Victor Yanukovich

June 29, 2015 – IMF officials are implicated in theft, concealment of Ukraine loan corruption, US Justice Department investigates

“Officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are in flight from evidence of negligence, incompetence, and corruption in their management of billions of dollars in loans for Ukraine.

Nikolai Gueorguiev, head of the Ukraine team at IMF headquarters in Washington, DC, and Jerome Vacher, the IMF representative in Kiev, refuse to respond to questions on their role in the offshore diversion of IMF loan money through Privatbank and Credit Dnepr Bank, banks owned by Ukrainian oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Victor Pinchuk. The Fund’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde (lead image, front) and her spokesman, Gerry Rice (rear), are covering up evidence of conflicts of interest and multiple violations of the IMF Staff Code of Conduct which have been occurring in the Ukraine loan programme. Simonetta Nardin, head of the Fund’s media relations, refuses to explain her apparent violations of the Code, or respond to evidence that she fabricated elements of her career resume.

On Tuesday a spokesman at the US Department of Justice in Washington confirmed that an investigation is under way of the role played by US clearing banks in the movement of IMF funds through the Privatbank group and companies connected with Kolomoisky. Speaking for the Asset Forefeiture and Money Laundering Section, Peter Carr declined to give more details.

In recent indictments presented to US courts, Justice Department officials have defined the crime of money laundering as the transmission or transfer of money through “a place in the United States to or through a place outside the United States” with the “intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity”; with knowledge that the transfer of funds represents “the proceeds of some unlawful activity”; and with the intention to “conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership, or the control of the proceeds of unspecified unlawful activity”.

The role of US system banks, such as Citibank, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, in clearing US dollar transactions has been the basis of selective Justice Department prosecutions of Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian companies and individuals since the toppling of President Victor Yanukovich in Kiev in February 2014. In contrast, Ukrainian allies of the US in that operation, including Yulia Tymoshenko (below, left), Kolomoisky (centre), and Pinchuk (right), have not been pursued on court evidence of their involvement in corruption and money-laundering.

Washington’s selectivity and political favouritism was condemned by an Austrian court in May when a US extradition request for Dmitry Firtash on corruption charges was rejected. Justice Department lawyers are now attempting a retrial of their allegations in an appeals court in Vienna.

For the Justice Department to acknowledge this week that it is investigating Kolomoisky is unusual. Kolomoisky himself was last recorded as visiting the US in April; follow that story here. He is based in Geneva, where a Swiss Government investigation of his qualification for renewal of a residency permit continues without end.

For the US to acknowledge opening an investigation of IMF lending to Ukraine is unprecedented. The IMF resumed its loan disbursements to Ukraine in March. This was after a hiatus of six months from October of 2014 when the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) agreed the previous April was suspended as Fund officials attempted to convince the board that the Kiev government was capable of repaying its debts and meeting its loan conditions. When the Fund launched the SBA on April 30, 2014, it had claimed: “A strong and comprehensive structural reform package is critical to reduce corruption…to build capacity to more effectively conduct enforcement of anti-money laundering and anti-corruption legislation.”

The IMF reports that in 2014 it gave $2.2 billion to the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) before the suspension. Another $5.4 billion in IMF cash was paid to Kiev for what is called “budget support”. That also included warfighting in eastern Ukraine.

When the IMF board agreed to restart lending with a new arrangement called the Extended Fund Facility (EFF), the American deputy managing director of the Fund, David Lipton, claimed: “Restoring a sound banking system is key for economic recovery. To this end, the strategy to strengthen banks through recapitalization, reduction of related-party lending, and resolution of impaired assets should be implemented decisively.” Using the future tense Lipton (below, left) was acknowledging that next to nothing had been done to reform the Ukrainian banks in fifteen months.

Gueorguiev (right), an ex-official of the Bulgarian government, has claimed he is in charge of the independent auditing and supervision of the Ukrainian banks; for the record of his admissions in June 2014click. Since then Gueorguiev refuses to answer questions.

In the new staff report for which he and Jerome Vacher, the IMF resident representative in Kiev, are responsible, issued a month ago, they admitted the condition of the Ukrainian banks is parlous. “Outstanding NBU loans are still elevated for a number of domestic banks. At end-June, the aggregate liquidity ratio among the 35 largest banks was 15.2 percent, although seven of these domestic privately-owned banks had liquidity ratios below 5 percent.” Privat and Credit Dnepr, the Kolomoisky and Pinchuk pocket banks, aren’t identified.

