Yanukovych’s inner circle
Rinat Akhmetov is the richest of the rich billionaires from Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland. Collectively, some argue that he and another two dozen or so of the richest businessmen have a stranglehold over the economy and hope to tighten their grip under a Victor Yanukovych presidency. Akhmetov has long backed the Party of Regions. He entered parliament for the first time in 2006 on the party’s ticket, but rarely attends sessions. Akhmetov says that Donetsk Shakhtar soccer team, winner of last year’s UEFA Cup, is his passion. He invested $400 million into a new Donbass stadium. Such expensive hobbies, along with politics, are funded with profits from a diversified portfolio of assets in steel, mining, energy, telecoms, media and property.
Deputy head of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, Borys Kolesnykov is Akhmetov’s right hand man. Owner of Donetsk-based Konti confectionary and other businesses, he entered politics in 1999 when Yanukovych was Donetsk Oblast governor. Police in early 2005 arrested him on charges of abuse of office, extortion and making a death threat. Kolesnykov has repeatedly denied the charges, which were later dropped. He was elected to parliament on the Regions Party ticket in 2006 and 2007.
Former President Leonid Kuchma’s top assistant from 2002-05, Lyovochkin is today one of the closest confidants of Yanukovych. Fluent in English, Lyovochkin, 39, is the son of Volodymyr Lyovochkin, who ran the country’s prison system under Kuchma. The younger Lyovochkin reportedly played a leading role in promoting two intermediary companies in the lucrative business of supplying natural gas to Ukraine from Russia and Central Asian producers: Hungarian-registered Eural Trans Gas and ,more recently, Swiss-registered RosUkrEnergo. RosUkrEnergo is co-owned by Russia’s Gazprom and Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash, who also owned the now-defunct Eural Trans Gas.
A Donetsk native who heads Yanukovych’s energy team, Yuriy Boyko is seen as an associate of Serhiy Lyovochkin. Boyko headed chemical factories and refineries in eastern Ukraine during the 1990s. He entered the national spotlight in 2002, when he was appointed chief of Ukraine’s state gas and oil monopoly, Naftogaz Ukraine. He appointed Eural Trans Gas as monopoly supplier of blue fuel to Ukraine in 2002-2003. As energy minister in 2003-2005, he brokered an agreement with Russia to replace the controversial Hungarian firm with RosUkrEnergo. Boyko, who represented the legal interests of Firtash in a divorce dispute with his ex-wife, is seen, along with Lyovochkin, as an associate of the gas tycoon.
A Donetsk native and influential politician, Andriy Klyuev and his brother Serhiy own substantial stakes in several Donetsk-based industrial companies. Andriy Klyuev worked under Yanukovych as deputy governor during the late 1990s and was put in charge of the country’s energy sector as deputy prime minister in 2006. Both Andriy and Serhiy Klyuev were re-elected to parliament in 2007.
Mykola Azarov is No. 2 in the Party of Regions and a key Yanukovych economic adviser. Ex-President Leonid Kuchma put Azarov in charge of the State Tax Administration in 1996. Yanukovych in 2002 promoted Azarov to first deputy prime minister and later finance minister. Azarov, during the early 2000s, opened criminal investigations into the activities of commercial banks and Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, the gas trading company formerly headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s opponent for the presidential seat.
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