Editor’s Note: The following is a Q&A with Mohammad Zahoor, owner of the ISTIL Group of companies and publisher of the Kyiv Post from 2009- 2018. He is a British citizen who is a native of Pakistan. He is married to singer-actress Kamaliya and has four children, including twin eight-year-old daughters. Zahoor spoke to Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner on Sept. 15, 2021, in his Kyiv office.
Kyiv Post: How do you spend your time?
Mohammad Zahoor: I’m semi-retired and just come to the office to have some meetings. I’m mostly looking after my two kids, who just turned eight. I’m enjoying happy family life. During this period of 1.5 years (during the coronavirus pandemic), the business was not flourishing, of course, so at least we’ve found some harmony at home.
KP: When was the last time you were in Pakistan?
MZ: I was in Pakistan in February after the death of my sister-in-law, my brother’s wife, who died of COVID-19.
KP: What’s the potential for growth in Ukraine-Pakistan trade?
MZ: Ukraine has a lot to deliver to Pakistan, including agricultural products, besides the defense industry stuff. There’s a lot of potential for Ukraine to import, the textile, the leather goods, the surgery instruments, the sports goods and the fruits, mangoes, especially…from the Pakistani side, I don’t think it will go into billions.
KP: When can I check into your unopened hotel on Zoloti Vorota?
MZ: I’m still looking for a partner to invest with me in the hotel and a casino.
KP: What are the prospects for the newly legalized gambling in Ukraine?
MZ: Ukraine doesn’t have these high rollers (big gamblers).
KP: Why don’t you just spend down your net worth to get the hotel finished?
MZ: I don’t want any more headaches.
KP: What’s happening with the Kinopanorama building in the center of Kyiv?
MZ: The day before yesterday, we got this new ‘present’ that the Kinopanorama is a ‘cultural heritage’ so we cannot reconstruct it. So we have to keep it in the same way, which is miserable, this is a 1958 building, which is the Communist era. Now, there’s a cinema that is closed. It’s empty. We wanted to make it a place for people because the city has a shortage of event halls. We ourselves, when we want to do an event, all the places are gone.
KP: So, you own two of the best properties in town that are empty?
KP: Did you get any compensation for your stolen assets in the Kremlin-occupied Donbas?
KP: Do you expect any?
KP: YUNA, the annual music awards program you sponsor, got back on track this year after a year off from the coronavirus. All good?
MZ: What we expected this year when we were allowed to bring only 50% of the people to the venue, the government would give us a 50% discount on the rent of the Palace of Ukraine. We were never compensated.
KP: Did you buy any businesses or property in the last year?
KP: Did you sell anything?
KP: Are you still optimistic about President Volodymyr Zelensky?
MZ: I have seen that the International Monetary Fund isn’t lending the money. I see the debt is increasing. Basically, I think we are still stuck with the legal system, the corruption in the legal system…Instead of having all these G7 meetings, etc., the government and parliament should pay more attention to passing laws – not the slippery laws – to fool the West that we are doing something. The cold shoulder that Zelensky was given during the American visit is a sign that not everybody is buying what they’re being told. The rhetoric has changed. If you look at the words of Zelensky, he’s not happy. Before, he was pro-West. Now he’s complaining. Now it’s “we have to do it ourselves. The West is not going to help us.” If you do good things, they will help you. But just because you’re being haunted by the Russians, you expect everyone to do everything for you, but you are not going to do anything else except play “a victimized country.”
KP: Not good?
MZ: I still think he is for the good of this country. In countries like Ukraine, where the system is not in place, one person can damage a lot. And one person cannot build everything. I think while Zelensky’s intentions are good, he’s the only one in the whole lot. Most of the people around him, we don’t see what they are doing, we don’t see anything moving. They are “ministers of satisfaction” who will not oppose you. I would rather have people stand up and tell me “this is wrong.” One has to have the appetite to listen to criticism and do the right things.
KP: Kamaliya is pro-Zelensky?
MZ: She is totally pro-Zelensky. We are all pro-Zelensky. I haven’t seen anything negative about Zelensky. It’s similar to Pakistan. There’s nothing wrong about Prime Minister Imran Khan. He’s a very clean person, very genuine and very sincere. But the team there is one of the worst ones. Neither here nor there can one sincere person change the system
KP: Last year, where did you spend your time?
MZ: 40% in Ukraine. Almost none in Pakistan. London and Dubai – 30% and 30%.
KP: It’s a good life.
MZ: I’m not complaining.
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