A Russian-American businessman known for his political fundraising and lobbying has lost a lawsuit brought by a Ukrainian developer who sued him over promised-but-never-delivered tickets to President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
The U.S. District Court ruling against Yuri Vanetik concludes a subplot that emerged early in the Trump presidency amid scrutiny over his business dealings in Russia, the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference, and Ukrainian lobbying of the Trump White House.
In his lawsuit filed in 2019, Pavel Fuks, a Ukrainian-Russian developer, accused Vanetik of defrauding him after Fuks paid $200,000 for what he thought would be exclusive tickets to Trump’s inauguration two years earlier.
Vanetik did not provide the promised tickets, Fuks alleged, and instead he ended up watching the inauguration at a bar in a Washington, D.C., hotel.
Judge Fernando Aenlle-Rocha of the California federal court ultimately found Fuks’ evidence, which included WhatsApp messages and e-mails, persuasive, and on July 19 ordered Vanetik to refund Fuks’ $200,000.
“The Defendant did not provide any tickets for a cabinet dinner, the inaugural parade, the inaugural concert and fireworks, or for the presidential swearing-in ceremony,” the judge wrote. “Similarly, while Defendant sent a car to deliver Plaintiff to an event in a midrise building overlooking the Capitol, that event appears to have ended by the time Plaintiff and his guests arrived.”
In a message to RFE/RL, Vanetik said he planned to appeal the ruling. He also noted that he filed a separate, countersuit in state court in 2021, accusing Fuks of defamation, fraud, and being “a notorious criminal, specializing in transnational money laundering, fraudulent schemes, and extortion,” and being “an agent of Russian intelligence.”
That case is still pending.
Fuks could not be immediately reached for comment.
U.S. law forbids foreign nationals from buying tickets to attend U.S. presidential inaugurations and the official parties that are hosted by political committees. The prohibition is aimed at curbing foreign influence on presidential administrations.
Still, foreigners get around that prohibition and routinely attend inaugurations as guests of American donors, which is allowed.
In the months after the Trump inauguration, federal prosecutors investigated whether foreigners illegally funneled money to Trump’s inaugural committee.
The chairman of Trump’s inauguration, Thomas Barrack, was questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about financing for the inauguration and foreign donations. Barrack was later indicted on related charges of illegal lobbying as a foreign agent.
Vanetik, a Russian-born U.S. citizen, has been a fixture in Republican politics in California for years, raising money and lobbying congressional Republicans, including former Representative Dana Rohrabacher.
In December 2016, a month after Trump’s election, Vanetik opened a Kyiv office for a lobbying company called Medowood. He later registered with the U.S. Justice Department as a foreign agent representing a Ukrainian businessman named Valeriy Babych.
Fuks, meanwhile, is a longtime real estate developer from the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv who in 2017 hired Rudy Giuliani to help lobby in the United States on behalf of Kharkiv, and Ukraine more broadly.
Giuliani later worked as Trump’s personal lawyer and worked with other Ukrainian figures to dig up information that would be embarrassing to former Vice President Joe Biden. Giuliani’s efforts ultimately led to Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.
Years earlier, Fuks, who earned millions building real estate in Moscow in the 2000s and later invested in oil and gas projects in Ukraine, negotiated with Trump over the possibility of building a Trump-branded skyscraper in Moscow. The negotiations ended unsuccessfully.
Other criminal proceedings that grew out of investigations into the Trump inauguration included that of Washington lobbyist Samuel Patten, who pleaded guilty to helping an Ukrainian oligarch illegally purchase four tickets to Trump’s inauguration and illegally working as a lobbyist for Ukrainian politicians without registering as a foreign agent.
The Ukrainian oligarch in question was later identified as Serhiy Lyovochkin, who was allied with the Opposition Bloc, a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Patten worked closely with a Russian-American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin, who was later identified as the person who purchased the tickets on behalf of Lyovochkin.
Akhmetshin, who was questioned by Mueller investigators, has not been charged with any crime.