Bihus.Info investigation reveals growing influence of Zelenskyy's chief-of-staff

24 November, 03:25 PM
New investigation details how long-time collaborators of Zelenskyy’s chief-of-staff have been installed in a growing number of public positions (Photo:president.gov.ua)

New investigation details how long-time collaborators of Zelenskyy’s chief-of-staff have been installed in a growing number of public positions (Photo:president.gov.ua)

More and more important public positions are being filled by long-time acquaintances of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief-of-staff, Andriy Yermak. This phenomenon is detailed in a new investigation by Bihus.Info.

The nationalization of Ukrnafta and Yermak's reaction to the question of appointing his deputy and former colleague to Ukranafta’s Supervisory Board

To preface the investigation, we remind readers that on November 6, Ukrnafta became completely state-owned and is now the property of the Ministry of Defense.

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After the takeover of Ukrnafta’s shares, which the Ukrainian government has justified by military necessity, the composition of the enterprise’s supervisory board was changed. Out of the five members of the supervisory board, at least two are close to Yermak - namely lawyer Roza Tapanova and Yermak advisor Andrey Gota.

Tapanova was named to the supervisory board by the Ministry of Defense. However, she had worked as a lawyer not with the MoD, but in Yermak's law firm, International Law Company LLC, which he created in the late 1990s. Before Yermak entered politics, Tapanova and Yermak had also created a joint-stock company of the same name.

Bihus.Info asked Tapanova how she was named to the Supervisory Board of Ukrnafta. She promised to “look into the issue” and contact them later, but has not provided an answer since.

Andriy Gota is an adviser to Andriy Yermak, and until February 2022 headed his cabinet.

Gota confirmed receiving questions from Bihus.Info, but said he was driving at the time, and would look more closely upon reaching his office. When told that the questions concerned Ukrnafta, Gota responded, “I was of no interest to anyone until now. And here you have Ukrnafta.” He did not provide answers to questions from Bilhus.Info reporters.

Bihus.Info invited Andriy Yermak to comment on these and other appointments. Yermak said that instead of responding to the offer of an interview addressed to him personally, he would publish the request from journalists and pass it on to the Head-quarters of the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. He also declined to respond to the questions.

These questions were subsequently published on the Telegram channel of Yermak advisor Mikhail Podolyak.

“And, of course, the post was accompanied by false allusions and manipulative accusations,” Bihus.Info noted.

Journalist Alisa Yurchenko stressed that the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had nothing to do with appointments to Ukrnafta and other personnel issues with Yermak.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and his deputy Denis Sharapov

Oleksii Reznikov, who in November 2021 was appointed head of the Ministry of Defense, was previously a lawyer and long time acquaintance of Andriy Yermak.

As noted by Bihus.Info, Reznikov is not the only acquaintance of Yermak in the leadership of the Ministry of Defense. In April 2022, a month and a half after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Denis Sharapov , Andrey Yermak's long-time business partner, became Reznikov's deputy.

Bilhus.Info found three private companies that link Yermak and Sharapov:

  • European Partnership Media Group LLC
  • International Consulting Agency LLC
  • Co-op Medstandart

They are also connected through an organization called the Union of Consumers of Medical Services, Medicines, and Medical Products.

“The appointment of Sharapov took place as part of a specific idea: to bring all defense purchases into one hand,” the investigation says.

To do this, on June 17, 2022, the Ministry of Defense created a separate state-owned enterprise – the Defense Procurement Agency, the creation and activities of which are supervised by Sharapov. This state-owned enterprise plans to recruit 151 employees, having so far recruited 50.

According to the plan, this state enterprise is set to become the only agency providing “centralized procurement of goods, works, and services in the field of national security and defense, in particular buying weapons using the state budget and other sources,” the investigation says.

What the Defense Procurement Agency buys and at what prices is not announced because of the war. Even its budget has not yet been made public.

The Ministry of Defense reported only that the agency’s income comes only from its own contracts with the Ministry of Defense.

“The agency is already working,” Denis Sharapov told reporters.

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“It is another enterprise of the Ministry of Defense and is fulfilling its tasks. The agency has not received a penny from the budget. The agency is a supplier for the Ministry of Defense, the same supplier as other state-owned enterprises subordinateto the Ministry of Defense.”

Both Reznikov and Sharapov stressed that their long-term partnerships with Yermak had no influence on Sharapov’s appointment. Sharapov also claimed that for the past 10-15 years, he had only spoken to Yermak briefly on holidays. At the same time, Bihus.Info journalists found out that back in early 2022, Yermak and Sharapov were co-founders of a medical public organization that owns the Medstandart co-op. Whether they remain in these positions now cannot be verified, since the registries have been closed.

