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Privat Bank – A privat(e) or public future ahead?

November 8, 2015

Privat Bank is part of Privat Group, and is owned by Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennady Bogolyubov.

Privat Bank has for many years been systemically important to the Ukrainian banking system, despite operating as more or less bankrupt the entire time.

Thus when the IMF made demands of Ukraine, and specifically the National Bank of Ukraine under the stewardship of Valeriya Hontareva (who for many years was virtually the Poroshenko family banker), problems relating to capitalisation and quality of assets were a certainty to become problematic for Privat Bank.

Unsurprisingly during the summer of 2015 Privat Bank had to restructure loans with its creditors, and Messrs Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov had to inject some cash/stand surety personally.  Something of a reversal when for many years Privat Bank has simply been used to finance Privat Group activities with much of its loan portfolio being to other Privat associated companies.  Hence Privat Bank has always operated more or less bankrupt and as a piggy bank for Kolomoisky/Bogolyubov use, holding a very high portfolio of direct and indirect Privat Group assets of dubious quality.  Nevertheless it has become systemically important, holding more than 30% of the bank accounts of Ukrainians and Ukrainian companies.

In short, the IMF is insisting all banks are suitably capitalised and Ms Hontareva, quite rightly, is making no exceptions.  The NBU assessment of Privat Bank is not yet complete, so whilst it continues to operate as a private concern, presumably the liquidity therefore not an immediate concern, it is far too soon to consider Privat Bank “stable” as far as the NBU is concerned – and who knows what the NBU assessment will be (or perhaps is)?

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On 6th November, Alexander Dubilet the Chairman of Privat Bank received a text message stating Privat Bank was temporarily going into administration, and thus public control via the NBU, being a systemic bank.  Clearly that has proven to be false – thus far.

So was the text message simply mischief?  Could such a decision relating to Privat Bank have been kept secret from Ihor Kolomoisky?

Should it be seen in connection with the arrest of the Ukrop Party leader and Ihor Kolomoisky associate Gennady Korban on 3rd November – some 3 days prior to the text message received by Mr Dubilet?

It is little known that the same day as the Korban arrest,  Gennady Bogolyubov (Ihor Kolomoisky’s business partner) flew to Kyiv and saw President Poroshenko.  The question arises whether the meeting was to defer or defend Privat Bank from temporary administration and thus public ownership, or to intercede on the behalf of Gennady Korban?  As the latter would seem unlikely – with both Messrs Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov undoubtedly prepared to throw Mr Korban under a bus to protect Privat, is Mr Korban the sacrificial lamb offered instead of the NBU taking control of Privat Bank?

Perhaps they are not linked at all.

It may be that the arrest of Mr Korban has actually delayed a decision for the NBU to take control of Privat Bank as linkage would have be made – whether it exist or not.  The arrest of Mr Korban and the NBU taking control of Privat Bank within a matter of days would be perceived as President Poroshenko taking decisive action in his battle with Mr Kolomoisky, yet also the perception of political persecution would have been perhaps overwhelming.

All of that said, if Privat Bank is failing the NBU assessment, just how long could any delay in the NBU taking control be put off?  The IMF arrives in Kyiv on 9th December and remains until 18th December.  Hiding any failures of a systemically critical bank from the IMF during that visit seems rather difficult – if there are failures to hide.  Was the meeting of Gennady Bogolyubov with President Poroshenko therefore a bid to buy time during which any failures will be urgently overcome?  If so what time frame was given to delay any NBU action?

If a decision is made for the NBU to take control of Privat Bank, then when is the best political time to announce it?  Before the IMF visit in order to project a robust adherence to IMF conditions despite any domestic speculation of dismembering the Kolomoisky empire by the President for political purposes – or once it arrives and time any such announcement whilst the IMF is in Kyiv with the inference “the IMF expects” as a deflection from the undoubted charges of political persecution that will follow?

What happens if the NBU assumes control of Privat Bank?  If it carries out a full internal audit over the past “x” number of years, what dirty and illicit acts will it discover?  What then?

Within the next month, perhaps within the next week or two, the question hanging over immediate term management of Privat will be answered – Privat(e), or public?

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