Kolomoisky has tried to retain control over a state-affiliated company and then harshly insulted a journalist who asked him about his interest in the company.

The events have reignited the debate about the political influence of Kolomoisky, who has been called Ukraine’s most powerful oligarch, and tycoons in general. Some lawmakers have called for his dismissal from the position of governor.

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The developments also highlight disagreements between allies of President Petro Poroshenko and those of Kolomoisky.

One of the issues at stake is control over oil pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta and oil and gas producer Ukrnafta, which are controlled by state-owned Naftogaz Ukrainy. Kolomoisky’s Privat Group holds 42 percent in Ukrnafta, while Naftogaz Ukrainy owns 50 percent plus one share in Ukrnafta and 100 percent in Ukrtransnafta.

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On March 20, the supervisory board of Ukrtransnafta dismissed its CEO Oleksandr Lazorko, who had previously worked at Kolomoisky’s companies. Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn said earlier that he was going to fire Lazorko because of alleged embezzlement.

Lazorko was replaced with Yury Miroshnyk, who was appointed as acting CEO of Ukrtransnafta until Aug. 10.

However, Lazorko refused to leave the office of Ukrtransnafta. The company’s security guards blocked the entrance and didn’t let Miroshnyk in. Miroshnyk came to the building with officers of the Security Service of Ukraine’s Alfa special forces unit.

On the night of March 19, Kolomoisky showed up at the office of Ukrtransnafta with over a dozen armed men. He spent approximately four hours inside. Miroshnyk, the new CEO, was never let in.

When he left the building around midnight, Kolomoisky explained his arrival, claiming that Ihor Kononenko, a lawmaker at the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, could have orchestrated the armed takeover of the state company using “Russian saboteurs.” He said that he was heading to the president’s administration to solve the conflict.

Masked and possibly armed men enter Ukrtransnafta on March 20.

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Kolomoisky’s references to “Russian saboteurs” were unclear.

He accused Miroshnyk of engaging in smuggling and failing to oppose Russian-backed militants when he had previously worked at the Security Service of Ukraine’s branch in Luhansk Oblast. Some officers of the Security Service in the region have joined Kremlin-backed separatists or cooperated with them.

As Kolomoisky went out of the Ukrtransnafta office, Serhiy Andrushko, a journalist at Radio Liberty Ukraine, asked the tycoon what he was doing at night at the state company’s office.

What he heard in reply was unexpected. Using extremely offensive language, Kolomoisky first suggested that the journalist ask him about “the Russian saboteurs who seized the building” rather than just “wait for a chance to see Kolomoisky.”

“Why don’t you ask about the corporate raid at Ukrtransnafta? Or how Russian saboteurs got here, huh?” Kolomoisky said. “Or you are just sitting here with your f**king Radio Liberty and waiting to see Kolomoisky? Why are you sitting here like a wench waiting for her unfaithful husband? Have you shut up already?”

Ihor Kolomoisky insults Radio Liberty journalist on his way out of the Ukrtransnafta office late on March 19.

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In October 2014 Andrushko approached Kolomoisky asking about his multiple citizenship. The billionaire admitted that he had Ukrainian, Israeli and Cypriot passports – a statement that also triggered a scandal because Ukraine bans dual citizenship.

Neither Poroshenko nor Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk have commented on the Ukrtransnafta conflict. Meanwhile, lawmakers Mustafa Nayyem and Serhiy Leshchenko, former journalists, have called on the parliament to investigate the case.

“There’s no reaction from the president, prime minister or Verkhovna Rada speaker,” Nayyem, a lawmaker with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, said at the Verkhovna Rada hearing on March 20. “This man (Kolomoisky) shouldn’t be a state official.”

Leshchenko, who also represents the president’s party, said at the Rada that “it may be the end of the Kolomoisky’s (political) career.”

“The takeover of a state company in downtown Kyiv by (Kolomoisky’s) armed men is a challenge for Poroshenko and his legitimacy,” he wrote on Facebook on the same day.

Borys Brahynsky, an advisor to Kolomoisky, told the Kyiv Post that he could not assess the actions of his boss before consulting with him. He dismissed the criticism of Kolomoisky, however, praising his efforts to protect Dnipropetrovsk Oblast from Kremlin-backed separatists’ onslaught last year.

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“If (Kolomoisky) hadn’t done what he did, (Russian-backed separatist leader Oleh) Tsaryov would be based in Dnipropetrovsk as president of the Dnipropetrovsk People’s Republic,” he said.

Borys Filatov, a former deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and a long-time business partner of Kolomoisky, said on Facebook that it was “wrong” to talk to the press the way Kolomoisky had done but criticized what he described as some unnamed officials’ attempts to grab the financial flows of Ukrnafta and Ukrtransnafta.

Filatov, who is currently a member of parliament, said that only Leshchenko, Nayyem and the Opposition Bloc, the heir of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, supported Kolomoisky’s dismissal.

“The ‘truth lovers’ have turned out to be lapdogs and cowards at the authorities’ beck and call,” he said.

He called Leshchenko “a liar, scum, provocateur and coward” and also used more offensive swear words describing him.

The scandal at Ukrtransnafta came after the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill targeting Ukrnafta. The bill seeks to reduce the quorum at state-controlled joint-stock companies’ shareholder meetings to 50 percent from 60 percent. Previously, Kolomoisky has been able to block reform, profit redistribution and changes in ownership at Ukrnafta simply by not turning up to a shareholder meeting.

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Nataliya Katser-Buchkovska, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party, believes the law is beneficial not only for oil and gas producers, but for the all enterprises.

“It’s the European approach to managing state-owned companies,” Katser-Buchkovska said by phone.

The conflict around Ukrnafta and Ukrtransnafta follows a series of other scandals. These include Kolomoisky’s statement earlier this month that he had given $5 million in bribes to tycoon Viktor Pinchuk and ex-President Leonid Kuchma and his leaked friendly Skype chats with a prankster who posed as Pavel Gubarev, a Kremlin-backed separatist leader.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov can be reached at [email protected].

Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Goncharova can be reached at [email protected].

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