By Natalia Zinets
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky said on Friday he saw room for an amicable solution in his long battle with the authorities over the country’s largest lender, PrivatBank, now that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was in power.
The fortunes of PrivatBank are seen by many investors as a bellwether for Ukraine’s business climate and could also have a bearing on whether the International Monetary Fund and other donors disburse more aid to the war-scarred country.
Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest men, used to own PrivatBank until it was nationalised against his wishes in 2016 under Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.
Zelenskiy, a former comic actor with no previous political experience who swept to power in an April election, has business ties with Kolomoisky but denies suggestions that he would help the tycoon to regain control of the bank.
But a meeting this week between the two men, followed by a police raid on PrivatBank’s headquarters in the city of Dnipro, has brought the issue back into focus just as an IMF mission visits Kiev to discuss a new aid-for-reforms deal.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Yalta European Strategy (YES) summit, Kolomoisky said he had not discussed PrivatBank with Zelenskiy at their meeting and that he did not want to get back PrivatBank at any cost. He also said he had met Zelenskiy at the president’s request.
“There is a good window of opportunity today,” Kolomoisky said. “We (PrivatBank’s former owners) do not agree with the nationalisation, this dispute is easier to resolve today than under the previous president.”
He suggested that government negotiators be given a mandate to find a solution but did not go into further details.
Kolomoisky fell out with Zelenskiy’s predecessor and spent the last years of Poroshenko’s presidency living in self-imposed exile. He told reporters on Friday he planned to live in Ukraine permanently, having returned after Zelenskiy’s election victory.
Speaking to reporters at the same summit, Zelenskiy said he had discussed energy issues with Kolomoisky and conveyed a message that all businessmen would have to follow the same rules and that he would not tolerate monopolies.
The authorities nationalised PrivatBank saying the lender had a $5.6 billion hole in its balance sheet caused by shady lending practices. Kolomoisky contested that assessment, saying the bank was nationalised on spurious grounds.
The dispute brought him into conflict with Valeria Gontareva, who was central bank governor at the time.
Now working as an academic in Britain, Gontareva says she has been the target of a harassment and intimidation campaign.
She says she was hospitalised with severe injuries after being hit by a car in London in late August. Then days later a vehicle owned by her family was set ablaze outside their home, prompting the current central bank leadership to call for an investigation.
Asked whether he was behind the car accident or a systematic campaign against the former central bank governor, as Gontareva has intimated, Kolomoisky denied any involvement.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)