Posts Tagged ‘finance’

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Odessa investment projects – Berezyne – Besarabyazka rail reconstruction

December 25, 2016

Immediately prior to the festive season getting under way, the blog was invited to the Odessa Regional Administration by a friend who is head of the Investment and Tourism Department, Roman Kozlovskyi.

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He and his team can be found on the 6th (top) floor within the rabbit warren that is the Odessa Regional Administration building.  (Thus any investor that enters this labyrinth is effectively at his mercy when it comes to actually finding their way out again.)

The result was a commitment by the blog to highlight some of the best opportunities for investment from a particularly long list.  It will also bring to the attention of certain project initiators some of the worst project offerings.  Some projects should be pushed as they are good projects for all concerned.  Others should be pushed into the rubbish bin of wishful but financially retarded thinking.

As such, ad hoc, entries will appear over the coming weeks relating to the good, the bad (and some ugly) investment projects within the Odessa Oblast

This entry highlights an investment project that seems viable.

In 1999 the rail connection between Berezyne and Besarabyazka was dismantled for reasons that would seem politically rather unclear, if criminally somewhat more understandable.

The 1999 dismantling of this section of railway thus pushed goods moving between Moldova to and from the ports of Odessa via rail to go through the Kremlin sponsored enclave and smuggling haven of Transnistria, an area that falls beyond the direct control of Government Moldova.

As such the reconstruction of the Berezyne – Besarabyazka rail link would provide a goods rail link avoiding Transnistria entirely.

Accordingly any investor could be assured both Governments of Ukraine and Moldova would be very much in favour of using this reconstructed route for commodities such as coal, fertilizers, oil, black metals and iron ore.  Indeed, reading between the lines, it is almost assuredly the case that such commodities would be immediately rerouted once the new track is in place.

Such assurances would naturally bring about numerous obvious methods for generating a return on capital employed for any investor – whichever method is ultimately agreed with the Odessa Regional Administration (there is certainly a degree of flexibility to accommodate any investor within the ORA).

It is hardly a difficult task to monitor the track usage and tonnage transported when only Ukrzaliznytsia and Calea Feratadin Moldova (both State owned rail entities) will use the track.

As is often the case, investors see most risk in the construction phase of any project.  Indeed for really large investments such as PFI schemes it is common practice to refinance a project after the construction phase is completed and that risk is thus removed.

Thus to some basic numbers – for that is what counts for any investor.  (For a full and detailed numbers breakdown a reader/investor is invited to contact Roman Kozlovskyi via the following email:  rkozlovskyi@odessa.gov.ua or the blog can provide his mobile number more privately.)

Clearly there will not be much environmental impact in the reconstruction of a preexisting rail line.  Most of what is required is already there by way of ground works and utilities.  Thus the laying of 21.5 kilometers (20 in Ukraine and 1.5 in Moldova) of track and whatever ground work is required is not an infrastructure project haunted by unknown and unseen technical issues.  The Odessa Regional Administration figures suggest 9 months to complete the project with a team of 30.

The investment sought is UAH 398256930, or about $15.4 million (exchange rate depending).  Hardly a large sum, and in fact perhaps far too small for some investors to consider.  Nevertheless, such is the low risk nature of this infrastructure project and the obvious methodologies provide that return on investment will be fairly swift and attractive, it therefore falls into the category of a good project for consideration.

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Germany’s KfW and Oschadbank Ukraine look to SME financing in 2017

December 24, 2016

State owned KfW Bank of Germany together with State owned Oschadbank Ukraine will apparently target the ever under financed SME market in Ukraine following the signing of a memorandum to do just that via a vehicle called the “German-Ukrainian Fund”.

The “German-Ukraine Fund” is not exactly new.  It has been around since 1998 when it was created by Presidential Decree 574/98.  It’s creation was with the very same intent as the memorandum signed on 24th December 2016, and its structure 31.3% National Bank of Ukraine, Ministry of Finance Ukraine 31.3% and KfW 37.4% appears to be unchanged.

Needless to say that since its creation in 1998, judging by the woeful state of financing for the Ukrainian SME market, the results have been less than spectacular over the past 18 years.

Traditionally Oschadbank is not a bank that has ever had anything to do with the financing of SMEs.  It certainly has experience of financing large scale projects (all plundered naturally), but would not be on any list associated with the financing of SMEs.

Indeed it would be fair to state that Oschadbank has absolutely no experience of SME financing – a banking sector that undoubtedly has its own very specific competencies requiring sector expertise.

