other real estate belonging to Kolomoisky. According to the court’s information, Kolomoisky’s current residence is Geneva.”
Comments from a friend:
Knowing how things work in Ukraine, and the fact that oligarchs have a huge preference for courts in England – until it doesn’t suit them – I wonder if the NBU proceedings were delayed until Kolomoisky could scoot to Geneva.
After all, the former standard procedure was to “get sick”, go to hospital, and then disappear.
Going to hospital probably wouldn’t work any more.
Avoid banking in Ukraine at all costs. While the rest of the countries seems to have taken small but significant steps forward, banking seems to be trapped in some barbaric, ponderous, Soviet past.
You can safely assume that you credit card is blocked for online purchases (like train tickets). That’s my default assumption.
I’ve made hour-long visits to banks on what seems like a dozen different occasions. Every time I want to use my card online, I have to start by visiting the bank to unblock it.
I can’t get help over the phone because I never pass the verification process. Sometimes I forget whether I’ve used my middle name (as per my US passport) or my patronymic (as per my Ukrainian residency). Sometimes I just don’t understand the questions they ask.
1. Your credit card is blocked for online purchases, and you should plan to spend an hours in a bank prior to any online purchase. If you succeed, your card will immediately be blocked again.
2. You will not pass verification over the phone. I suspect there’s no way to actually pass. It’s just there for show. A Potemkin Village of customer service.
3. Avoid banking in Ukraine at all costs.
Earlier rants about Ukrainian Banking:
Ukrainians should boycott UIA.
The low-cost carrier scrubbed its plans last month, accusing Boryspil International Airport in Kiev of bowing to the wishes of its largest customer, flag-carrier Ukraine International Airlines (UIA). . . .
Within hours of the agreement collapsing, Volodymyr Groysman, Ukraine’s prime minister, pleaded with Ryanair to resume negotiations. His infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, scolded UIA for meddling in the process. But government officials are not the only powerbrokers in Ukraine. Ihor Kolomoisky (pictured), the billionaire oligarch who part-owns UIA, has now filed court claims against the government, seeking to have all Ryanair contracts annulled and, quite remarkably, demanding compensation for the mere prospect of future competition.
The index, which is published by Berlin-based Transparency International, aims to rank nations “based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be.” The index ranked 176 countries on a scale of 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean).
I don’t think this is accurate.
Vehicle title transfer in #Ukraine: 6 mind-numbing hours of bureaucracy and still counting.
Now @privatbankua says no online purchases > 700uah ($30) unless its through their service. I need a new bank. see http://romaninukraine.com/i-hate-banking-in-ukraine-rant/.
Banking in Ukraine continues to be a nightmare.
The competence that seems to be lifting the quality of restaurants and retail in Ukraine barely penetrates into banking. I hate it. Most tellers are like incompetent little girls terrified that you’ll ask them to do something difficult or unfamiliar — that you’ll give them an opportunity make a mistake. I blame their managers. Mostly they seem ready to tell you whatever they must, really to make whatever sounds they must, as any connection to the real physical world being incidental, to get you to leave them alone.
A couple years ago, I used to bank with Raiffeisen Bank Aval Ukraine. I opened an account to transfer myself some money from the US, expecting it to be cheaper and more convenient than ATMs.
I wanted an alternative to physically walking to the bank to check whether the deposit arrived and asking whether I could check online. They gave me a brochure with instructions how to do so. (First visit.) Great! The instructions did not help, so I returned to ask again. Apparently I would need to set up some special thing, and the teller who could help me would only be in tomorrow. (Second visit.) On my third visit, she started helping me and then asked for my passport, which I did not realize I needed. On my forth visit, she wasn’t there again, and asked me to return after lunch. On my fifth visit, she started helping me, got through the step with my passport, and then asked for the form which shows my tax id number. On my sixth visit, the job was done, and I was able to then check my balance online.
