Last fall, something funny happened in Washington: A pair of American lobbyists put on a fake congressional hearing in the basement of the Capitol, accusing a former Ukrainian central banker of odious corruption. A Ukrainian TV station broadcast the event there, claiming it was evidence that the United States Congress was investigating the accusations (they weren’t). The apparent sponsor of the hearing was a Ukrainian oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky, whose bank was nationalized by the banker. Kolomoisky, who sicced his own private army on the Russians after they invaded eastern Ukraine, has been accused of sponsoring contract killings.
Now, there’s another apparent connection between the Kolomoisky and American politics. A number of businesses linked to the oligarch have hired the attorney Robert Powell, the husband of Democratic House of Representatives candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Just one of those firms paid Powell at least $700,000 over two years, according to public records.
The connections worry longtime Ukraine watchers. Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who focuses on Russia and Ukraine, said the link is concerning, citing accusations that Kolomoisky has been involved in billion-dollar criminal schemes and contract killings. He called the ties “highly suspicious.”
Melvin Félix—a spokesperson for Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo for his seat in South Florida—said any criticism of her based on this reporting is absurd.
“Debbie is running for Congress because she believes change is urgently needed in South Florida,” he said. “She has spent her career expanding access to quality health care in our community, giving low-income students the opportunity to go to college and protecting our coast. The absurdity of Debbie being attacked over an indirect shareholder to her husband’s former employer, a job he no longer even holds, is exactly why people are tired of politics.”
Powell’s LinkedIn page lists him as general counsel of a company called Georgian American Alloys from January of 2008 through December 2017. Georgian American Alloys is based in Miami, Florida, according to Bloomberg. An archived page from the company’s website says Powell became its chief legal officer when it was founded in 2012. Seth Kaplan, who heads International Economic Research LLC, provided testimony to the United States International Trade Court on Feb. 11, 2016 that Kolomoisky and his longtime associate Gennady Bogolyubov control Georgian American Alloys. LDaily, a Ukrainian law news site, made the same characterization in an article published on Jan. 20, 2016.
Powell was also general counsel for Optima Acquisitions LLC, according to British court filings from Jan. 31, 2014. Delaware bankruptcy filings indicate that Kolomoisky owns one third of Optima Acquisitions. According to the Kyiv Post, Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov set up the company in 2008 to manage their investments in the U.S.
Those aren’t the only Kolomoisky-linked businesses Powell has represented, according to court documents.
Felman Trading is the “marketing arm” of Felman Production, according to MetalBulletin. And—per the company’s website—Felman Production is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Georgian-American Alloys, which Kolomoisky and his associate reportedly control. Testimony in a Public Service Commission of West Virginia hearing from Dec. 9, 2013, described Kolomoisky as an indirect minority shareholder of Felman Production and Felman Trading. The archived page on Georgian American Alloys’ website says Powell was general counsel to both Felman Production and Felman Trading.
Powell was paid nearly $700,000 by Felman Trading in 2016 and 2017, according to candidate Mucarsel-Powell’s 2017 personal financial disclosure report filed with Congress. Her 2018 disclosure, filed June 8, also says Powell worked for Felman Trading, though it doesn’t say how much he was paid.
Powell has also worked for Warren Steel Holdings, according to a newsletter for the South Florida chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. Kolomoisky, along with two business partners, founded that company, according to the Youngstown, Ohio publication The Business Journal.
Kolomoisky has been dogged by eye-popping allegations, including that he ordered the killing of a Ukrainian lawyer, and, subsequently, the killing of gang members involved in the effort. Those allegations came in court proceedings in the U.K. Kolomoisky denied the allegations, and the litigation was ultimately settled out of court.
Kolomoisky’s financial dealings are also troubled. In 2016, the Ukrainian government nationalized PrivatBank, which he partially controlled. Ukrainian authorities allege that Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov, who co-owned the bank, engaged in a fraudulent scheme that cost the bank $5.5 billion over ten years, as EuroMoney has detailed. The bank is currently suing Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov. And last December, a British court ordered the freezing of more than $2.5 billion of the pair’s assets, according to the Kyiv Post.
Powell also appears to be linked to PrivatBank, a troubled Ukrainian Bank that the country’s regulators nationalized in 2016. In a court order filed Aug. 19, 2010, in the Southern District of West Virginia, federal Judge Mary Stanley described Powell as a Privat representative and wrote that he, along with others, appeared to answer to Kolomoisky and Privat Bank shareholder Alexey Martynov.
Edward Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said someone in Powell’s position would have known who he was working for.
“When you work for a guy like that, you know what you’re dealing with,” Chow told The Daily Beast. “There should be no illusion of what you’re dealing with, even if the business you have to conduct for him in the United States is completely clean. You know where the wealth came from. There should be no reason not to know, because everyone knows.”