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Opening up an oligarchy front?

March 9, 2015

About a month ago an entry was published entitled “The Last Oligarch Standing” – an entry that offered up the thought that Igor Kolomoisky was the last oligarch worthy of the name remaining in Ukraine.  Rinat Akhmetov, now devoid of significant political power was counted as 1/2 an oligarch due to the amount of national GDP under his control, and Messrs Firtash and Pinchuk were discounted from fully meeting the role of individually holding nation changing “grey power”.

In short, only Mr Kolmoisky currently holds sufficient political power – he now controls Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa whilst unelected himself, notwithstanding a small army of volunteer battalions that he finances  – together with sufficient control over GDP/ownership of strategic infrastructure.  No other historical oligarch currently comes close.

Mr Kolomoisky is also more than a match for President Poroshenko, or any of the political class, when it comes to cunning, nefariousness, resources, and shaping circumstances to his benefit.  Thus President Poroshenko has to keep Igor Kolomiosky both “on side”, but also under control – somehow.  He is a necessary ally, but also a very significant rival seat of power.

The chess match between these two men plays out in several areas, one of which is currently a parliamentary committee revisiting (again), the dodgy privatisations of deals past – or not.  Indeed, Mr Kolomoisky and Mr Pinchuk are currently in on-going litigation against each other in the High Courts of London relating to one such historical deal.

Mr Kolomoisky is clearly currently in confident mood, taking all by surprise and giving testimony to the relevant parliamentary committee last week – and whilst doing so insured he mentioned a $5 million per month extortion racket he claims he was coerced into paying to Mr Pinchuk, for delivery to his father-in-law, then President Kuchma.  The “Special Control Commission on Privatisation” parliamentary committee was in a closed session – at least prior to Mr Kolomoisky’s arrival.

That Mr Kolomoisky testified before the parliamentary committee at all, without request or summons, whilst (unofficially) one of the most powerful people in Ukraine today, should perhaps be pondered.  The committee whilst chaired by his friend Boris Filatov, is not exactly filled with Kolomoisky fans.

So the questions are why did he do it, and to what end?

One of the first outcomes has been “invitations” being sent to Messrs Akhmetov, Pinchuk and Firtash (the latter by video-link being stuck in Austria) to give testimony over historically dubious privatisations by the parliamentary committee.  Whether they will take up the invitations remains to be seen – though they would perhaps not wish to waste the opportunity.

There are very few other star witnesses that can be called.

Valentina Semenyuk-Samsonenko, Head of the State Property Fund from April 2005 to December 2008 apparently committed suicide on 27th August 2014 by shooting herself in the head.  Her predecessor, Mykhaylo Chechetov, who ran the State Property Fund from April 2003 to April 2005, apparently committed suicide just over a week ago (28th February) by jumping from his apartment window on the 17th floor, whilst on bail and under investigation for shenanigans during his time holding that particular office.

All rather too convenient for the oligarchy perhaps?  Without the testimony of these former State Property Fund heads – who themselves made tens of millions of dollars facilitating the dubious privatisations of a decade or so ago, it seems highly unlikely any nefarious deals will be reversed.

However, as the perhaps last oligarch standing worthy of the name, Mr Kolomoisky is well placed to insure that he remains that way, keeping historical rivals, that for one reason or another, find themselves in much weaker positions.

Mr Kolomoisky has never been one to waste a good crisis – so with his current domestic momentum and weakened peers, does he feel it time to insure his position as top – or even only – oligarch?  Thus, was his surprise and unannounced testimony before the parliamentary Special Control Commission on Privatisation, a declaration of war – or at least throwing down the gauntlet – within the oligarch class?

Something to watch for over the course of the year perhaps.

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