Can you please exchange this big stack of 50s for a small stack 500s? (It was maybe $100 worth.) She counts my 50s. Then she looks around confusedly. “I don’t have enough 500s.” “Is this a bank?” I ask. I suggested that maybe her neighbor had more. She said she wasn’t allowed to ask.
Similar to Episode 1, it took about five visits to close my account with Raiffeisen Bank Aval. A comedy of incompetence and bad manners.
The one thing they did right was telephone me months later asking why I closed my account. I put down my work, shut the door, and let them have it. We spoke — meaning, I spoke, they (surprisingly) listened — for a good twenty minutes.
So I opened an account with Privat Bank for it okay online banking. It’s Ukraine’s largest bank, with branches everywhere. The owner is a sleazy oligarch, but one who at least had the decency to support Ukraine, both vocally and materially. For this he was rewarded with a governorship which he promptly lost after using his personal army to settle a business disagreement.
Anyway, Privat Bank.
This summer I had to transfer money to another account for an office expense. It was about $8 to buy water, if I remember correctly. I did the transfer online. Then I received a phone call as a security check. There was a live human doing the check. He spoke quickly and impatiently, and in Russian. He asked for a name and I told him the name of the recipient. He said no, he needed my name. I told him my name. He said it was wrong. (WTF!?) He said I failed the security check, and then hung up. My card was blocked.
It took about an hour sitting in a Privat bank while a surprisingly polite and heroic teller named Allah made phone calls on my behalf. I considered buying her flowers.
For about a week, Privat’s online banking seemed to be down. When I tried logging in, I would get a message that “service is temporarily unavailable.” But then something strange happened. I mentioned this to someone, and they said they used the service daily without any problems.
It turns out that the genius UX team of their website was giving me a “temporarily unavailable” message when I had been blocked! I was blocked because apparently, I don’t know my own name. (see Episode 4)
So I went back to Allah. This time it took over an hour, but eventually I was unblocked.
EPISODE 6 (today):
I try to add 110 uah (about $5) to my phone card. The transaction on the website seems to go through, but then I get an SMS saying that 110 uah is over my limit for internet transactions. (I pay this amount monthly.)
After struggling with their website with only PRETENDS to provide an English language option, I walk to my favorite teller in all over Ukraine, Allah. It took about an hour.
Over the phone, they told her that everything with my account was fine and that I should try again. I did. Same result. They didn’t believe her, so she photographed my cellphone showing the SMS and sent it to them.
It turns out my maximum internet transation was set to zero. Just because . . . because fuck you for trying to do banking in Ukraine.
She walked me through the not-quite-English interface and showed me where to change it. The change required an SMS confirmation code. Apparently, it takes a few hours to go into effect. I thank Allah profusely and thought again about buying her flowers or chocolates, but I’m married now and wouldn’t want her to get the wrong idea.
Hour later, I received an automated phone call from Privat bank asking me whether I wanted to raise my credit limit or if someone told me to do so. The message seemed to ask me the same question three times worded in slightly different ways.
Do you know what the best part of Episode 6 is? Even though the website now indicated a higher limit for online transactions — significantly higher than $5, I still get the same rejection when I try to add money to my phone.
Moral of the story: DO NOT BANK IN UKRAINE!
EPISODE 7: I’m unable to make online purchases. When I try, I get a cryptic SMS “Purchase amount too low”. But I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that error messages — whether on their website or via text messages — often seem deliberately designed to confuse you.
I consult with Alla and Nadia, the two kindest bank tellers in Kyiv for whom I am very grateful.
After 45 minutes, my inquiry remained unresolved and I suggested I return to work and they call me when they get answers.
That evening, Nadia calls. Apparently, Privat Bank no longer allows internet purchases over 700 uah unless it is through their payment system, Privat24.
Sorry, Kolomoiski. I’m done with your bank.
I did a small good thing for #Ukraine today. Introduced an American journalist friend to local activists fighting corruption. Win-win.
