Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky flew back to Ukraine in the early hours of May 16. It is the oligarch’s first visit in nearly two years.
Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest people notorious for his confrontational approach and a taste for politics, hasn’t been to Ukraine since June 2017. The oligarch had a public falling out with President Petro Poroshenko following the nationalization of PrivatBank, which Kolomoisky co-owned, in December 2016.
The oligarch said he preferred to stay out of the country out of fear that Ukrainian authorities could “invent” a criminal case against him and stop him from leaving.
Kolomoisky’s return comes as his business partner, President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is about to replace Poroshenko. Zelenskiy won the Ukrainian presidential election on April 21, receiving 73 percent of the vote compared to Poroshenko’s 25 percent.
Both Kolomoisky and Zelenskiy denied that the oligarch curated or backed his election campaign.
However, there were clear ties between the oligarch and the campaign. Kolomoisky’s TV channel 1+1, one of the most-watched stations in the country, helped Zelenskiy’s presidential bid by giving extra air time to his shows during the campaign. And one of Zelenskiy’s top campaign advisers, Andriy Bohdan, is a lawyer with Kolomoisky and his close allies among his clients.
Returning to Ukraine, Kolomoisky did not arrive in Kyiv, opting for a more familiar city. A jet belonging to his company departed from Tel-Aviv and landed in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro at 2:30 a.m. on May 16, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Mykhailo Tkach, who cited data from flight tracking website FlightRadar. Kolomoisky later confirmed his return to TheBabel, a Ukrainian news site he co-owns.
Dnipro, located 500 kilometers south of the capital, is the oligarch’s hometown, where he once served as governor.
Zelenskiy’s election and his ties to Kolomoisky led many to speculate that the new president might help the oligarch reclaim PrivatBank, which he has been trying to do through the courts, or at least avoid criminal liability for allegedly siphoning money from the bank.
The now state-owned bank filed a case against Kolomoisky and his business partner, Gennadiy Boholyubov, in a London court, seeking compensation for the money allegedly stolen from the bank by its owners. That led to a partial freeze of Kolomoisky’s assets globally.
Kolomoisky denies stealing money from PrivatBank, and claims that the nationalization of the bank was unfair. Zelenskiy said Kolomoisky wouldn’t get any special treatment from him, including with PrivatBank.
After Zelenskiy’s election, Kolomoisky won several lawsuits he filed in Ukrainian courts over PrivatBank’s nationalization.
In interviews before the election, Kolomoisky said he would return to Ukraine if Zelenskiy was elected. Later, he said he would wait until the president-elect’s inauguration. But more than three weeks after the election, the parliament still hadn’t set the date for the inauguration, postponing it out of fear that Zelenskiy would dissolve the parliament — something the president-elect said he is considering doing. As it stands, the parliament will end its term in October, when the general election is scheduled to take place.
Even before his self-imposed exile, Kolomoisky had not lived in Ukraine permanently. He made Geneva, Switzerland his primary home. Since September 2018, he has resided in Herzliya, a city in Israel near Tel-Aviv.
Kolomoisky reportedly holds the citizenship of Ukraine, Cyprus, and Israel.
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