Billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky appears to be continuing in his attempts to sabotage Ukraine’s cooperation with the International Monetary Fund by placing extra pressure on PrivatBank, which he owned before its nationalization in 2016, and which is now suing him for the $5.5 billion he allegedly siphoned from the bank through insider lending.

One of the oligarch’s biggest enterprises, the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant, paid $40,000 on Nov. 19 to obtain a one-year lease for a parking lot in front of PrivatBank’s head office in Dnipro through a state auction.

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The employees of Kolomoisky’s plant have been using this lot to rally against PrivatBank right in front of its headquarters since September.

The protests have been happening there on a regular basis, with leaders accusing PrivatBank’s new management of being behind on the plant’s salary payment delays.

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The Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant’s property was collateral for a loan that the National Bank had given PrivatBank before nationalization. Since the bank never paid off the loan, the National Bank arrested the plant’s property. To lift the arrest, the plant paid the National Bank $875,000 in September. Now the workers claim that the payment cost them their salaries, and demand that PrivatBank compensate it to the plant.

This comes amid the IMF reportedly expressing concerns over Kolomoisky’s past business connections to President Volodymyr Zelensky and his chief of staff Andriy Bohdan. IMF experts have also expressed concern over Kolomoisky’s fight to return PrivatBank or get compensated for its nationalization.

“He has cash to burn to annoy our people,” said Artem Shevalev, deputy chairman of the supervisory board at PrivatBank, in reference to Kolomoisky.

PrivatBank issued a statement, calling it “yet another attempt” by Kolomoisky to destabilize the bank. The National Bank of Ukraine has previously called the protests a provocation and an attempt to put pressure on the bank.

“The noise outside of the PrivatBank offices in Dnipro is deafening,” said Shevalev, adding that the auction was only for one year of rental, and claiming that the objective of the protesters there is to intimidate the bank’s staff.

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“Even when we hold video conference calls — you can hear it big time. I can only imagine what it is like for the people on the ground,” Shevalev added.

Kolomoisky told the Kyiv Post that he did not know why his plant obtained the parking lot of PrivatBank. He claimed that the plant was justly demanding compensation from PrivatBank, and threatened that the protest could escalate if the bank doesn’t give in.

“If PrivatBank keeps acting like that, I think that the plant workers might enter PrivatBank,” Kolomoisky threatened, implying that the workers will storm the bank.

The protests are occurring amid the latest round of talks between Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund that began on Nov. 14 and are centered on a new loan agreement in which the government hopes to receive a $5 billion loan.

Keeping PrivatBank away from Kolomoisky, as well as more aggressively seeking a return of taxpayers’ lost money in recapitalizing the banking sector, is key to the loan’s approval. Meanwhile, Kolomoisky brags that he will get the bank back.

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“The International Monetary Fund knows that PrivatBank will be returned (to me) in the near future,” Kolomoisky told the Kyiv Post on the phone.

Kolomoisky has been known to give brazen statements in the media.

Bohdan told the Kyiv Post that the oligarch was trying to draw attention to himself.

Nikopol and PrivatBank

When Kolomoisky co-owned PrivatBank, he used the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant as collateral to obtain a loan from the National Bank. In 2016, PrivatBank failed to pass the National Bank’s stress test and was nationalized.

In 2018, a report by forensic auditor Kroll uncovered a “large-scale and coordinated fraud” scheme that emptied $5.5 billion from the bank’s vaults under Kolomoisky. U.K. courts have also recognized that “fraud on an epic scale” has taken place.

The National Bank recapitalized the bank using taxpayers’ money and sued Kolomoisky for fraud in Kyiv, London, Geneva and the U.S.

Kolomoisky has countersued in Ukraine and filed defensive appeals in the U.S. and the U.K., stating that his property was raided by Valeria Gontareva, the then-head of the National Bank and an ally of then-President Petro Poroshenko.

In 2018, the National Bank filed 148 lawsuits against Kolomoisky and 32 companies controlled by the oligarch that were used as collateral for PrivatBank’s loans between 2008 and 2015.

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Among those sued was the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant. On Aug. 28, 2019, the National Bank and the plant reached an agreement by which the plant must pay the National Bank $875,000, the cost of the plant’s pledged assets.

On Sept. 6, the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant paid the full sum and covered the National Bank’s court fees.

But around the same time, the plant’s workers began protesting in front of PrivatBank’s offices in Dnipro and Kyiv, saying they are not paid by Kolomoisky because of the plant’s compensation to the National Bank.

On Oct. 9, PrivatBank said that it had to move 300 people working in its call center from the main office to a different building due to the noise of the workers’ protest. Two days later, the bank filed a lawsuit against the plant, demanding the compensation of Hr 700,000 ($28,500) it spent on the relocation.

Kyiv Post news editor Jack Laurenson contributed to this story.

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