Yermak and Sharapov left International Consulting Agency LLC simultaneously in November 2019.

After that, the State Fiscal Service launched an investigation covering the events of 2017-2019.

“The tax authorities suspect that their firm helped a number of large pharmaceutical manufacturers under-report their taxable income by overstating costs,” Bihus.Info reported.

As part of the case, both the activities of the medical public organization and the Medstandard enterprise were investigated.

“Yermak referred requests for comment on the issue on this investigation to the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander, and Denis Sharapov noted that he was not prepared to comment,” Bihus reported.

Chairman of the Council for State Support of Cinematography Artem Kolyubaev

Before Artem Kolyubaev became chairman of the Council for State Support of Cinematography, which distributes state funds for the creation of Ukrainian cinema, he and Yermak were connected by Ama Vision LLC, established in 2018. This company immediately won a competition by the Ministry of Culture for state support for an independently-produced film and received almost UAH 25 million (approx. $680,000) from the budget for the film Shchedryk.

Kolyubaev became head of the Council for State Support of Cinematography in the spring of 2021.

In comments to Bihus.Info, Kolyubayev said he was named to his post at a public meeting at the Ministry of Culture.

“In fact, when representatives of various film associations, of the industry, and of the Ministry of Culture chose applicants for entry into the Council for State Support of Cinematography, it was broadcast online,” he said.

“There were questions and a presentation.” 

The Council for State Support of Cinematography works in tandem with the Ukrainian State Film Agency (also known as Derzhkino), Bihus.Info explained.

“Derzhkino collects and processes movie pitches, and the Council, headed by Yermak’s partner, creates expert commissions that assign points to participants,” the publication stated.

“And then that Council decides which films from among those selected will be created with the money of Ukrainian taxpayers, and which ones will not.”

In previous years, various Kolyubaev companies received more than UAH 90 million (about $2.44 million) from the State Film Agency, the Ministry of Culture and the Ukrainian Cultural Fund for the creation of films. These companies received 60 million of this 90 million total after Yermak joined the Office of the President, Bihus.Info noted.

During a conversation with reporters, Kolyubaev said that Yermak is not his business partner, since he left all the companies he worked for, “when he was even appointed to the position of an assistant, it seems to me.”

According to Kolyubaev, he did not discuss his appointment to the Council of State Support for Cinematography with Yermak, since he is very busy and this issue is not a priority for him.

“Just to manipulate with Mr. Andriy’s big name is amazing in this situation,” Kolyubaev claimed.

“He does not know and could not even know what is there, when he is elected, and he certainly does not follow this process.”

After Kolyubaev was elected to the Council for State Support of Cinematography, he left the Spilna Peremoha Production company, which he had founded. After that, this company received UAH 27 million (approx. $730,000) in state support, which has not yet been transferred due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Kolyubaev does not consider this a conflict of interest.

According to Kolyubaev, he last spoke with Yermak a long time ago and "if he tried to look for contacts with him, it was only about working towards victory."

He also stressed that his former partner "is a very busy person."

Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin

Andriy Kostin became the Prosecutor General of Ukraine in July 2022.

Yermak knew Kostin even before his appearance in politics, and mentioned in the media that he recommended Kostin to the Servant of the People party in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

Kostin has also confirmed his acquaintance with Yermak.

“I knew Andriy Yermak for many years before there was an offer to enter parliament,”he said in an interview.

Having become an MP, Kostin joined the tripartite contact group in Minsk, after which he became the prosecutor general.

“Before, the government wanted to see Kostin as the head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, which accompanies the investigation of detectives against top officials,” Bihus.Info wrote.

"But Kostin did not win the competition for the position due to the independent commission's doubts about his integrity.”

In response to a question about whether he had been to Crimea after the occupation, Kostin answered the commission in the affirmative, but added that this was before being elected to parliament.

“I was with my family, and it was for a personal matter, because our family doctor lived in Simferopol all her life,” he said.

Kostin said that he had worked as a lawyer for 24 years.

The Bilhus.Info investigation notes that Kostin "decided not to touch" Servant of the People MP Irina Alakhverdiyeva, who, while serving in the parliament, received almost UAH 20 million (approx. $541,000) and a Swiss watch as gifts – though the alleged donor of these gifts does not have an income that would allow such extravagances.

The Office of the Prosecutor General has ignored allegations of probable corruption raised by civil society activists against Alakhverdiyeva.

Kostin did not respond to an offer to comment on the Bihus.Info investigation.

The head of the National Bank Andriy Pyshny

Head of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), Andriy Pyshny, also has a history of ties to Yermak, the investigation notes.

In 2016, Yermak and Pyshny jointly created the NGO Vidchuy, which helps people with hearing impairments.

