The Allegedly Murderous Oligarch, the Duped CIA Chief, and the Trumpkin

2018/3/27 22:04:00

Who was behind a mysterious fake hearing in the basement of the U.S. Capitol?








By BETSY WOODRUFF for the Daily Beast, Mar 27, 2018


On Sept. 25, 2017, a windowless room in the basement of the Capitol Building became the site of one of Washington’s more mysterious recent events.


On hand: an investor who was once unsuccessfully sued for allegedly helping murder

his own boss, a former congressman from the Florida panhandle, and a former Trump campaign staffer. One of two Ukrainian media outlets to cover the event is owned by an old associate of Paul Manafort’s—a man who federal prosecutors allege to be an “upper-echelon associate of Russian organized crime.”


Oh, and the former director of the CIA was involved.


The former CIA director told The Daily Beast he wouldn’t have gotten involved if he had known what was going on. One of the American lobbyists said the event was used for propaganda. The guy who got sued over his boss’s death? He now takes credit for the whole shebang.




This story starts in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 19, 2014. That’s when a woman named Valeriya Gontareva became the chair of the country’s powerful central bank. Ukrainian politics is rife with corruption, especially by American standards, and is dominated by the country’s powerful oligarchs. As chair of the national bank, Gontareva made a host of changes to the country’s financial system—and some powerful enemies.


One of the biggest changes she oversaw was a government takeover of the country’s biggest commercial bank, Privatbank. The oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky (who The Wall Street Journal once described as “feisty”) co-founded it. When Gontareva presided over the bank’s nationalization, its accounts were missing more than $5 billion, according to the Financial Times, in large part because the bank lent so much money to people with connections to Kolomoisky.


“International financial institutions applauded the state takeover,” wrote FT. “It has been widely seen as the culmination of Ukraine’s efforts since 2014 to clean up a dysfunctional banking sector dominated by oligarch-owned banks.”




The bank’s founders weren’t pleased.


After the bank takeover, Gontareva received numerous threats. One protester put a coffin outside her door, according to Reuters. On April 10, 2017, she announced at a press conference that she was resigning from her post. She touted her accomplishments at the event, but cautioned that in her absence the country’s financial sector could fake greater troubles.


“I believe that resistance to changes and reforms will grow stronger now,” she said.




Five months later, in Washington D.C., something odd happened: American lobbyists hosted an event, ostensibly on anti-corruption issues, in the basement of the Capitol Building. The event vilified Gontareva. Organizers distributed literature featuring a grim close-up of her face, calling her a threat to Ukraine’s economic security, and asking if she was “CINDERELLA OR WICKED STEPMOTHER?”


Serhiy Taruta, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, is named as the author of the report. In 2008, Forbes estimated his net worth at $2.7 billion. According to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, American government officials believed Taruta played a role in the sale of a majority stake in the sale of one of Ukraine’s largest steel groups—valued at $2 billion—to a powerful Russian businessman. Taruta was a close ally of politician Yulia Tymoshenko at the time, and the cable said she and Taruta wanted to keep the deal “hidden from public view” to avoid criticism. Had the nature of the deal been made public, the cable said, Tymoshenko could have faced “increased attacks from political rivals for ‘selling out’ Ukrainian assets to Russian interests, perhaps to finance her presidential campaign.”


The event’s organizers are adamant that they did not plan for it to look like a fake congressional hearing. But Ukrainian reporters who attended the event covered it that way. Former Rep. Connie Mack, one of the American lobbyists who organized the event, sported the pin that members of Congress wear. James Woolsey, former CIA director, attended and spoke briefly to the group.


Woolsey’s spokesperson, Jonathan Franks, later said he was duped.


“Ambassador Woolsey was deliberately misled about the nature of this event when he agreed to attend,” Franks told The Daily Beast. “He expected to be a member of the audience for a serious discussion of issues facing the Ukraine, an area he’s been interested in for decades. He didn’t agree to be identified a ‘special guest’ nor did he agree to speak. Perhaps he was guilty of being old fashioned, but it never occurred to him the organizers would lure him to an event in the Capitol in order to make him an involuntary participant in a sham.”


Rep. Ron Estes, a freshman from Kansas, booked the room for Mack and Co. His office later told The Daily Beast this won’t happen again.


Mack and Matt Keelen, a lobbyist whose firm’s website boasts of his “well fostered relationships” in the Trump administration, both disclosed in federal registration forms that they put on the event for a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands called Interconnection Commerce SA.


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