DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine - Gennady Korban, leader of the Ukrop center-right party, is arguably Ukraine’s prisoner No. 1.
Sitting under house arrest in his luxury apartment in the city of Dnipropetrovsk and speaking in a confident manner, he is surrounded with a bizarre setting. It includes erotic statuettes, toy vehicles, Chinese dragon toys, a Toulouse-Lautrec reproduction, a mock award for fighting separatists and a library that includes the Torah and commentaries on it.
Korban, a businessman and an ally of billionaire tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, was arrested on embezzlement, kidnapping and organized crime charges on Oct. 31.
While President Petro Poroshenko describes the arrest as a crackdown on top-level crime, Korban believes it to be a political vendetta by the president for his opposition to his rule.
Korban told a group of journalists in his apartment that “anyone who climbs on that ill-fated presidential throne experiences a psychological transformation.”
Korban’s critics describe him as a violent character who has routinely threatened people and has been involved in illegal activities during his whole life – first as a corporate raider and then as a government official.
He rejects the accusations and says that, on the contrary, he has been upholding the law, attributing his violent standoffs with certain people to his efforts to defend Ukraine from Kremlin-backed separatists or corrupt officials.
“(The accusations) are just typical Goebbels-style propaganda and blatant lies of very low quality,” he said. “The case is fabricated. There is not a single witness, not a single fact, not a single proven episode.”
One prominent charge against Korban is that he kidnapped Oleksandr Velychko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk city council’s legal department, in February. In March, in a video published on the Internet, Velychko said he had staged his own kidnapping to escape responsibility for an embezzlement scheme.
Subsequently he said he had been forced to make the statement under duress and accused Korban of kidnapping him.
Korban denied doing that and attributed his kidnapping to a supposed conflict between Velychko and a group of people who allegedly stole 500 facilities from the city government. These people, including ex-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Governor Oleksandr Vilkul and former acting Mayor Maxim Romanenko, made municipal firms bankrupt and then re-registered them to private owners, Korban claimed.
Vilkul and Romanenko deny the allegations.
Another charge is that he kidnapped Serhiy Rudyk, head of Ukraine’s land management agency, in August 2014.
Korban said he had a “dispute” with Rudyk in his office after Rudyk had appointed the head of the agency’s local branch without the regional administration’s approval.
But Rudyk was not kidnapped and went back to Kyiv after spending a night at the volunteer Dnipro Battalion’s base in Dnipropetrovsk, Korban claimed.
Korban is also accused of threatening Yury Podlesny, head of the Dnipropetrovsk city commission, in the run-up to the Oct. 25 local elections in the city.
He denied making threats but said he had called Podlesny and “explained to him that he would be held responsible for violating the law.”
Poldesny’s violations include first refusal to register the Vidrozhdennya party and then the registration of a party with the same name in an effort to take votes away from it, Korban argued. He was also involved in gerrymandering constituencies, he added.
Podlesny was not available for comment.
Korban ran for mayor of Kyiv in the Oct. 25 election, getting 2.61 percent of the vote, while his ally Borys Filatov was elected mayor of Dnipropetrovsk in the Nov. 15 runoff with 54 percent.
Korban also unsuccessfully ran in the July 26 by-election for a Verkhovna Rada seat in the city of Chernihiv, getting 14.76 percent.
A charity with his Ukrop party’s logotype was distributing buckwheat to residents of the city, leading to accusations of vote buying.
Korban argues there was no formal violation but admits that the charity “was working at my request” and says it was “an unfortunate experience.”
“The use of that technology was a mistake, and we’re not afraid to admit this,” he said.
For Korban, the main enemies in the recent elections are ex-allies of disgraced former President Viktor Yanukovych, whom he sees as Russia’s Trojan horse in Ukraine.
“The threat of their comeback remains,” he said. “They’re like (the T 1000 android) in the Terminator 2 movie, which collapses into small balls of liquid metal and then re-assembles.”
In their recent campaigns, Korban, Filatov and their Ukrop party emphasized their efforts to repel Russian aggression during their stints as deputies of Kolomoisky, who was governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast from March 2014 until March 2015.
The situation in Dnipropetrovsk was almost the same as in Donbas, and Kremlin-backed separatists attempted to storm administrative buildings in the city five times in March, Korban argued.
“Law enforcement agencies were virtually non-existent,” Korban said. “When we went to the Berkut riot police base and asked them for help, they put on St. George ribbons (a separatist symbol).
”Korban said that Dnipropetrovsk Oblast’s police chief was pro-Russian and “almost had a fight” with him in the regional administration when Korban urged him to crack down on separatists.
The Kolomoisky team eventually turned the tide by replacing the police chief, attracting “all possible security firms” and activists to stop pro-Russian unrest and taking part in the creation of volunteer battalions, he said.
One absurd thing was that 55 passenger trains were travelling from Donetsk to Dnipropetrovsk per day until May, and passengers’ documents were not even checked, Korban said.“(Militants) could have taken a two-hour ride from Donetsk and organized something like the (2002) Moscow theater hostage crisis at the Dnipropetrovsk train station,” Korban said. “A train with Chechens would have come, captured everyone at the station and set conditions.”
Korban said he had unsuccessfully tried to persuade Borys Ostapyuk, head of railway monopoly Ukrzalyznitsya, to stop the trains. Ostapyuk subsequently filed a complaint against Korban for allegedly threatening him.
Eventually the regional administration blocked traffic from Donetsk by putting trucks across the rails, Korban said.
He also said he had intelligence data that Russian regular troops had crossed the border with Ukraine on Aug. 15.
“I started calling (then-Defense Minister Valery Heletei and General Staff Chief Viktor Muzhenko) and demanding that they order Ukrainian troops to pull back,” Korban said.
This was not done, and hundreds of Ukrainian troops were massacred during the battle of Ilovaisk in Donetsk Oblast.
Korban said that he could face an investigation related to a complaint filed by Heletei and Muzhenko against him.
He said Heletei and Muzhenko were “fools who killed a lot of people” and “must be put on trial.”
The General Staff has denied the accusations, blaming the defeat on volunteer units’ alleged inability to carry out their objectives.
Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov can be reached at email@example.com.