Hidden behind a retinue of fixers, intermediaries and opportunists lurks another figure in President Trump’s Ukraine scandal.
You probably haven’t heard of him, but his involvement has been rumored for months among Ukrainians in the know. Still, it wasn’t until Rudy Giuliani’s trip to Kyiv last week that observers of Ukrainian politics began buzzing about what now seems obvious: there’s another billionaire oligarch interested for his own reasons in cozying up to President Trump.
His name is Ihor Kolomoisky, and he was once seen as the power behind the throne of President Volodymyr Zelensky. He has a lot to gain from any favor he can curry with the Trump administration: An FBI probe into his finances threatens to deprive Kolomoisky of his earnings and his freedom.
The nature and extent of Kolomoisky’s involvement in the pressure campaign remains unclear. There’s some indication that he began dishing the kind of bogus political dirt that Giuliani and Trump are seeking as far back as 2018. But in the murky world where Ukraine business and politics overlap, Kolomoisky has largely managed to remain on the periphery of the coverage of the Trump scandal.
That is, at least, until Rudy waltzed back into town.
Giuliani’s Kyiv trip last week gave away the game, according to Ukraine observers. He took a series of meetings with figures known for their close association with Kolomoisky. According to these Kolomoisky associates’ own accounts and Ukraine news reports, they fed more dirt to Giuliani, who was an eager recipient. One longtime Western official stationed in Kyiv, speaking anonymously due to lack of authorization to speak publicly, told TPM that it seemed Kolomoisky was “trying to become friends with Trump and Giuliani.”
There have been other indications of an alignment between Kolomoisky and Giuliani, who for at least a year has been searching for dirt that would benefit Trump politically. TPM learned that Kolomoisky retained Bud Cummins, an American criminal defense attorney, to represent him in federal criminal investigations in the United States.
Around the same time last year, as TPM previously reported, Cummins tried to set up a meeting between American law enforcement and a Ukrainian prosecutor who was offering information about the Bidens and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. That information later became the basis of Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine.
Cummins declined to comment for this story and would not confirm that he had represented Kolomoisky. Cummins did say, “as far as I know, Igor Kolomoisky had no role in the request made to me to connect Ukrainian officials with DOJ in regard to the various allegations.”
It’s not clear if Kolomoisky himself has directed any information to Giuliani. Giuliani’s appearance in Kyiv and meetings with associates of the oligarch’s, however, confirmed for many in Ukraine that Kolomoisky may be trying to use the former New York mayor for his own interests.
Kolomoisky’s actions mirror those of Dmytro Firtash, another Ukrainian oligarch, currently fighting extradition to the U.S. from Vienna. Firtash hired two Trumpworld lawyers to help him defend himself. Those lawyers later met with Attorney General Bill Barr to discuss Firtash, and documents from Firtash’s case, including allegations against the Bidens, were shared by Giuliani on Fox News.
In the case of Kolomoisky, Cummins forwarded a message containing the same topics to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Later, associates of the oligarch met with Giuliani in Kyiv about similar topics.
“Kolomoisky seems to be trying the same thing as Firtash,” Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kyiv-based political analyst, told TPM. “Our oligarchs think that if you befriend the main person in a country, then that will solve all your problems. It’s not clear it even works like that in Ukraine anymore.”
The dynamic suggests that yet another powerful, scandal-ridden oligarch sees an opportunity provided by Giuliani’s and Trump’s efforts to smear their political opponents. For Kolomoisky, the prospect of pleasing the White House comes with two possible benefits: shutting down the American criminal investigation of him, and getting a favorable resolution to a massive embezzlement case involving a bank he previously owned.
Kolomoisky had a high-profile run-in with America’s mayor in May, after Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — two recently indicted Giuliani associates — met with Kolomoisky in Israel asking for access to Zelensky. Kolomoisky says that he kicked the pair out, but it led to a public spat in which Giuliani called for Kolomoisky’s prosecution.
This is a test for the Pres.-elect.He already has surrounded himself with some people that are enemies of Pres.Trump. Now this notorious oligarch is said to also have people around him. Kolomoisky should be prosecuted for the threat. Let’s see?It will tell us a lot about control?
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) May 18, 2019
But since then, the relationship appears to have veered back into friendly territory.
Vadim Shulman, a former business partner of Kolomoisky’s now embroiled in a nasty, multimillion dollar legal battle against him in London and Delaware, told TPM that he believed Kolomoisky had tried to “solve the issue with the FBI by giving documents on Biden.”
“Fuck your Shulman!” Kolomoisky told TPM when asked to respond to the allegation.
When asked about Giuliani’s arrival in Ukraine, Kolomoisky replied, “He’s what, in Kyiv?”