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KfW Bank, aside from being able to borrow cheaply due to being 100% owned by the German State, is split into 3 major banking subsidiaries.  Of most relevance to Ukraine is KfW Entwicklungsbank which lends to governments, commercial banks and public enterprises that engage in the microfinancing of SMEs.

It would appear that whatever the EBRD has done behind the scenes to the internal workings of Oschadbank, part of any result is to open up the banking horizons of Oschadbank and attempt to focus them upon what is an SME economic engine historically ignored.  If nothing else it would diversify the loan portfolio of Oschadbank if a significant number of loans actually take place.

(A reader may suspect that both the EBRD and KfW  will have to lend a good deal of experience regarding microfinancing to Oschadbank for the foreseeable future – though that too may be no bad thing in the short-medium term as the internal Oschadbank management develops.)

All in all, some reasonably positive news to (almost) close the year 2016 – particularly for Ukrainian SMEs or SMEs coming to Ukraine.  If 2016 has been a difficult year for Ukraine, 2017 unfortunately does not seem likely to get any better – that the environment Ukraine finds itself within will get worse is more probable.

So it is with this sliver of hope for Ukrainian SMEs and SMEs entering Ukraine in 2017, that the blog wishes all those who celebrate Christmas on 25th December a thoroughly enjoyable day.

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Privat nationalisation and political weight loss

December 19, 2016

Ukraine has eventually taken the decision to nationalise Ihor Kolomoisky’s (and others) Privat Bank.

In some ways it is a surprise that the will to do so was actually found, despite that for more than 2 years everybody and anybody with any knowledge of Privat Bank has hardly been shy in opining that it presented serious risk to the Ukrainian economy and had it not been systemically vital to the Ukrainian banking system it would otherwise have been closed.

To a man/woman, of those spoken to one to one by the blog, be they politicians, economists, diplomats or international bankers, all recognised that the Privat problem had to be addressed and that nationalising it was the better of the options available – if the will could be found to do so.

Lo it has come to pass that 100% of Privat shares are now owned by the State.

How grubby the deal struck between Ihor Kolomoisky and The State is, remains unknown.  For a man like Ihor Kolomoisky to “voluntarily”  “sell” his shares to the State in what has been a significant political and financial lever over the State for him for many years with no gains to him pushes the boundaries of belief.  With the ability to simply put the Ukrainian banking sector into melt down, there is presumably a quid pro quo no matter how small yet favourable that may be in return for the “voluntary” handing over of all shares.

So be it.

Questions will undoubtedly be asked regarding the large amount of PrivatBank loans to its owners (Mr Kolomoisky and friends), other companies with the same owners, and to those associated with the owners, that have consistently been taken out with no intention of repaying them.

What is the exact cash figure these nefarious loans amount to?  What are the chances of those loans now being serviced and eventually repaid by those that took them and who are extremely skilled at historically saddling the State with their debts?

On balance, should a reader accept that those loans will probably not be repaid, thus in assuming these non-performing loans (debts) in however many $ billion they amount to, is that still a price worth paying to insure that PrivatBank can no longer collapse the entire Ukrainian banking system?

Even if agreements have been reached to now begin to repay these loans, the question is then over what period of time (in the unlikely event they will be repaid in full and in the spirit of any agreements made)?

The question presented is therefore one of short term (debt assumption leading probable loses when loans are not repaid) verses the medium/longer term view of what price is put upon insuring the entire national banking system will not collapse due to Prvat?

Financial issues aside, there is of course politics to consider.

The last time the nationalisation of Privat was mentioned by the blog in September, the politics were “Tymoshenko orientated”.  Mrs Tymoshenko is not in favour of the nationalisation of Privat as it doesn’t really work to her advantage.

Ms Tymoshenko aside, broader questions need now be asked about how the nationalisation of Privat changes the political and/or oligarch power dynamics with a major Kolomoisky lever now surrendered.

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Mr Kolomoisky can no longer use Privat as a personal piggy bank.  How does it change his ability to buy parliamentary votes for hire and/or buy entire political parties?  Will it effect any future voting outcomes?  To mitigate, will key voting personnel previously simply bought, now start to appear in Kolomoisky business structures instead for the purpose of leverage over their vote?

In short, just how much political weight loss has been incurred by Mr Kolomoisky – if any?

Without the “ace up the sleeve” of a persistent ability to cause national banking melt down, how does that effect the Kolomoisky position when negotiating how next to screw the State?

How will the rest of the oligarchy class react?  Will they make peace with the State or solidify around a common cause yet further in screwing it over?

How will this effect a poor presidential poll rating if he is perceived to have engineered the right thing for the country, or alternatively is perceived as having used his position to weaken yet another oligarch to his own advantage?  The two are not mutually exclusive, but that is how it will be presented.

