Stefan Korshak   Kyiv Post   01-Jul-1999   Who is Leonid Wolf?
"Moreover, on 17 December 1998, the SBU closed the right of entrance into Ukrainian territory to Israeli citizen Leonid Borisovich Wolf, who is considered a member of a professional organized criminal group, which is suspected of carrying out contract killings in the Odessa, Kyiv, and Dnipropetrovsk regions." SBU
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Who is Leonid Wolf and what is behind government action?

News Analysis

Post Staff Writer

01 July 1999

In making wealthy businessman Vadim Rabinovich persona non grata on June 24, the Ukrainian government created a mystery.  By simultaneously announcing that it had taken a similar action against Leonid Borisovich Wolf back in December, it created another one.

The government linked Wolf to numerous unsolved contract killings.  But it did not specify the link between Wolf and Rabinovich, other than to name them in the same press release announcing that both Israeli citizens are banned from Ukraine.

That leaves the public, as usual, out of the loop about what the twin actions mean and what evidence the Ukrainian government is holding.  While Wolf could not be reached for comment, Rabinovich denied the Ukrainian government's allegations in a June 30 news conference in Tel Aviv.

The unanswered questions are numerous: What led the Ukrainian government to bar Rabinovich from the nation for five years?  What are his ties to Wolf?  What evidence links Wolf to murders?

The ban on the two men also raises larger questions about government motives: Coupled with the pending embezzlement charges against former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko and an aide, is the Ukrainian government finally getting tough on corruption?  Or is it simply being unfair to successful businessmen who happened to fall out of favor?

Those questions in turn raise the most unpredictable question of all: What's next?

The official State Security Service (SBU) press release appears straightforward:

"Today Ukraine's Security Service, according to materials in its possession and in the interests of Ukraine's national security, has forbidden the entrance the citizen of Israel Vadim Zinoviovich Rabinovich, (passport numbers) from entering Ukraine for the period of five years beginning 24 June 1999, for causing especially serious damage to the Ukrainian economy.

"Moreover, on 17 December 1998, the SBU closed the right of entrance into Ukrainian territory to Israeli citizen Leonid Borisovich Wolf, who is considered a member of a professional organized criminal group, which is suspected of carrying out contract killings in the Odessa, Kyiv, and Dnipropetrovsk regions."

The relationship between Rabinovich and Wolf was not spelled out, nor was the reason why the Ukrainian government chose to announce the decisions in the same news release.  Who is this Leonid Wolf?

A search of Ukrainian media archives for the last 10 years turned up nothing.  Ukraine's SBU and Ministry of Internal Affairs flatly declined comment, as did Israeli Embassy spokesmen.

However, according to Kyiv law enforcement and Odessa business sources, Wolf is a Ukrainian native who was born in the 1940s.  He emigrated to Israel in the late 1970s and became a citizen there.

By the early 1990s, the sources said, Wolf was playing a key role in developing Ukraine into an international smuggling hub.  His business activities were said to include shipping, oil trading, narcotics, export of weapons, chemicals, metals, and agricultural commodities - sometimes in cooperation with Soviet-era mobsters, sometimes with the assistance of local officials.

Wolf first came into contact with Vadim Rabinovich in Israel in the early 1990s, one Ukrainian police source said.

One of Wolf's important business associates, the police source said, is one of the former Soviet Union's most notorious alleged criminals, Grigory Luchansky.  That, if true, could be the link between him and Rabinovich.

Luchansky was born in the 1940s, possibly in Latvia, according to several sources contacted by the Post.  He became a career KGB officer and served overseas in a variety of posts.  By the mid-1980s, Luchansky set up and ran Vienna-based Nordex, a KGB-owned and operated business designed to launder money for overseas intelligence operatives.

Nordex's primary trading partner in Ukraine was government-owned Ukragrotekhservis, U.S. Congressman Dan Burton alleged during congressional hearings in April 1997.  Burton identified Rabinovich as Luchansky's key Ukrainian lieutenant, serving in a variety of capacities including, until 1995, Nordex vice president.

Rabinovich has stated repeatedly that he severed relations with Luchansky in 1995 due to Nordex's poor international reputation.  He has consistently denied participating in any criminal activity while he worked for Nordex.

An April 1997 Time magazine article identified Luchansky as "the most pernicious unindicted criminal in the world."

Luchansky's trading activities in the former Soviet Union encompass weapons, oil, narcotics, natural gas, chemicals, precious metals, fertilizers, agricultural commodities, and consumer goods.

Other Luchansky enterprises reportedly include prostitution, drug manufacture, racketeering, influence peddling and fixed privatization auctions.

Nordex grossed $2 billion in 1994, investing some of its income in enterprises ranging from a Moscow beer brewery to a Kyiv tire plant, a Magnitogorsk steel mill, an Austrian health spa and even a Uruguayan car dealership, according to various media reports.

Luchansky's biggest business coup came in 1993, when he engineered a fuel-for-food deal between Russia and Ukraine.

In 1995, after meeting at a Democratic Party fundraiser with U.S. President Bill Clinton and sparking a U.S. political scandal, Luchansky fell under increasingly intense international investigation.

In 1996 a $35 million gold mine deal brokered by Luchansky between the Kazakhstan government and a Canadian mining company flopped, cutting into Nordex earnings.

Nordex has reportedly suffered in the wake of the emerging-markets economic crisis.

Luchansky maintains a residence in the Israeli seaside town of Netanya, a Mecca for Soviet-region emigres and scene of intense Russian mob activity, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

The Post was unable to contact Luchansky for comment and his whereabouts are unknown.