Pyshny has also joined the Yermak-McFaul working group, which is promoting inter-national sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Roza Tapanova and Oleksandr Rodnyansky on the Supervisory Board of Oschadbank

Yermak's former partner Roza Tapanova is a member of the Supervisory Board not only of Ukrnafta, but also of Oschadbank, to which she was named by the Cabinet of Ministers.

She also holds a third position as director of the Babyn Yar Historical and Memorial Reserve.

Alongside her on the supervisory board of Oschadbank is Alexander Rodnyansky, another adviser to Yermak.

“This is the younger Rodnyansky, the son of the producer Rodnyansky, who lived and worked in Russia, but has condemned the war since February,” Bilhus.Info states.

Rodnyansky was appointed to the supervisory board of Oschadbank by the president. He is also a member of the Yermak-McFaul working group.

Head of the National Investment Fund of Ukraine Tymofiy Mylovanov and Deputy Minister of Justice Iryna Mudraya

The National Investment Fund of Ukraine, to which a number of Russian assets in Ukraine were transferred, is headed by Tymofiy Mylovanov, also an adviser to Yermak, a member of the Yermak-McFaul working group, and also the head of the Supervisory Board of national defense manufacturing concern Ukroboronprom.

Deputy Justice Minister Irina Mudraya, who was appointed in May 2022, meanwhile,is responsible for collecting the evidence necessary to confiscate Russian assets in Ukraine and transfer them to the Anti-Corruption Court in the Ministry of Justice.

Prior to working at the Ministry of Justice, she worked as a lawyer at Oschadbank under Pyshny. Mudraya has also joined the Yermak-McFaul group.

Bihus.Info notes that the Ministry of Justice filed the first claim for the recovery of Russian assets at the end of August for the Ukrainian assets of the Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov. According to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine (SZRU), his business is financing Russia's war against Ukraine. The court quickly – as soon as September 1st – moved to confiscate Yevtushenkov's Ukrainian real estate and to turn his shares in his Ukrainian companies over to the state.

Until November 16, this was the only claim for the recovery of assets of sanctioned persons in Ukraine, the investigation notes. On November 16, a second lawsuit was filed for the recovery of Viktor Yanukovych's assets.

The Ministry of Justice told Bihus.Info that it is a long and difficult process to prove Russian involvement in these assets, so the deadline for filing new lawsuits has already been pushed to the end of the year.

Chairman of the National Commission for Securities and Stock Market Ruslan Magomedov

Yermak's freelance adviser Ruslan Magomedov heads the National Commission for Securities and Stock Market.

“It was this commission, after a meeting of the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander, that took the shares of several enterprises, in particular Ukrnafta, from different owners and transferred them to the Ministry of Defense, which is headed by Yermak’s old acquaintance Oleksii Reznikov,” Bihus.Info explains.

Andriy Gota, member of the Supervisory Board of Centrenergo from the State Property Fund

The state-owned enterprise Centrenergo, which controls several state-owned thermal power plants, has concealed the names of its supervisory board members and managers, Bihus.Info reports. However, information from archives indicates that since September 2021, one of the members of the Centrenergo Supervisory Board is Yermak adviser Andriy Gota, who is also a member of the Supervisory Board of Ukrnafta.

Journalist Alisa Yurchenko suggests that Gota, Tapanova, and Yermak cannot answer the question of how the same people from Yermak’s circles keep being appointed to so many different leadership positions, "which means it should not have been like that."

MPs Nikolay Tishchenko, Andrey Zadorozhny, and Galina Tretyakova

Bilhus.Info notes that Servant of the People MP Nikolay Tishchenko is Andriy Yermak's godfather. Yermak himself spoke about this in an interview, in which he also called Tishchenko his friend.

Another Servant of the People MP, Andrei Zadorozhny, is Yermak's former partner at International Pharmaceutical Group LLC.

Meanwhile, MP Galina Tretyakova is also among the people whom presidential chief-of-staff has known for a long time, the investigation notes.

Formation of a cabal

The investigation also says that Yermak's people were appointed heads of several regional administrations, received positions in the Kyiv City State Administration, one was appointed as the head of the Kyiv prosecutor's office, and several in the Ministryof Culture.

Yermak also has friendly relations with the newly appointed head of the State Property Fund.

In addition, there are many of Yermak’s acolytes in the Zelenskyy administration itself.

As Bihus.Info summarizes, "if one counts, it turns out that during the full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine, at least six leadership positions in government [are from] from the circles of the head of the Office of the President... This means that a single official in Ukraine has greatly increased his influence even during the war, that the authorities, in the face of reduced transparency, have received cadres loyal to that single person, whose position, in principle, does not provide for the authority to control everything and everyone.”

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