(…) The new staff report claims it has been decided to continue making “provision related loans in full and transfer them into a specialized unit inside the bank in case it is needed to ensure medium-term financial viability of any resolved SIB. [And] inject public funds in the SIBs only after shareholders have been completely diluted and non-deposit unsecured creditors are bailed in.” This looks like the IMF has decided to oust Kolomoisky from control of Privatbank. It may be advance warning for him to empty the bank’s pockets into his own before the dilution and other conditions take effect. That would make Gueorguiev and his IMF colleagues complicit in the money laundering schemes the Justice Department is investigating – if evidence turns up that they knew, or ought to have known, of transfer schemes intended to defraud the bank, its collateral shareholder NBU and lender IMF, by hiding the cash offshore under Kolomoisky’s personal control.

Jerome Vacher

(…) Vacher (right), the Fund’s resident representative in Kiev, may be of greater interest to US investigators because he appears to have been exchanging valuable favours with Pinchuk. Questioned about his trip to Venice in May to attend a Pinchuk art show and political rally, Vacher is admitting through the Fund’s press office that he wasn’t on official duty at the time. But did he stay on board Pinchuk’s motor yacht Oneness, which port logs show to have been in Venice between May 4 and May 8? Vacher and his superiors in Washington are withholding their answer. For more details of Vacher’s relationship with Pinchuk, read this. For the impact of the IMF loan programme on Credit Dnepr Bank, click here.

Reporting to Managing Director Lagarde as chief spokesmen for the Fund’s Ukraine operations are Rice, a British national, and Simonetta Nardin, an Italian. She claims to have been a journalist in Italy before joining the IMF in 1997. In a forum sponsored by the US Government’s National Endowment for Democracy, the Czech Foreign Ministry, the European Commission, and a Taiwan government office in Prague, she also claimed her role is “to make the IMF responsible and accountable for what it does.” (Read more: John Helmer, 9/03/2015)    (Archive)

(Republished in part, with permission)

April 30, 2014 – March 15, 2016: The Kolomoisky pyramid starts with Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland at the State Department and Christine Lagarde of the IMF

(Credit: John Helmer)

“When Igor Kolomoisky (lead image, centre) financed anti-Russian units operating with the Ukrainian Army in the Ukrainian civil war, he was a staunch ally of Petro Poroshenko’s government in Kiev and the Obama Administration’s chief Ukraine policymakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) and her Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland (right).

They in turn dominated the voting on the board of directors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), led by managing director Christine Lagarde. Following the US regime change which installed Poroshenko’s regime in the spring of 2014, the IMF voted massive loans for the Ukraine to replace the Russian financing on which the regime of Victor Yanukovich had depended.  More than a third of the fresh IMF money was paid out by the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), the state’s central bank, into PrivatBank controlled by Kolomoisky and his partner, Gennady Bogolyubov.

At the time, investigations of Kolomoisky’s business and banking practices, and the special relationship he cultivated with the NBU, reported he was stealing the money through a pyramid of front companies lending each other the IMF cash which was not intended to be repaid. Clinton, Nuland, Lagarde and the IMF staff and board of directors ignored the evidence, as they continued to top up Kolomoisky’s pyramid. Criminal investigations by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were also reported at the time; they were neutralized by their superiors.

A new Delaware state court filing a month ago, triggering new US media reports, appears to signal a shift in US Government policy towards Kolomoisky. Or else, as some Ukrainian policy experts believe, it is a move by US officials to put pressure on the new Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Kolomoisky supported in his successful election campaign to replace Poroshenko.

In the new court papers, front company names and the count and value of US transactions between them,  which PrivatBank has dug out of its own bank records,  is published for the first time. But the scheme itself is not new. It was fully exposed in 2014-2015 in this archive.  Nor is it news, as subsequent US media reports claim, that the FBI is investigating Kolomoisky and his US associates for criminal racketeering. The FBI investigation was first reported here.

(Credit: Steve Bell, August 28, 2014)

What is missing is an explanation of why it has taken so long for the PrivatBank case against Kolomoisky to surface in the US courts and in the US press. Also missing is a list of the accomplices and co-conspirators in the scheme. These include officials of the IMF,  the US and Canadian Governments who knowingly directed billions of dollars into the NBU,  from which, as they knew full well at the time, the money went out to Kolomoisky’s PrivatBank, the largest single Ukrainian recipient of the international cash. At the top of the list of accomplices, immediately subordinate to Clinton, Nuland and Lagarde, are David Lipton, the US deputy managing director  at the IMF, and the head of the IMF in Ukraine until 2017, Jerome Vacher.

The plaintiff in the Delaware Court of Chancery is PrivatBank; it is represented by the Quinn Emanuel law firm of New York and Washington, DC.

In addition to Kolomoisky and Gennady Bogolyubov, his business partner and co-shareholder in the bank, three other individuals are named as defendants – Mordechai Korf, Chaim Schochet, and Uriel Laber. They are based in the US where they have run the US trading, production, management and investment companies which Privat now alleges were on the receiving end of the embezzlement from the bank and the onward money-laundering chain.

