"IMG_2485"by jeffpyle is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Three of the Optima Ventures current and former properties: Crowne Plaza Hotel, AECOM Building, One Cleveland Center
An investigation of internal bank records by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has provided a detailed look at the illicit methods employed by Ukrainian oligarchs who, during the course of a massive alleged money laundering scheme from 2006-2016, became the owners of the most commercial real estate in Cleveland.
Published yesterday, the ICIJ piece
not only exposes the impropriety of Deutsche Bank's American arm as it funneled hundreds of millions of laundered dollars from shell companies to U.S. properties; it also charts the devastation in heartland communities where Igor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Bogolyubov purchased real estate.
The hallmarks of this devastation included numerous worker safety violations at steel plants in Ohio and West Virginia, and the loss of hundreds of jobs across the region.
In Cleveland, several of the buildings under the oligarchs' control — purchased via the "Optima Schemes," as outlined in a lawsuit filed in Delaware
last year — have fallen into disuse and disrepair.
One of the buildings which has seen new life (as a Westin Hotel), was purchased by a Kolomoisky company in 2011 in partnership with a Denver-based hospitality group. It was the Crowne Plaza at the time. Cleveland City Council okayed a suite of standard tax abatements and $43 million in government incentive loans.
Reached by ICIJ, former councilman Jay Westbrook said that more due diligence probably should have been performed before the incentives were authorized, but at the time, on the heels of the Great Recession, the city was overjoyed to have any downtown investment at all.
"It was like bringing water to a very thirsty person," he said.
While the ICIJ piece attempts to show an alternate route for the laundering of billionaires' ill-gotten gains — inland real estate as opposed to yachts and jewelry and NYC penthouses — one result of the Ukrainian oligarchs story in Cleveland should be more rigorous consideration of real estate incentives and deeper investigation into the owners and developers benefiting from them.
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