Kozeny was charged with 15 counts of grand larceny and two counts of criminal possession of stolen property, for allegedly stealing from investment funds managed by Manhattan-based Omega Advisors, Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau announced.
Two of the investors—Columbia University and The Common Fund, an investment fund that manages the endowments of colleges and other non-profit organizations—lost $15 million and $4.5 million, respectively.
Kozeny, who received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard, could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
According to the district attorney’s office and media reports, in 1998, Kozeny persuaded 15 clients managed by Omega to invest money in the prospective privatization of Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company.
The Omega investors had hoped to gain a controlling interest in the company.
The governments of many former Soviet countries have sold state-owned property to the public, including foreign investors, through privatization vouchers and options.
When the privatization did not happen, Kozeny allegedly used $14 million of Omega’s money for personal expenses. Another $73 million is unaccounted for.
Kozeny also used $95 million of Omega’s money to buy vouchers and options he already owned. Kozeny had bought the vouchers and options for a mere $2 million—and thus made $93 million off the transaction.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has started extradition proceedings to bring Kozeny—who is currently in the Bahamas—to the United States. The extensive investigation involved gathering documents and witness accounts from Eastern Europe, the Channel Islands and Switzerland, among other places.
Columbia spokesperson Katie Moore said the University is cooperating fully with the investigation.
Kozeny’s lawyer, meanwhile, defended his client’s innocence.
“Viktor Kozeny maintains that he did not defraud anyone,” said Benjamin Brafman of Brafman & Ross, P.C. “The investors were a group of very sophisticated individuals and organizations who conducted their own due diligence, and knew exactly what they were investing in, what the risks were, and these people got exactly what they bargained for.”
Kozeny, now 39 years old, is no stranger to the international limelight.
Kozeny belonged to the first group of entrepreneurs in formerly communist Eastern Europe to take advantage of the privatization of state property, making huge fortunes—sometimes by legally questionable means.
When the Czech government decided to sell shares in state-owned companies to the public, Kozeny had just come from the United States with a Harvard education and only $2,000, according to the Columbia Spectator.