The story of Kolomoisky, Korf and Schochet was first reported in April 2015 here.

Left to right: Mordechai Korf; Chaim Schochet, Korf’s brother-in-law; and Uriel Laber.  Because Korf, Schochet and Laber all live in Miami, the local newspaper has investigated some of their other schemes; here’s an investigation of the environmental damage of their manganese mine in Georgia. A catch-up investigation was reported by the Kyiv Post in May 2019.

The central allegation of the new court case is: “From at least 2006 through December 2016, the UBOs  [Ultimate Beneficial Owners – Kolomoisky, Bogolyubov] were the majority and controlling stockholders of PrivatBank, one of Ukraine’s largest privately-held commercial banks. During that time period, the UBOs used PrivatBank as their own personal piggy bank—ultimately stealing billions of dollars from PrivatBank and using United States entities to launder hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of PrivatBank’s misappropriated loan proceeds into the United States to enrich themselves and their co-conspirators.”

Gennady Bogolyubov (l) and Igor Kolomoisky (Credit: public domain)

The racket – called the Optima schemes in the court papers after the names of several of the Delaware-registered companies used as fronts for moving the money into US assets – was this: “Through the Optima Schemes, the UBOs [Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov] exploited their positions of power and trust at PrivatBank to cause PrivatBank to issue hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of illegitimate, inadequately-secured loans to corporate entities also owned and/or controlled by the UBOs and/or their affiliates (the “Optima Scheme Loans”). To facilitate and fraudulently conceal the Optima Schemes from discovery, the UBOs created and utilized a secretive business unit within PrivatBank’s operations (the “Shadow Bank”) to fund the fraudulent loans and launder those loan proceeds through a sophisticated money laundering process.”

“The stated purpose for each loan involved in the Optima Schemes was typically for financing the activities of the ostensible corporate borrower. The Optima Scheme Loans, however, were sham arrangements and the proceeds were not in fact used for that purpose. Instead, sometimes within minutes of being disbursed, the loan proceeds were cycled through dozens of UBO-controlled or affiliated bank accounts at PrivatBank’s Cyprus branch (“PrivatBank Cyprus”) before being disbursed to one of multiple Delaware limited liability companies or corporations (or other United States-based entities), all of which were [controlled by the UBOs].”

“In effect, the UBOs utilized a Ponzi-type scheme: old loans issued by PrivatBank would be ‘repaid’ (along with the accrued interest) with new loans issued by PrivatBank, and those new loans issued by PrivatBank would then be repaid with a new round of loans. The UBOs and their co-conspirators continuously carried out this process to conceal their frauds. Thus, proceeds from new PrivatBank loans were used to give the appearance that the initial PrivatBank loans (along with the accrued interest) were repaid by the borrower when in fact there was no actual repayment.”

“The proceeds from the new PrivatBank Ukraine loans were then laundered through various accounts at PrivatBank Cyprus to disguise the origin of the funds (i.e., a new loan from PrivatBank), and then used to purport to pay down the initial loans plus accrued interest. On paper, this appeared to be a repayment, but in reality, it was a sham and fraud, as PrivatBank was repaying itself and increasing its outstanding liabilities in the process. This process was carried out over and over again, over a period of many years, giving the appearance that PrivatBank’s corporate loan book was performing when, in fact, new loans were being continually issued to new UBO-controlled parties to ‘pay down’ the prior, existing loans. As a result, the size of the ‘hole’ in PrivatBank’s corporate loan book grew and grew, with each iteration of a loan plus interest being ‘repaid’ through the issuance of a new loan, which accrued interest itself before being ‘repaid’ through the issuance of yet a further new loan.

(…) Most of the fresh evidence presented in Privatbank’s court papers has been gathered from Cyprus. There, according to the bank’s case, 41 front companies were used to move money. “Even though the Laundering Entities had billions of dollars moving in and out of their accounts, in reality, the entities had no business, assets, operations, or employees and were shell entities deployed for money laundering purposes.”

When the money was moved to the US,  it was then spent on real estate – four commercial buildings in Cleveland, Ohio;  two in Dallas, Texas;  one in Harvard, Illinois – together with six ferro-alloy and steel production and trading companies operating in several US states.  The court papers report the value of the real estate at acquisition at just over $287.5 million; the value of the metals companies, $468.7 million.

In addition, there were miscellaneous financial transfers with no clear end-purpose or investment target. “Based on information analyzed to date, Defendants laundered approximately $622.8 million worth of fraudulently obtained loan proceeds into the Optima Conspirators, including $188.1 million to Optima Group, $162.3 million to Optima Ventures, $153.7 million to Optima Acquisitions, $103 million to Optima International, $9 million to Warren Steel Holdings, and $6.7 million to Felman Trading. PrivatBank received no consideration in exchange for these transfers and the loans associated with the transfers were not repaid in full.”

