Photo Credit: Справедливість. Анна Безулик
Ihor Kolomoysky

According to The NY Post, two Miami-based men, Mordechai Korf and Uri Laber, both in their late 40s, have donated more than $11 million to some 70 yeshivas and other religious charities, while representing Jewish tycoon Ihor Valeriyovych Kolomoyskyi of Ukraine in an alleged $4 billion money-laundering scheme.

On Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken banned Kolomoisky and his immediate family from the US over Kolomoisky’s alleged “significant corruption.” But attorney Vladyslav Sokolovsky told Interfax-Ukraine on Friday that “it is difficult to automatically apply the same restrictive measures to Kolomoisky in Ukraine.” According to him, in Ukraine, it is possible to impose personal sanctions on Ukrainian citizens only for carrying out terrorist activities – not for fraud.

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It should be stressed that the US authorities have not accused the Jewish institutions of any wrongdoing, but their connection to what will likely become an unsavory affair is discomforting.

The United States has recently imposed sanctions against Kolomoisky, who is the subject of a money-laundering probe related to PrivatBank, once Ukraine’s largest lender. On February 25, Volodymyr Yatsenko, the former deputy chairman of PrivatBank, was arrested by the country’s anti-corruption bureau at Boryspil Airport in Kiev. The bank has been at the center of an FBI criminal investigation for the misappropriation of funds.

In 2016, Ihor Kolomoisky and his business partner Gennadiy Bogolyubov were accused of defrauding PrivatBank of billions of dollars. The Ukrainian government nationalized the bank in 2016 after paying off a $5.6 billion bailout. The lawsuit against Kolomoisky was brought by PrivatBank to the High Court in London and initially resulted in freezing $2.6 billion of the oligarch’s assets. However, in 2018 the High Court in London ruled that it had no jurisdiction for further proceedings and found that PrivatBank “fabricated” the case in an attempt to bring a claim in London”

On December 30, the US Justice Dept. filed a civil forfeiture complaint in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging that commercial real estate in Cleveland, Ohio, was acquired using funds misappropriated from PrivatBank in Ukraine as part of a multi-billion-dollar loan scheme. In August 2020, two other civil forfeiture complaints were filed in the Southern District of Florida involving properties in Louisville, Kentucky, and Dallas, Texas, which were also allegedly acquired using funds misappropriated from PrivatBank in Ukraine. All three properties are alleged to be subject to forfeiture based on violations of federal money laundering statutes.

As alleged in the complaints, associates of Kolomoisky and Boholiubov in the United States—Mordechai Korf and Uriel Laber—created a web of entities, usually under some variation of the name “Optima,” to further launder the misappropriated funds and invest them. They purchased hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate and businesses across the country, including the properties subject to forfeiture which have a combined value of more than $60 million.

According to the NY Post, Korf and Laber donated more than $1.4 million to Brooklyn’s Jewish Educational Media, and just under $1 million to the Manhattan-based Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (the nine countries that banded together after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union).

The Post reported that Laber is listed as a board member of Jewish Educational Media, a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1980 initially to broadcast, live via satellite, the public addresses of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. Today, JEM operates a broadcast-quality production house with a full-time staff of researchers, producers, and video editors whose primary goal is to render the Rebbe’s archival material accessible and meaningful to diverse audiences around the world.

Colel Chabad, a Brooklyn charity for orphans and widows, received $466,647 between 2006 and 2013 from Laber Foundation Inc., while the Korf Family Foundation Inc. gave $476,000 between 2006 and 2013 to the charity, according to The Post.

Secretary Blinken said on Friday that in his official status as the head of Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine from 2014 to 2015, Kolomoisky was involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes, including using his political influence and official power for his personal benefit.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.