Can Mr Kolomoisky now be certain that in what appears prima facie to be a weakened position, he will now not be called to account for innumerable scams and schemes over the years?  Was a de facto arrangement made that in effect grants amnesty via a promise of non-prosecution as part of the deal?  Are there other “compensatory” arrangements reached that will filter into the system over time that will be beneficial to Mr Kolomoisky’s other interests?

The repercussions of this nationalisation financially are on balance likely to be beneficial for Ukraine and the least worst option that could have been taken.  As long as Privat is managed prudently henceforth over the medium term this act is the most sensible option available.  In the long term, it would be wise to eventually return Privat to the private sector – once its systemic and internal risks have been mitigated against.

What is far less clear are the political and oligarchy/power behind the curtain repercussions.  It may be some time before those become fully evident.

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The IMF says “No” to Ukraine – as long predicted it would

December 1, 2016

The IMF in very plain words has refused Ukraine the next allocated tranche of $1.3 billion.  The February $2 billion tranche naturally gets kicked further into the future.

This should come as no surprise whatsoever.

In February, April, June and most recently (and at length) in October, the blog has repeatedly written (and stated at closed door forums) that IMF cooperation would be indefinitely suspended due to the fact that Ukraine would no longer be desperate for the money and therefore the motivation of parliamentarians and implementing institutions alike would simply disappear – until such time as the situation becomes so acute that they are once again forced to act.

“…….meeting the November 2016 and the $1.3 billion IMF tranche requirements appears optimistic, then meeting the obligations for the scheduled February 2017 tranche of $2 billion is perhaps as remote as riding a unicorn naked through the centre of Kyiv without once being snapped by a smartphone.”

A told you so statement – and the long list of issues in the above-linked October entry remain to be solved as do the repercussions it outlines.

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Though the above entry makes forecast of 2017 IMF related issues, it wisely steers clear of any prophecy regarding a return by Ukrainian to its obligations under the IMF agreement – and thus a return to IMF funding.

It is thus time to be foolish and/or reckless and forecast just how long it will before before the Ukrainian situation becomes once again so dire that parliamentarians and implementing institutions are forced to put their ingrained fecklessness to one side and act with the integrity expected of them – but of which they are consistently absent unless truly without any other options.

Short of something akin to force majeure coming from either The Kremlin or Washington DC dramatically changing the environment within which Ukraine finds itself, there is no urgency to address Ukrainian obligations to the IMF in 2017.

(The only other “incentive” would perhaps be the “Firtashisation” – or privately conveyed possibilities thereof – to powerful and influential Ukrainian figures that nefariously control Verkhovna Rada votes and who have “strayed” within the laws of European nations.)

Certainly nothing approaching obligation compliance will begin before Spring 2017 – the constituency will first be allowed to emerge from a winter under radically increased utility pricing and the application of soothing subsidies – which lends to the ability of the current government and majority coalition to survive the increasingly cacophonous noise relating to early Verkhovna Rada elections.

Realistically (in the current environment) it seems highly unlikely that Ukraine will make any great strides toward getting the IMF agreements back on track until Autumn 2017 at the earliest – if at all in 2017.

Thus predictions for the IMF-Ukraine lending agreement to recommence?

Perhaps 2018.

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Banking of interest (not with interest) Odessa

November 16, 2016

Much is written regarding the banking system in Ukraine.  Normally relating to the on-going clean-up of the nefarious Ukrainian banking sector by the NBU, or relating to the alleged nefarious actions of the NBU itself.

It therefore catches the eye when a small provincial bank in Odessa is to be bought by an Austrian investment banker with a curriculum vitae that clearly infers connections within the elite strata of Vienna.

The bank in question is called Investbank which certainly does not have much high street recognition in Odessa despite being a bank of Odessa.  Indeed, it is not a “high street bank”.

The Austrian purchaser, or at least soon to be majority shareholder, is Uwe Christian Eshner.  The current owners being Alexander and Tamara Nezvinsky, Nick and Igor Teplitz, and Sergei Yablonsky.

Unsurprisingly, for a provincial bank with no high street recognition, in the national ranking by size of assets, the bank falls within the smallest 25%.

That it was available for purchase is not exactly a secret.  Some years ago it could have been bought for $100 million or so.  No doubt the purchase price will be substantially less considering the dramatic change of circumstances Ukraine has found itself subject to.

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Clearly Mr Eshner is purchasing the majority share to own a fully licensed banking vehicle in Ukraine – though why Investbank when there are perhaps better deals to be struck with the NBU over insolvent licensed entities is perhaps a question some readers will ponder.

