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. . . .