Ukraine urged to act over ‘attacks’ aimed at ex-central bank chief

Fiery incidents throw spotlight on President Zelenskiy's ties to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky

Security guards posted at the burned country home of former Ukraine Central Bank chief Valeria Gontareva. File photograph: Getty

Security guards posted at the burned country home of former Ukraine Central Bank chief Valeria Gontareva. File photograph: Getty

 

The EU and US have called for an urgent investigation into attacks apparently aimed at Ukraine’s former central bank chief Valeria Gontareva, who blames the incidents on a billionaire oligarch with long-standing links to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Ukrainian police said an unidentified arsonist burned down Ms Gontareva’s home outside Kiev in the early hours of Tuesday, less than a fortnight after a car belonging to her daughter-in-law and namesake was torched in the city.

Ms Gontareva is now recovering after being hit by a car late last month – apparently by accident – in London, where she has worked since leaving Ukraine following a stormy spell in charge of its central bank from 2014-2017.

The authorities shut down scores of suspect or bankrupt lenders on her watch and in 2016 nationalised PrivatBank, Ukraine’s biggest bank, amid allegations of fraud and money-laundering by, among others, its main owner Ihor Kolomoisky.

He rejects the claims and is fighting to quash the nationalisation, having returned to Ukraine shortly before Mr Zelenskiy became president in May, on the back of his popularity as a comedian in shows broadcast by the tycoon’s channel.

Andriy Bohdan, the presidential chief of staff, was formerly a lawyer for Mr Kolomoisky, adding to concerns of political meddling in a case that is seen as a litmus test for Mr Zelenskiy’s pledge to end cronyism and corruption in Ukraine and his government’s efforts to attract foreign investors and clinch a new deal with the International Monetary Fund.

“This fire . . . is a brutal crime, the swift investigation of which should be a priority for the law-enforcement agencies,” said the president. “Everyone in Ukraine should feel protected, regardless of their current or previous positions and political views.”

The EU delegation in Kiev said the “apparent series of attacks against the person and property of the former governor of the [central bank] is unacceptable . . . We expect law-enforcement agencies to investigate and bring those responsible to justice without delay.”

The US embassy called for an “urgent and thorough investigation” to find “not only the perpetrators of attacks and threats against Gontareva, but also those who ordered such attacks”.

‘Enemy’ of the people

Powerful interior minister Arsen Avakov called the arson attack “an unacceptable display of criminal pressure”.

“Whoever ordered and did this, just when an IMF mission is arriving in Ukraine, is not just an arsonist but an enemy who is harming his country,” he added.

Kiev is now preparing to discuss a new funding deal with the IMF, which praised the stabilising influence of the nationalisation of PrivatBank, even as that decision and others taken by Ms Gontareva earned her enemies in Ukraine.

In a move she calls politically motivated, Ukrainian prosecutors want to question her about possible abuse of office, and Mr Kolomoisky said in May that he would bring her back to Kiev “personally”.

“In English this is ‘kidnapping’,” said Ms Gontareva in response. “If anything happens to me, you’ll know why.”

Mr Kolomoisky denies threatening Ms Gontareva and suggested to the Ukrainska Pravda news website on Tuesday that the recent incidents may have been staged: “Now they’ll probably never extradite her. So figure it out for yourself.”