Kyiv court orders detention of Israeli-Ukrainian oligarch on corruption charges

Igor Kolomoisky to be held for two months for alleged fraud and money-laundering; defense lawyers say he will appeal detention but won’t post bail of nearly $14 million

Screen capture from video of Jewish Ukranian-Israeli oligarch Igor Kolomoisky as he arrives at a Kyiv court to face corruption charges, September 2, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Jewish Ukranian-Israeli oligarch Igor Kolomoisky as he arrives at a Kyiv court to face corruption charges, September 2, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Ukraine on Saturday detained a Jewish oligarch on suspicion of fraud and money laundering amid a crackdown on corruption in the country.

A Kyiv court ordered that tycoon Igor Kolomoisky, who also has Israeli citizenship, be held for two months.

Defense lawyers said he will appeal against his continued detention but that he will not post the set bail of nearly $14 million.

The Security Service of Ukraine announced the case, saying in a statement reported by the UK’s The Guardian newspaper, that “it was established that during 2013-2020, Ihor Kolomoisky legalized more than half a billion hryvnias [$14 million] by withdrawing them abroad and using the infrastructure of banks under [his] control.”

The agency published images on social media showing Kolomoisky being served papers by officers.

Following the court ruling, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement: “Without a doubt, there will be no more decades-long ‘business as usual’ for those who plundered Ukraine and put themselves above the law and any rules.

“The law must work,” Zelensky said.

Last year Zelensky reportedly either revoked, or took steps to revoke, Kolomoisky’s Ukrainian citizenship and that of two other powerful and prominent Jews in the country. The other two were Hennadiy Korban and Vadim Rabinovich, a former tycoon turned opposition lawmaker.

The three men are among the wealthiest Jews in Ukraine, and the official reason for the move appears to be that they hold foreign citizenship — including in Israel. Dual citizenship is technically illegal in Ukraine but is widely tolerated in practice.

A year earlier, the United States banned Kolomoisky from entry, accusing him of corruption and of undermining democracy.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to Ukrainian media, August 27, 2023 (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Kolomoisky used to support Zelensky and backed his 2019 presidential election campaign. Before becoming president, Zelensky starred in a television comedy in which he was elected president as part of the plot. The show was aired on a network owned by Kolomoisky. The tycoon returned from a self-imposed exile in Israel only after Zelensky was elected in 2019.

However, since then the oligarch’s relationship with the president has soured.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the government under Zelensky passed a law requiring oligarchs to register and not be involved in politics, The Guardian reported. Then, last November the Ukrainian government invoked wartime laws that gave it control over major strategic companies, including some that were tied to Kolomoisky, the report said.

Earlier this year, a search of his home was carried out in connection with a separate investigation relating to embezzlement and tax evasion at two oil companies that he has part ownership of.

Ukraine’s crackdown on corruption is seen as a move to reassure key military and financial donors in European capitals and Washington that Ukraine is tackling systemic graft.

Local residents clean the street from broken glass that fell down from the windows of their apartments and shops after Russian rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 30, 2023. Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Kolomoisky is a banking magnate from Dnipro and a major funder of Jewish causes and the Chabad movement in Ukraine. He holds citizenship in Cyprus and Israel as well in Ukraine, where he was born.

Kolomoisky is thought to be the main financier of the flashy, 22-story Jewish community center built in Dnipro in 2012. He has also poured millions of dollars of his own wealth into preparing Ukraine’s army to fight Russia since Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, and even briefly acted as the head of the Dnipro region during that crisis.

He has been accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars derived from a Ponzi scheme. He is also under a criminal investigation led by Ukrainian investigators and the FBI for allegedly using multiple shell companies and bank accounts to take out millions of dollars of government money for real estate investments, including in the United States. Kolomoisky has denied any wrongdoing.

Ukraine for years has suffered endemic graft but efforts to stamp out corruption have been overshadowed by Moscow’s ongoing invasion.

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