Grand total, $1,379 million.

(…) Lawyers for the defendants are not commenting on the Delaware allegations. It can be anticipated that Kolomoisky will argue the Privatbank loans weren’t shams, and that they were repaid to the bank.  Kolomoisky has already won counter claims against PrivatBank in courts in London and Kyiv; he is now negotiating with the Kiev government to recover a 25% stake in the bank. “We have always said that we are open to negotiations. We believe that we are the injured party, that we have been robbed,” Kolomoisky has told Reuters. “Kolomoisky calculates he is due a 25 percent stake in the bank because of the capital he had put into it. Give us then our 25 percent and keep 75, we will have a joint-stock company. There will be a 25 percent participation and 75 percent by the state, as one of the options.”

Reuters also reports the Ukrainian central bank and the IMF believe Privat “was used as a vehicle for fraud and money-laundering while Kolomoisky owned it, and said the government was forced to inject $5.6 billion of taxpayers’ money into the lender to shore up its finances.” For more detail, click to read this.

The work on the transactions detailed in the Delaware court papers was commissioned by PrivatBank and the NBU from Kroll, a due diligence firm as well known for white-washing the affairs of its clients as for investigating fraud. Kroll’s report was then leaked to Graham Stack. In his report, published on April 19, Stack concludes: “The money was moved through a PrivatBank subsidiary in Cyprus. The arrangement helped hide the fact that cash was disappearing because the National Bank of Ukraine treated the Cyprus branch of PrivatBank the same as it would domestic branches. This designation meant officials never detected that cash transferred to Cyprus was leaving Ukraine. Meanwhile, Cypriot regulators either failed to detect that the various bank transfers totalling $5.5 billion were backed by bogus contracts, or didn’t take the necessary action to stop them.”

The IMF’s staff head for Ukraine, Nikolai Gueorguiev,  claimed that in March 2015 he had ordered “a new wave of  bank diagnostics” to monitor related-party lending, liquidity and capital adequacy at PrivatBank; he was dissembling.

Graham Stack (Credit: public domain)

Stack (right) also reports Kolomoisky’s response to the Delaware case: “‘I categorically deny the allegations made by the National Bank of Ukraine,’ Kolomoisky said, adding that regulators had all the access they needed to monitor his bank’s activities. He painted the authorities’ nationalization of his lending business as an asset grab. ‘Management of the [Ukrainian central bank] had as its main purpose not the support of the country’s largest bank, but its nationalization and the expropriation of the assets provided as security, together with the persecution and pressuring of the former shareholders,’ Kolomoisky said.”

Stack is an independent researcher and reporter of Ukrainian business and politics. Anders Aslund is an employee of Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch with bank, media and steel interests who has long been a rival of Kolomoisky’s. Aslund, a former Swedish government official, has worked for US think-tanks funded by Pinchuk. Aslund is now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. The council lists Pinchuk’s foundation as having giving it up to $500,000 in financing for research, including Aslund’s pay.  The US State Department, the British Foreign Office, and George Soros’s foundations are also listed as large donors.

[Anders] Aslund (left) reported on the charges on June 4. Aslund claims to be reading about the stealing scheme for the first time. “The money trail is surprisingly simple. To begin with, the ultimate beneficiary owners collect retail deposits in Ukraine by offering good conditions and service. The money then flows to their subsidiary, PrivatBank Cyprus. In Cyprus, they benefit from the services of two local law firms. Untypically, the ultimate beneficiary owners did not take the precaution to establish multiple layers of shell companies in Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, and Cayman Islands, as is common among Russians with seriously dirty money. Instead, they operated with three US individuals in Miami, who helped them to set up a large number of anonymous LLCs in the United States, mainly in Delaware, but also in Florida, New Jersey, and Oregon.”

Aslund expresses surprise that among Kolomoisy’s investments there were US ferro-alloy and steel plants and traders. “More remarkable is that Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov, according to the suit, purchased several ferroalloy companies in the United States, Felman Production Inc., in West Virginia; Felman Trading Inc. and Georgian Manganese, LLC; Warren Steel Holdings in Warren, Ohio; Steel Rolling Holdings Inc., Gibraltar, Michigan; CC Metals and Alloys, LLC, in Kentucky; Michigan Seamless Tubes, Michigan. These appear to be medium-sized companies in small places. Real people worked in these enterprises. Why didn’t anybody raise questions about the dubious owners?” (Read much more: John Helmer, 6/30/2019)  (Archive)

(Republished in part, with permission)