Politics

Congress candidate’s husband has financial ties to scandal-plagued Ukrainian oligarch

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

The husband of a Miami Democrat hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo this November has financial ties to an Eastern European oligarch dogged by allegations of contract killings and embezzlement.

Public records show that Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s husband, Robert Powell, spent much of the last 10 years as general counsel for companies owned at least in part by Igor Kolomoisky, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman involved in banking and mining. In federal financial disclosures, Mucarsel-Powell reported that her husband of 15 years earned most of their household income during the previous two years — at least $695,000 — from a ferroalloys trading corporation associated with Kolomoisky.

Mucarsel-Powell, considered by national Democrats as one of the most likely challengers to defeat a Republican incumbent in November’s midterm elections, says her husband’s work and the companies that employed him are irrelevant to her campaign.

“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running for Congress, not her husband. To imply that Debbie has anything to do with an indirect shareholder of a parent company that once employed her husband is an enormous stretch,” said Michael Hernandez, a senior communications adviser for the campaign.

But the financial relationship, first reported Monday by the Daily Beast., could become a liability, particularly at a time of deep suspicion toward Eastern European influences. Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Curbelo’s campaign, said South Florida’s voters “deserve a representative with no allegiance to the kind of thuggish corruption described in this report.”

“South Florida immigrant families who have fled corrupt regimes around the world know far too well the kind of violence and corruption an oligarch can wage. It’s incomprehensible and disrespectful to believe someone whose lifestyle has been subsidized by a known contract killer for nearly 10 years could look voters in the eye and allege to fight for them,” Rodriguez said.

Robert Powell.jpg
Robert Powell Twitter

Starting about a decade ago, Powell began representing companies in which Kolomoisky has invested. Powell was general counsel for Optima Acquisitions, Felman Trading and Felman Productions, and the Miami-based Georgian-American Alloys, among others.

“I have never worked for, represented, answered to, or received any payment from Mr. Kolomoisky at any time,” Powell said in a statement issued through his wife’s campaign.

But court filings show that Kolomoisky at different times has owned, directly or indirectly, a third of Optima, all of Felman Productions (for which Felman Trading is a distributor), and a piece of GAA. In a 2010 court order, a federal judge in West Virginia, where Felman Trading operates a manganese production facility on the Ohio River, said it appeared that Powell “answers” to Kolomoisky. The same court order states that Felman Productions was a subsidiary of a company owned by a Kolomoisky firm, and that Felman was one of three shareholders in PrivatBank, the largest commercial bank in Ukraine.

Kolomoisky, meanwhile, has been accused of bribery, murder and embezzlement in recent years by business partners and government authorities. The Telegraph of London reported in 2016 that a former partner accused Kolomoisky during a heated lawsuit of threatening him and attempting to have him killed through a murder-for-hire plot in which the hitmen were later themselves killed — a claim Kolomoisky strenuously denied.

The Ukrainian businessman, whose first name is also spelled Ihor, also saw London’s court system freeze his assets this year following the nationalization of PrivatBank, after which Ukraine claimed Kolomoisky and another main shareholder of the bank had siphoned away $2 billion, according to Reuters.

Though the accusations are alarming, the chief executive and chairman of Miami-based GAA, Mordechai Korf, believes they are “politically motivated.”

“He’s a successful businessman who in my opinion is being harassed by the Ukrainian government because he doesn’t fall into line,” Korf said.

Korf added he met Kolomoisky during his days in the telecom industry in the former Soviet Union in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He said they began doing business together and Kolomoisky decided to back Korf when he returned to the United States and entered the metals industry. Korf described Kolomoisky as “one of the larger stakeholders” in the business but added that the Ukrainian did not participate in management decisions.

Korf said Powell handled contracts, negotiations, compliance and other legal matters for the company — and had nothing to do with Kolomoisky or his entanglements in Ukraine. He declined to explain why Powell left the firm in 2017 other than saying the reason had nothing to do with his wife’s campaign or with Kolomoisky.

Powell “worked for a U.S. company and got paid for doing regular, mundane, general counsel work,” Korf said. “Employees of our business don’t have anything to do with the shareholders.”

After pulling in six-figure incomes each in 2017, Mucarsel-Powell and her husband have reported almost no income in 2018.

Her latest financial disclosure, filed in June, lists Felman Trading and Robert Powell P.A., her husband’s new firm, as sources of income. But it now says the amount of money earned this year and last is not available.

“Debbie disclosed even more information in 2017 than she needed to by law. Her updated [financial disclosure] reflects exactly what candidates are asked to disclose. Reading into that is laughable,” Hernandez said.

As for the money she earned last year, Hernandez said the $7,152 she reported earning from company GKollaborative is all Mucarsel-Powell made in 2017.

“She’s been running for office full-time.”

This article has been updated to include a statement from Robert Powell.

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