Trump’s chief lawyer carries Ukraine baggage
Blundering past the boundary between private business and public service that has long defined American political life, U. S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael D. Cohen appears to have played a key role in Andrey Artemenko’s botched back-door attempt at a peace deal for Donbas.
The New York Times reports that Cohen acted as a middleman for Artemenko, delivering the peace plan to now-ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Cohen has denied that he gave the plan to Flynn, issuing conflicting statements on the matter.
But that wouldn’t be Cohen’s first run-in with Ukraine. The 49-year old longtime Trump attorney, who said in a 2009 interview that he speaks some Russian, appears to have at least traveled to Ukraine in the mid-2000s in connection with investing in an ethanol plant, and even set up a company to that end.
Cohen’s wife is of Ukrainian origin. His brother, Bryan, also married into a Ukrainian family that holds agricultural investments.
Michael Cohen resigned from his position as executive vice president of the Trump Organization on Jan. 20 to serve as President Trump’s personal lawyer.
Cohen did not reply to emailed requests for comment.
In 2006, towering oil prices around the world were pushing investors to consider biofuel production.
Ukraine, with its abundant crop production, seemed to be an ideal candidate for ethanol fuel.
So a group of investors, apparently led by former people’s deputy and Yushchenko-era deputy coal minister Viktor Topolov, set out to build a $110 million ethanol processing plant in a town of Zolotonosha 155 kilometers southeast of Kyiv.
It’s not clear where the funding came from – at the time, Topolov was on the boards of state-owned Ukreksimbank and Index Bank, which was bought by Credit Agricole in August 2006.
A Kharkiv-born American busi- nessman named Alex Oronov joined the project in 2006 through a company called Harvest Moon East. Oronov is connected to Cohen through family: Oronov’s daughter is married to Cohen’s brother Bryan.
Evgeniy Radovenyuk, the former CFO of Harvest Moon East and current CFO of Grain Alliance, said that the two Cohen brothers visited Ukraine in the mid-2000s, as the launch of the Zolotonosha plant was being discussed.
“He participated in discussions, but there was no financial involvement,” Radovenyuk said.
The question of the extent of Cohens’ involvement comes down to the ownership of two companies: International Ethanol of Ukraine Ltd. and Ukrethanol LLC.
The Cohen brothers founded International Ethanol in April 2006 with Oronov, according to the New York State Corporate Registry. International Ethanol does not appear in Ukrainian registries as ever having done business here, despite the company’s name and timing of its founding.
Ukrethanol acquired half of Harvest Moon in 2008, and continues to manage part of Oronov’s Ukraine business, according to financial disclosures.
Ukrethanol is registered to an address on Long Island, care of Bryan Cohen. The address belongs to a law firm that Michael Cohen is reported to have formerly worked at.
Harvest Moon pulled out of the Zolotonosha project in 2010, one year from its scheduled launch. Since then, the factory has stood idle.
The Trump attorney has another Ukraine link: Simon Garber, an Odesa-born businessman who owns taxicab services in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. Before linking up with Trump, Cohen was a business partner with Garber.
But American press reports suggest that Garber has his own Kremlin connections. The Chicago Tribune wrote in 2004 that Garber befriended Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Sloutsker while on a 1992 trip to Monaco.
Sloutsker, who served as a Russian senator from 2002 to 2010, reportedly gave Garber the political connections to run a Moscow taxi service until the 1998 Russian economic collapse.
Cohen said he sold his stake in the taxi business in the early 2000s.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Cohen ran a cruise service that took customers on boats out of U.S. territorial waters to allow them to gamble. Florida business records show that Cohen partnered with two men, Leonid Tatarchuk and Arkady Vaygensberg, for the venture. The WSJ reported that both were also Ukrainian.