Train Stations are the worst. My life has gotten measurably better since I learned how to buy tickets online. Nevertheless, sometimes I still have to go to the station. Picture this:
Crowded. Long lines. Everyone is cranky. The cleaning lady pushes aside the clerk with her mop. The clerk first slides her chair back to accommodate the cleaning, then leaves her booth altogether and so the stone-faced hag with the mop can fishing moistening the floor with her dirty rag on a stick.
You know those toxic “green” lightbulbs which the enviro-fascists have been promoting until recently? The ones filled with mercury?
There seems to be no proper infrastructure for disposing them in Lviv.
I even asked in a lightbulb/lamp store. They said “throw it in a dumpster, but as far away from our store as you can.”
I don’t yet know how legally binding this is. It may only be the opinion of Ukraine’s central bank, but nevertheless, it’s bad. It represents exactly the type of corrupt Soviet bureaucratic thinking that Ukrainians rebelled against last winter. Worse, this statement is aimed at the tech industry — the one place talented Ukrainians consistently find refuge from corporate raiders and rent seeking bureaucrats. It’s a very, very discouraging blow at a time when so many Ukrainians have sacrificed so much in a fight that was largely about greater economic freedom. I expect a reaction from the recently formed Bitcoin Foundation of Ukraine.
In connection with citizens about the legality of use in Ukraine “virtual currency / Cryptocurrency” Bitcoin inform that.
According to the Constitution of Ukraine (Article 99), the Civil Code of Ukraine (Article 192), the Law of Ukraine “On Payment Systems and Money Transfer in Ukraine” (Article 3) and the Decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine from 19.02.93 № 15-93 “On Currency regulation and Currency control “(Article 3) hryvnia currency of Ukraine as the only legal tender in Ukraine, adopted by all natural and legal persons without any restriction on all territory of Ukraine for the transfer and settlement.
One of the functions of the National Bank of Ukraine is the monopoly of Issuance national currency of Ukraine and the organization of cash circulation (Article 7 of the Law of Ukraine “On the National Bank of Ukraine”).
Volume and turnover in Ukraine other currencies and use of substitutes as a payment prohibited (Article 32 of the Law of Ukraine “On the National Bank of Ukraine”).
Given the above, the National Bank of Ukraine considers “virtual currency / Cryptocurrency” Bitcoin as a money substitute that is not providing real value and can not be used by individuals and entities on the territory of Ukraine as a means of payment, because it is contrary to the norms of Ukrainian legislation.
In addition, when using “virtual currency / Cryptocurrency” Bitcoin is a factor of increased risk associated with this service, operations or supply channels, including anonymous transactions (which may include cash), decentralization operation.
However, the international distribution of such payments for this category of services attractive to illegal activities, including money laundering, proceeds from crime and terrorist financing.
We emphasize that the risks for use in the calculation of “virtual currency / Cryptocurrency” Bitsoin responsible party payments for them. National Bank of Ukraine as a regulator is not liable for risks and losses associated with the use of “virtual currency / Cryptocurrency” Bitsoin.
In order to protect consumers’ rights, safety, money transfer National Bank of Ukraine encourages citizens to use the services of only those payment systems, settlement systems, which included the National Bank of Ukraine in the Register of payment systems, settlement systems, participants in these systems and service providers payment infrastructure.
Haven’t made a “wasteland” post in a while.
So, I go to pick up my laptop. They run the charge through the card reader three times and they get an error code each time. They call me today and say they have it fixed. I show up. It doesn’t work. I find out that they have charged me 12K because each transaction DID process, and is now being refunded.
I think we need to have refunds on errors issued immediately, with the merchant absorbing the risk. Where the hell is our consumer protection?
So I am out 12K, albeit for three days, and I have no new laptop [technical problem with it]. Sigh.
This kind of incompetence is rife here.
Sh_t doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. Anywhere. It’s exasperating.
So yes, the people are wonderful, and yes, it’s beautiful and yes the food is good, and yes it’s inexpensive. But you have to put up with third world infrastructure and the all too pervasive remains of soviet bureaucratic incompetence – everywhere.