The Ukrainian billionaire in the cross-hairs of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has a long history of complicated business ties, some of which link to fugitive Kazakh investors in a Trump-branded property.
Foreign lobby filings show that business mogul Victor Pinchuk, who has vast holdings in steel, metal and finance along with TV stations and real estate, last year invited President Donald Trump to visit Ukraine. His interest in Trump, though, goes back at least two years earlier. According to a New York Times report Monday, Mueller’s office is looking into a $150,000 donation he made to Trump’s charitable foundation in September 2015.
The news about Pinchuk came on the same day that the FBI, on behalf of Mueller’s investigation, raided the New York home and offices of Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney. An enraged Trump called the raids “a disgrace” as he reignited the prospect that he might fire the special counsel, who has been investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election and related matters.
In 2010, Pinchuk, who is married to the daughter of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, bought a significant stake in a large Ukrainian insurance company. That company, Oranta, later became entangled in an ongoing global legal battle to claw back funds that British courts have ruled were stolen by fugitive Kazakh banker Mukhtar Ablyazov.
The legal battles have reached U.S. shores, where federal courts in New York and Los Angeles are hearing cases against Ablayzov’s daughter Madina and her husband Ilyas Khrapunov. They’re accused by Kazakh lawyers of funneling some of Ablayazov’s fortune into U.S. real estate, including three condos in what was then called the Trump Soho in Manhattan. The couple denies the allegations.
The special counsel’s office last month subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization, and as part of that subpoena some documents were turned over about the Pinchuk gift to Trump’s foundation.
Pinchuk’s big donation followed a brief video appearance by Trump to a gathering in Kiev in September 2015; Trump was already a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination by then. The contribution was solicited by Cohen shortly after the video talk, according to the Times.
Trump’s foundation drew interest shortly after his election when reports showed it was used to settle Trump business lawsuits and even to buy a pricey portrait of Trump, rather than to donate to nonprofits doing charitable work.
Why Pinchuk gave to Trump’s foundation and what he expected in return are not clear. For almost a decade, however, Pinchuk has sponsored the Yalta European Strategy, a forum that promotes Ukrainian integration with the European Union.
Pinchuk donated handsomely to the New York-based Clinton Foundation, as did many wealthy industrialists across the globe. He also hired influential Washington lobbyist Doug Schoen to promote Ukraine as a buffer against Russia and to promote its integration with the European Union. (Schoen worked on former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.)
Pinchuk’s lobbying efforts would seem to put him at odds with Trump’s indicted ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort, who lobbied on behalf of pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine, as well as Trump, who has often talked of his admiration of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Foreign-lobby filings with the Justice Department show that Schoen arranged meetings for Pinchuk in 2011 and 2012 with White House and State Department officials. Pinchuk invited President Trump and various members of the Trump administration to speak at events he organized last year.
Pinchuk has his own charitable foundation, established in 2006 and named after him, which funds Ukrainian students studying abroad and even gives a biannual, global Future Generation Art Prize. Winners get $100,000.
The Ukrainian businessman appears in the Panama Papers, the massive leak of secret documents about offshore companies established through the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Some of the documents associated with him involve companies that held his family trust, called Rembrandt Trust, which was designed to preserve his fortune for his family.
But the documents, kept by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, also show his entanglement in efforts by Kazakh authorities to recover funds allegedly stolen from one of the country’s biggest banks.
Pinchuk in 2010 bought shares in the Ukrainian insurer Oranta, assets that lawyers later alleged were part of Ablyazov’s scheme to steal money from BTA Bank, which Kazakh authorities say was looted to the tune of $5 billion or more. According to the Kazakhs, multiple Ablyazov-linked shell companies in Cyprus siphoned off huge amounts of Oranta stock owned by BTA.
Kazakh authorities eventually seized the BTA Bank in 2009, sought bankruptcy protection in 2010 and fought to get back those Oranta shares, which ended up with other shell companies, including West Midlands Holdings Corp. and others, that pulled Pinchuk into a bitter court fight.
The documents show that in October 2015, Mossack Fonseca walked away from West Midlands after repeated failures by the company to provide full ownership details.
In another matter, lawyers for Pinchuk demanded that the Panamanian law firm provide details about a company called Ancrona Ltd. It was a shell company caught up in a brutal $2 billion London court battle pitting Pinchuk against two wealthy Ukrainians for ownership of a valuable Ukrainian iron ore mining company, KZhRK. It was settled days before trial in January 2016.