Michael Sullivan, a former ATF director working as an attorney for Kolomoisky, did not return repeated requests for comment. Bob Costello, an attorney for Giuliani, did not return a request for comment. Giuliani himself did not reply to requests for comment.
Mr. K goes to Washington
A jowly business magnate with a reputation built in part on allegations of contract killings (which he denies) and a fluent command of the Russian language’s palette of vulgarity, Kolomoisky is known as one of Ukraine’s most combative oligarchs.
He returned to Ukraine days before Zelensky’s inauguration in May 2019, after being exiled over accusations that he embezzled $5.6 billion from a bank he owned. The bank — PrivatBank — was nationalized in December 2016 in one of the last policy moves towards Ukraine coordinated by the Obama administration, the IMF, and other international backers of Ukraine.
Kolomoisky had developed a business empire in the United States that encompassed metallurgy and Cleveland real estate, funded in part by money from the bank. The FBI investigation, run out of the Northern District of Ohio, is reportedly examining allegations of financial wrongdoing. The U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Ohio declined to comment.
Before he was elected president of Ukraine earlier this year, Zelensky was a comedian who gained fame on one of Kolomoisky’s TV channels. The association has raised questions about the extent of Zelensky’s ties to the oligarch. American diplomat George Kent said that how Zelensky handles his relationship with the oligarch while president “was going to be a mark of his willingness to really make a break from past relationships and stand on principle.”
The dual issues of the FBI investigation and the bank left Kolomoisky in a vulnerable position with respect to the United States.
He reportedly was forced to flee Switzerland for Israel, where he has citizenship, in September last year amid fears of a U.S. extradition request.
Bud Cummins, a former U.S. attorney in Arkansas retained by Kolomoisky, said that he was approached by intermediaries of Yuriy Lutsenko in September 2018. Lutsenko was Ukraine’s Prosecutor General at that time — he has since been replaced by Zelensky — and would go on to become the source of many of the conspiracy theories peddled by Giuliani
The intermediaries wanted Cummins to transmit a request for a meeting between Lutsenko and U.S. law enforcement.
Cummins approached the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York about the request. He told TPM last month that he spoke with Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman briefly over the phone, before sending an email that, he said, contained information about the two subjects that Lutsenko hoped to discuss: (i) Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma; and (ii) the supposed fabrication of Paul Manafort’s notorious Black Ledger of his Ukraine business dealings.
President Trump would later extort Ukraine to investigate the same topics.
One aide to Lutsenko, speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation, told TPM that Kolomoisky had fed information to Lutsenko in late 2018.
The oligarch has cultivated links with other Ukrainian law enforcement officials as well. A Ukrainian prosecutor named Konstantin Kulyk began to appear on his television channel in March.
Kolomoisky denies knowing Kulyk, but Kulyk performed useful work for him. Kulyk opened a criminal case into Vadim Shulman in July, the former business partner locked in litigation with Kolomoisky.
Kulyk also reportedly developed a seven-page “dossier” on Hunter Biden. He met with Giuliani in Kyiv on Wednesday as part of a right-wing media documentary that the former NYC mayor is filming about the allegations.
Giuliani also met last week with Oleksandr Dubinsky, a member of parliament and former journalist on Kolomoisky’s TV channel.
Fesenko, the political analyst, said that the meeting with Dubinsky and another member of parliament named Andriy Derkach made it clear that Kolomoisky “wants both Giuliani and Trump to like him.”
The allegations that Dubinsky said he discussed with Giuliani align neatly with efforts by Kolomoisky to smear Ukrainian officials involved in the nationalization of his bank. They also align with Giuliani’s ongoing dirt-digging effort.
One unsubstantiated and apparently tailor-made allegation, for example, suggests that millions of dollars in money stolen from Ukraine was laundered into Democratic Party campaign coffers, in a scheme protected by the same Ukrainian officials who oversaw the nationalization of Kolomoisky’s bank.
Dubinsky’s allegations appear to offer a preview of the next volley in Ukraine-sourced attacks that could be cast by the former NYC mayor.
Dubinsky said Giuliani “was very interested” in a story he was offering about Franklin Templeton bonds and Ukraine. As if on cue, Giuliani tweeted on Tuesday that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is a Franklin Templeton investor.
Working on an important project with @OANN, intended to bring before the American people information Schiff (recently disclosed investor in Franklin Templton) “Star chamber” proceedings have covered up. Stay tuned.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) December 3, 2019
But as one former U.S. diplomat who is deeply familiar with Ukraine pointed out, the specific allegations are less important than what Kolomoisky thinks he can accomplish with Giuliani and Trump.
“The reasoning behind this — which is very sensible — is that Kolomoisky has legal problems in the United States,” the former diplomat said. “And he sees Giuliani and Trump as allies … just as we know [Victoria] DiGenova is now Firtash’s lawyer.”