Investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have thrust Michael Cohen into the spotlight. But while President Trump’s former “fixer” gets grilled over his personal business dealings, his brother Bryan, who shares his strong ties to Ukraine, has largely avoided the media’s glare.
Bryan Cohen, seven years younger and also an attorney by trade, is the chief administrative officer of Douglas Elliman Development Marketing, the new development subsidiary of one of the country’s largest real estate brokerages. But he has also moonlighted as a middleman between a Ukrainian agricultural company and the U.S. market. Between 2011 and 2016, the Ukrainian company, Grain Alliance, paid at least $7 million into an LLC registered to Cohen’s home, according a review of financial records by The Real Deal.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of the money went to Bryan Cohen personally. These payments, which happened after he started working for Douglas Elliman, have not previously been reported and come at a time of increased scrutiny into business ties between the U.S., Ukraine and Russia. Talking Points Memo and Buzzfeed have both covered Bryan Cohen’s Ukraine connections in the past.
Bryan Cohen’s involvement in Ukrainian agro-business began with family ties. His father-in-law, Alex Oronov, was a Ukrainian-American businessman who returned to the “breadbasket of Europe” in the 1990s to start his own agricultural firm, “Harvest Moon East,” also known as “Baryshivka Grain Company.” (The company was later bought by a Swedish firm in 2009 and renamed “Grain Alliance.”)
Bryan Cohen’s Elliman biography notes that he previously held the title general counsel and executive vice president for Grain Alliance, Americas.
Grain Alliance, which was ranked by Forbes Ukraine as the second-most efficient agro-business in Ukraine, acquired much of its seeds and equipment from the United States, North Dakota in particular. And it apparently relied on Bryan Cohen’s American LLC, called “UkrEthanol LLC,” to facilitate the trades.
Annual financial reports from Grain Alliance explained that the LLC registered to Bryan Cohen’s home address would help facilitate the purchase of farm equipment in the U.S. “When the customs procedures in Ukraine often are too complicated for the company’s U.S. suppliers of used equipment, purchases are made by a related party, UkrEthanol LLC, who has knowledge and experience to handle customs declaration,” the statements read.
Annual payments to UkrEthanol LLC, denominated in Swedish kronor in the reports, range from a few hundred thousand U.S. dollars to more than $4 million in 2013.
Bryan Cohen declined to comment for this story. In June of 2017, he told Buzzfeed that he “was not a public person.”
“The fact that my brother worked for Donald J. Trump is between my brother and Donald,” he said. “I don’t work for the Trump organization and I am not my brother. My brother chose the business he’s in.”
Michael Cohen’s better known Ukrainian-connected business venture is in taxis, a gig he got into with the help of his own Ukrainian father-in-law, Fima Shusterman. More recently, one of Michael Cohen’s taxi partners, Soviet-born “taxi king” Evgeny Friedman, agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in the Michael Cohen case, which includes potential bank fraud charges, according to the New York Times. Additionally, the warrant for the FBI’s May raid of Michael Cohen’s Manhattan hotel room specifically included records related to two Ukrainian immigrant taxi owners, Semyon and Yasya Shtayner, who received a $26 million loan from Cohen.
Bryan Cohen’s employer, Douglas Elliman, has several notable connections to the Trump and Cohen families. Its chairman Howard Lorber is a longtime friend and adviser to President Trump. He’s throwing a big-money fundraiser for the president and Republicans at his Hamptons estate on Friday.
In April, Michael Cohen closed on a $6.7 million apartment at the luxury condominium tower 111 Murray Street, which was co-developed by Lorber’s development firm. Douglas Elliman Development Marketing — where Bryan works — was tapped to sell its apartments. To help finance Michael Cohen’s purchase, the developers provided him a $3.5 million mortgage. That apartment is now on the rental market, as TRD first reported. Elliman declined to comment for this story.
Grain Alliance wasn’t Bryan Cohen’s only foray in business with his Ukranian father-in-law.
In 2006, Oronov became interested in branching into biofuels, and brought both Cohen brothers to Kiev to help pitch an ethanol manufacturing project to foreign investors. Buzzfeed previously reported that another partner in this venture was one Viktor Topolov, a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to the Russian mob.
The ethanol plant never materialized, but the name stuck. “UkrEthanol LLC” was registered in 2007 to an address on Long Island – the same address as Bryan Cohen’s family home.