A bad year for Ihor Kolomoisky – NV analysis

29 December 2022, 04:37 PM
Ihor Kolomoisky (Photo:Микола М’якшиков / Укрінформ)

Ihor Kolomoisky (Photo:Микола М’якшиков / Укрінформ)

The former owner of PrivatBank and the scandal-plagued billionaire, Ihor Kolomoisky, met the Russian full-scale invasion in the Menorah center, a cultural and business center he’d built for the Jewish community in the city of Dnipro in eastern Ukraine. He spent most of his time there in the first months of the war. 

"He was sure that it is the safest place in Ukraine,” an official from the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who wished to remain anonymous, told NV .

“Russians would never hit it.”

And so far, Russian troops really haven't hit the Menorah center in the ten months of the war, though the city of Dnipro has been struck by missile attacks many times. Kolomoisky got lucky there. But he has had notably less luck in business this year.

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Without his core assets

On the eve of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Kolomoisky's fortune was estimated at $1.9 billion. But after his shares in Ukrainian energy operators Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta were nationalized, the estimation of his fortune dramatically plummeted – to $850 million, according to the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine.

Shurma Rostyslav, deputy presidential chief-of-staff, lobbied for the seizure of the billionaire's assets in favor of the Ministry of Defense. He is responsible for the economic strategy of the country, a source in Presidential Office has revealed.

Another anonymous source in the Zelenskyy administration stated that Kolomoisky was punished for "delaying shipments of fuel for military purposes" by his companies.

There was no one willing to protect his interests, as no one speaks for him in the Presidential Office: neither the President himself, nor chief-of-staff Andriy Yermak, nor deputy chief-of-staff Serhiy Sherif.

The acrimonious relationship between the oligarch and the president he once worked with (when Zelenskyy was still just a comedian) culminated even in rumors that Zelenskyy had stripped Kolomoisky of citizenship, though the administration denied that it had.

The billionaire focused on litigation. He is trying to win back PrivatBank – the bank he lost after the discovery of a $4.5 billion fraud, which authorities say was orchestrated by Kolomoisky and his partners. Currently, the Cypriot companies of Kolomoisky and his business partner Gennadiy Boholyubov have sued over the nationalization of Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta. In December, one of them - Littop Enterprises Limited - appealed to the Kyiv Commercial Court, trying to return 13.6% of Ukrnafta shares in its favor.

The 1+1 Media Group, of which Kolomoisky is the main shareholder, is also trying to survive. It's one of the largest media conglomerates in Ukraine. It’s even one of the major broadcasters of United News, a joint information telethon launched on Feb. 24, 2022, to unify Ukraine’s official news outlets. By Christmas, the group had updated the 1+1 TV channel with entertainment content.

According to NV, the content of the telethon is decided by the Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko, a former top official at 1+1, and deputy presidential chief-of-staff Kyrylo Tymoshenko. It is noteworthy that a few days earlier, the oligarch Victor Pinchuk's media holding, Starlight Media, launched a duplicate of its ICTV channel with the prefix “2" – in an attempt to escape from state national broadcasting.

NABU is hard on his heels

Kolomoisky's row of failures "can turn into attention from Anti-Corruption (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine or NABU)" in 2023, an anonymous source in the administration told NV.

NABU, however, has refused to comment on any investigations involving Kolomoisky, stating that it would be too premature to provide any assessment of the matter.

Yet the oligarch has been interrogated by NABU at least twice this autumn. Kolomoisky's comments to the media on the issue were scarce – he simply denied rumors about him being deprived of Ukrainian citizenship by Zelenskyy.

But the trap is closing, even if everything else is currently hush-hush.

NABU and the Specialized Anti-corruption Prosecuter’s Office (SAPO) have finished their investigation into the embezzlement of UAH 8.4 billion ($230 million) from Privatbank by former CEO Oleksandr Dubilet and his deputy Volodymyr Yatsenko, who worked there during Kolomoisky’s ownership. NABU said it had collected enough evidence to prove three separate instances of embezzlement.

NABU head Artem Sytnyk said his agency wants "to identify other persons involved in the crime” – namely, the key figures behind the $4.5 billion fraud, which was the main reason for its nationalization.

In December, the NABU achieved the seizure of UAH 600 million ($16.2 million), held on the accounts of the New Energy Ukraine company, which may be related to Kolomoisky. The relevant decision was made by the High Anti-Corruption Court.

However, political expert Anatoliy Oktysiuk believes Kolomoisky will be detained by U.S. police instead.

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The U.S. has been investigating a fraud case against Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov. American prosecutors suspect them of laundering PrivatBank's money via U.S. real estate, and receiving fraudulent loans and credit lines from 2008 to 2016.

In March 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced sanctions against Kolomoisky himself and his family members due to significant corruption during his time as a Governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in 2014-2015. Blinken also expressed his "concern about Kolomoisky’s current and ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to its future."

According to Oktysiuk, the G7 countries want to see Ukraine without oligarchs, while supplying weapons and providing financial assistance. Zelenskyy can't resist these Western demands – and Kolomoisky may finally have to pay the reaper’s due.

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