This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service.
Police have opened a criminal investigation in the apparent arson of a home belonging to the family of former National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) chief Valeria Gontareva, which was razed early Tuesday in Kyiv.
Gontarevа, who recently spoke with VOA’s Ukrainian Service from her home in London, has warned that a series of unfortunate events are evidence that her life and the lives of family members are being threatened as a result of financial reforms she oversaw during her tenure as NBU chief from 2014-2017.
Currently a senior policy fellow at the London School of Economics, Gontareva told VOA that she was hospitalized with broken bones after being struck by a car while walking through the streets of London on Aug. 26.
Ten days later, her daughter-in-law’s vehicle was set on fire in front of the family home in Kyiv, which was burned to the ground Tuesday. On Sept. 12, one week after the car was torched, Ukrainian police raided another of Gontareva’s Kyiv residential properties.
Gontarevа has told various news outlets that all of these events are tied to grievances held by banking tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, the former owner Privatbank, the country’s largest lender, which was nationalized in 2016 as a part of Gontarevа-led reforms under former president Petro Poroshenko.
Gontarevа and her Ukrainian colleagues elected to nationalize Privatbank under Ukraine’s Finance Ministry after an audit revealed $5.5 billion in unaccounted funds. The move to nationalize was strongly supported by the International Monetary Fund, which saw nationalization of banks engaged in fraud as a key step to eradicating corruption.
An oligarch’s return
Kolomoisky, who returned to Kyiv after the April 2019 election of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had been living in Switzerland and Israel since Privatbank was nationalized.
He and Privatbank’s original investors have been closely watching a series of new reforms being undertaken by Zelenskiy to see whether the nationalization may be reversed.
“Kolomoisky wants the withdrawal of all Privatbank lawsuits against him all over the world, and the National Bank is hindering him,” Gontarevа told VOA, explaining that she has also been named as a key witness in various international fraud cases against Zelenskiy over his former ownership of Privatbank.
It was also reported that the search of Gontarevа’s home came 48 hours after Kolomoisky met privately with Zelenskiy.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk told the Financial Times that the president is seeking a settlement with Kolomoisky over Privatbank’s nationalization, which would contradict Zelenskiy’s vigorous reform agenda and possibly upset Western backers.
According to the Financial Times, IMF officials have warned that a reversal of Privatbank’s nationalization would endanger nearly $4 billion in standby funding reserved to help Ukraine recover the $5.5 billion it lost recapitalizing Privatbank.
“Whatever solution we find, we have to find it together with the IMF,” Honcharuk was quoted as saying.
On Tuesday morning, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov took to Twitter to note that the fire coincides with a Kyiv visit by IMF officials.
Although Gontarevа said she has been criticized by some Ukrainians who say the alleged threats are part of an effort to bolster her asylum claims in the West, she told VOA the issues are much bigger than her life alone.
Old-school intimidation tactics
“Independence of the National Bank guarantees the independence of monetary policy, exchange rate policy, and the macro stability of the Ukrainian economy,” she said, apparently warning that Kolomoisky’s efforts to seek compensation for the loss of Privatbank represents a return to the old-school intimidation tactics of the oligarchic era.
Kolomoisky, who denied any involvement in the injuries or property damages sustained by Gontareva or her family, spoke with reporters on the sidelines of the Yalta European Strategy conference in Kyiv on Sept. 13.
Asked about the London hit-and-run that left Gontareva temporarily wheelchair-bound, Kolomoisky reportedly said with a smug grin: “I promised to send her a plane, not a car.”
London police said they were not treating the incident as suspicious.
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy’s office issued a statement calling the fire at Gontarevа’s home “a brutal crime, the rapid investigation of which should be a priority in the work of the law enforcement agencies.”
“Everyone should feel protected in Ukraine, regardless of their past or current positions and political views,” he said.
On Sept. 5, NBU board members issued a statement supporting Gontarevа’s claims that the car and house fires and London car accident are part of an organized intimidation campaign.
“Kolomoisky wants the withdrawal of all Privatbank lawsuits against him all over the world,” the former chairman of the NBU says. “And the National Bank is hindering him.”
“We regard this as a real threat to the personal integrity of the regulators who have implemented and continue to reform the financial sector, and in this way endeavor to undermine the central bank’s ability to fulfil its purpose,” the statement said.
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine has expressed support for Gontarevа, calling for “a prompt and impartial investigation into incidents involving former NBU chairman Gontareva and her family.”