Austrian banks and bankers certainly have a “reputation” within Ukraine and among the Ukrainian elite and organised criminal class for being “helpful” when it comes to moving money out of Ukraine (and laundering it).  Who among of the very elite of Yanukovych/”Family” did not have Austrian bank accounts and expensive property in Vienna?

Mr Eshner of course will not be unaware of such things.  His Bloomberg profile boasts a history that began to “build up and develop extensive contacts to Central Eastern European countries” in the early 1990s.  Thus even if not partaking in, nor facilitating any nefarious activities, it is beyond belief that during the mad 1990’s when Mr Eshner began his banking expedition into the eastern-European nations he will have been unaware of what what brazenly going on in both Austrian and CEE banking.

(Indeed, a reader may ponder whether the infamous Udo Proksch was in any way related to one of the favoured Yanukovych Austrian bankers Reinhard Proksch.)

As a healthy level of cynicism is a requirement for living in Odessa, there are some questions that arise that may be without foundation – or not.

 

Considering the amount of elite “Ukrainian interest” past and present in Austria, who if anybody is behind Mr Eshner?

By extension, whose money is buying this banking vehicle?

What is this banking vehicle to be used for by Mr Eshner?

Is it to become a front for “interests” behind a respectable face?

Is it a bank where transactions will now be, or should be placed on a “watch list” if not by the NBU, then by the international policemen and spooks?

Did this banking purchase raise the same raised (interested) eyebrow with international policemen and spooks as it did the blog?

Why are the blog flags raised over this when there is nothing prima facie untoward?

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E-declarations Ukraine – The cash issue

October 29, 2016

The end of October sees the deadline for tens of thousands of Ukrainian politicians, civil servants and other assorted holders of high public office to submit their e-declaration returns relating to their wealth (and as previously inferred, perhaps in far too much detail available to all and sundry – transparency is not necessarily the same thing as unrestricted public accessibility).

On the whole it is nevertheless a law behind which there is the right spirit of transparency and accountability despite its shortcomings (as expected with any Ukrainian law, it is not perfect), and of vital importance is the criminal liability carried with regard to deliberately misleading and/or recklessly erroneous statements.  (No reader would expect any serious attempt at diligently completing such an e-declaration without criminal responsibility when considering those required to complete it.)

To be fair, with little over 24 hours to go (at the time of writing) before the mandatory submission date expires, there are no major surprises forthcoming from the declarations submitted.  There are some very rich people running and managing the country.  It would be needlessly shallow to pretend to be shocked by the accumulated wealth of either politicians or leading civil servants, or heads of State Owned Enterprises.

Indeed some would appear poorer than “collective wisdom” rated their wealth to be – albeit there are certainly areas within the declarations that can be massaged upward or downward as those completing such declarations see fit.

Whatever the case, and regardless of the systems legislative short-comings, the as yet unproven ability to provide evidence for prosecutions, or alternatively to allow for the legalisation of questionable assets, there is notably a lot of physical cash (in numerous currencies) outside of the banking system held by almost every individual required to make e-declarations.

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It has to be acknowledged that the vast majority of Ukrainians, be they billionaires, millionaires, the average Joe, or paupers, historically have very little faith in the domestic banking system.  It also has to be acknowledged Ukraine remains very much a cash economy – much of it grey/black in nature.  The net result is a very large percentage of the population, what ever the scale of their fiscal wealth, physically hold, and physically hide, their cash rather than use the banks or have it officially recognised somewhere in the system as being held.

It is somewhat pointless in trying to guess where some very large sums of cash have come from, whether a reader chooses to believe it has accumulated over time or is the result of a big “under the radar” transaction.  To be blunt, it is perhaps Utopian to think that NABU will have the time, energy, or finances to investigate all but the most questionable.

For most, the legalisation of these large cash sums, whatever its provenance, will be the result.  If so, perhaps having legalised it, these large sums may then enter the banking system for there is no longer a requirement to hide it.

Indeed, a reader may consider that a soldier fighting the war in the east, expected to defend the nation and perhaps die doing so for about $300 per month, notwithstanding the organised crime groups, may seek to relieve some of those making public declarations of such large cash holdings outside the banking system.  Personal security firms may now see a further uplift in business not only around dwellings of the affluent public office holders, but also around family members – for kidnapping and ransom would appear to become an increased possibility.

As previously inferred, if the bodged introduction of the e-declaration system does prove to prevent prosecutions then the entire event may prove to be the biggest, albeit one-off, government sponsored (and internationally backed) money laundering operation in memory.  Something akin to an unspoken “drawing a line in the sand”, ergo forgiving and legalising many past misdeeds but clearly laying down that henceforth there will be far less room for accommodation of such nefarious and criminal shenanigans.

