With an estimated fortune of just under $1.7 billion, Ihor Kolomoisky is among Ukraine’s top five richest citizens. Over the weekend he was arrested by Ukraine authorities on an array of fraud and money laundering charges, at a sensitive moment the government is trying to show the world it can tackle deeply rooted corruption.
A Saturday statement from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said that the billionaire, referred to as the “de facto owner of a large financial and industrial group” – had allegedly tried to launder over 500 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($13.5 million) by “transferring it abroad, while using the infrastructure of banking institutions controlled by him.”
A Kyiv court has ordered him to pretrial detention for two months amid an ongoing investigation, with bail having been set at a whopping $14 million.
Importantly, The New York Times in its Tuesday coverage of Kolomoisky’s arrest highlighted that he was an early major backer of now President Volodymyr Zelensky who had a hand in bringing him to power. He’s also widely believed to have funded extremist private militia armies at various times.
Writes the NY Times: “His business interests have included oil and banking, and he was once considered a patron of Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian whose popular shows were broadcast on Mr. Kolomoisky’s television channel before he successfully ran for the presidency.”
And further very revealing details are included in the Times report as follows:
Suspicions of corruption and embezzlement have dogged Mr. Kolomoisky for years. In 2017, he left Ukraine for Switzerland and Israel after the government of then-President Petro O. Poroshenko seized a bank he co-owned and accused him of a large-scale fraud that threatened to destabilize Ukraine’s economy.
He returned in 2019 after Mr. Zelensky’s defeat of Mr. Poroshenko, raising fears that his ties to the new president would help him regain his economic and political clout.
So naturally, Western mainstream press is now presenting this as a “big fish” prosecution showing Zelensky is getting “tough” and finally going gloves-off on exposing long-standing corruption.
The timing is also interesting given Zelensky just sacked his own defense minister, an announcement which came the same weekend as billionaire Kolomoisky’s arrest. “This week, parliament will be asked to make a personnel decision … I have decided to replace the minister of defense of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov has gone through more than 550 days of full-scale war,” Zelensky said over the weekend.
And guess who was degrees of separation away from Hunter Biden, related to shady Bursima relationships? “Besides being connected through the Burisma energy giant, Hunter Biden did business with Igor Kolomoisky’s bank,” one prior report reads.
As for the dismissed defense minister, Reznikov was at the center of an anti-graft probe into the military’s paying inflated prices for imported items, sometimes at triple or more the cost, the profits of which are believed to have lined the pockets of top military officials. There’s also the recent recruiting scandal, where top military recruiters were given large bribes to allow individuals to avoid conscription.
In the backdrop is Ukraine’s application to join the European Union. Of course, the fact that Ukraine tops the list of Europe’s most corrupt societies will remain a major hurdle likely for years to come.
Russian media has meanwhile pointed out that Kolomoysky has personally entered the political arena at times, and that his money has hugely impacted the country in ways known and unknown:
Kolomoysky burst on to the political scene in 2014, when he was appointed governor of the southeastern Dnepropetrovsk Region following a Western-backed coup in Kiev. A year later, however, he was dismissed from his post over a conflict with then-Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko amid a struggle for control of Ukrnafta and state-owned oil pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta.
In 2016, Ukrainian authorities also nationalized Kolomoysky’s PrivatBank, after declaring it a major threat to the country’s financial system, following allegations of large-scale fraud.
Kolomoysky is also widely considered to have played a major role in the rise to power of President Vladimir Zelensky. Before launching his political campaign in 2019, Zelensky was a comedian, whose show was hosted by a Kolomoysky-controlled media holding. The magnate himself said he “wanted” Zelensky to become president, but denied close contacts with him.
In this particular case it’s very likely Washington has brought pressure to bear on Kyiv, given that as far back as 2021 the US State Dept. sanctioned Kolomoysky and his family members. A US statement at the time said he was engaged “in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions.”