It’s not only journalists who tread lightly around Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov. Most find it easier to step around him rather than confront or question him or his motives.
One reason is that Akhmetov is known as a libel lawsuit-happy oligarch. First he deploys public relations specialists, including the Kyiv-based Jock Mendoza-Wilson, to attend events and, when needed, call up news organizations that publish what Akhmetov or his lawyers consider to be potentially libelous information.
The Kyiv Post tried to track down reports that Akhmetov’s lawyers demanded that the U.S.-based Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Institute remove information about the billionaire on its website. Whether it happened or not, the initiative’s Akhmetov archive cannot be found online. The institute acknowledged the information is no longer on its website, but would not say why.
Curiously, unflattering information about Akhmetov remains on the website of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a Kyiv Post partner.
What is indisputable is that Akhmetov emerged as the nation’s richest citizen from Ukraine’s 25 years of wasted opportunities, rampant corruption and poverty for millions of citizens. A fortune made in these conditions is not admirable.
But, partly because Akhmetov is so reclusive, it is impossible to know who he is or have any emotional feeling for him. We can only judge by his actions, which leaves us with the impression of someone who puts his personal wealth, his lavish lifestyle (a London house worth more than $200 million) and privacy above any concern for Ukraine’s wellbeing.
Akhmetov was a close ally of his fellow Donbas resident, ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country on Feb. 22, 2014, during the EuroMaidan Revolution. Reports suggest that Yanukovych, on his way from Kharkiv to Crimea and then exile in Russia, met with Akhmetov. Nothing is known publicly about that conversation. His association alone with Yanukovych is damning enough. During those four years that Yanukovych’s administration was in power, stealing as much as $40 billion by official estimates, Akhmetov’s fortune skyrocketed. Reasonable people can draw their own conclusions.
After Yanukovych fled, Akhmetov appeared to try to play all sides. His representatives deny accusations that he stoked unrest in the Donbas. But his tardiness in condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine fueled suspicion. When people justifiably call for de-oligarchization of Ukraine, they should keep in mind who is leading the parade of oligarchs.