President’s Oligarch Friend Suspected of Theft Returns to Ukraine

Published: 20 May 2019

Ihor Kolomoyskyi copy

Ihor Kolomoyskyi (CC 3.0)

By Aisha Kehoe Down

A Ukrainian oligarch who allegedly masterminded the theft of US$5.5 billion from one of the country’s largest commercial lenders has returned to the country on Thursday after years spent in exile in Switzerland and Israel.

Ihor Kolomoisky has vast stakes in media, aviation and finance. He has a television channel, and had a shark tank in his office in Dnipro which he allegedly used to intimidate visitors.

And, most importantly, he founded PrivatBank in the 1990s--a financial institution which grew to serve half of Ukraine.

PrivatBank was nationalized in 2016 after allegations of years of fraud. Before regulators took over, however, Kolomoisky managed to move $5.5 billion out of the country using the bank’s branch in Cyprus. 

“Large-scale coordinated fraudulent actions of the bank shareholders and management caused a loss to the state of at least $5.5 billion,” said Valeria Hontareva, the former chairwoman of Ukraine’s national bank, in March 2018. 

“This is 33 percent of the population’s deposits … [and] 40 percent of our country’s monetary base.” 

Since revelations of the theft came out with the bank’s nationalization in 2016, Kolomoisky has been living in Switzerland and Israel, saying that he fears his rights to leave the country would be restricted if he returned. However, this Thursday, his private jet landed in Dnipro from Israel. 

Many connect his return to the election of Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian-turned politician who was elected president of Ukraine after he played the president of Ukraine on a popular television show, “Servant of the People.” 

There are a number of connections between the two men. Kolomoisky owns 1+1, the television station which hosted “Servant of the People.” Zelensky has flown to visit Kolomoisky in Geneva and Tel Aviv a slew of times over the past years.

And a co-owner of his production company was on Kolomoisky’s plane when it landed.

This has raised fears that Zelensky is actually Kolomoisky’s pawn.

Zelensky has refuted these ideas. He’s said he’s not “a toy in Kolomoisky’s hands,” and promised the oligarch would be imprisoned if he’s found to have broken the law.

"As for Mr. Kolomoisky, I will say that all the people who violate the law, including the Svynarchuks-Hladkovskys, and if Kolomoisky is also among them, then they will all be put behind bars. However, they will be imprisoned not within two weeks, but when they break the law," he said during a presidential debate.