Such an outcome is certainly not ideal, but is arguably better that continuing with the existing status quo where internally and externally of Ukraine it is expected that some major figures will be jailed for corruption – and yet thus far none have been.  Many readers are used to the wheels of justice turning slowly – yet the anti-corruption wheels of justice in Ukraine are clearly approaching glacial.

All of that said, just because a lot of cash is held by an individual far beyond their official salary (and other declared incomes), it does not mean it was (all) acquired through the dirty deeds – those dirty deeds have to be proven to have occurred.

For example, when the buying and selling of houses and cars historically has occurred in cash (in $ six figures frequently) – and that can still occur despite legislation that now seeks to makes such high value asset purchases electronic transactions – it is still necessary to prove not only that the cash isn’t the result of a land/house/asset sale in 2003 and the proceeds were retained in cash because the recipient didn’t trust the banking system then, and doesn’t trust the banking system now, but also to prove they are the proceeds of a criminal act.

It is a matter of what can be proven – and not a matter of what is perceived or asserted.

Looking forward, if Mr/Mrs X declares $500,000 in cash for this e-declaration period, and $750,000 in cash at a subsequently required declaration what is to be done – if anything?

As money in the bank and other hard assets will become increasingly less difficult (albeit still not easy) to trace, it follows therefore that one significant question going forward is how to account for the large amounts cash in hand (quite literally) when it comes to those individuals holding public office if the giving and/or receiving of bribes, or the otherwise facilitation of corruption via cash, is to be managed far more effectively?

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Tymoshenko and the IMF – or is it really about the IMF?

September 21, 2016

Yulia Tymoshenko knows a thing or two about dealing with the IMF.  She has said so herself on several occasions when recently cricitising first former Prime Minister Yatseniuk, and latterly the current Prime Minister, Volodymr Groisman.

Indeed when Prime Minister she negotiated a deal with the IMF, the conditions to which she agreed she then reneged upon when required to implement them – which may make a reader wonder just how skilled at negotiation with the IMF she really is.  (If one instance of poor negotiation is not enough, then a reader may reference the gas deal she struck with The Kremlin resulting in the worst gas deal with Russia in Ukrainian history, (despite the welcome removal (visible) of intermediaries), is also worth pondering.)

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Ms Tymoshenko apparently knows what the current IMF conditions are according to a report by Interfax – “Among Ukraine’s obligations are the cancellation of the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land.  If the moratorium is not prolonged, Ukraine will lose its main resource.

She claimed that the IMF also planned to “virtually introduce external control over national, state Ukrainian banks.”  as well as seeking commitments to reduce the network of Ukrainian educational institutions.

So far, so standard regarding IMF conditionality just as the hiking of utility prices has long been a standard IMF demand – and the demand that she balked at when it was her turn to implement the IMF agreement she agreed that also included utility hikes.

The IMF has been fairly consistent with its requirements with every Ukrainian government that has negotiated with it – from gas pricing, to the funding of vast number of universities within the nation, to lifting the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land, there is really nothing new in her “revelations”.

Indeed the only thing new about the IMF demands this time is that both Prime Minister’s Yatseniuk and Groisman have more or less honoured the obligations they have entered into – unlike Ms Tymoshenko when it was her time to do so.

What catches the eye is this statement – “The nationalization of large Ukrainian private banks is foreseen. We want to know what the bank is, what the date of nationalization is and who will be responsible for the obligations the banks have to Ukrainians”.

Clearly she is referring to Ihor Kolomoisky’s Privat Bank.  A bank which is structurally critical to the current operation of the Ukrainian banking system, but that is otherwise bankrupt and has been for years.  This situation too, is no secret to anybody.

Indeed the nationalisation of Privat is unlikely to create too many issues for Ihor Kolomoisky given its otherwise bankrupt status.  He may well realise that if he can get rid of it now, it will save some severe and problematic issues in the not too distant future.  (The health of Ukrainian Airways (MAU) another Kolomoisky company is worthy of a look too for those interested in the Kolomoisky empire.)

Privat Bank, its condition and structural importance would of course raise flags for the IMF when considering the robustness of the Ukrainian banking system.

The question Ms Tymoshenko is really asking is what, if anything, Ihor Kolomoiskhy gets out of the deal on his side, and what the current leadership get (themselves) if the State nationalises Privat Bank removing this impending problem for Ihor Kolomoisky and also easing concerns within the IMF?

Do Mr Kolomoisky (and partners) retain any minority shares?  What about the high value loans heavily biased to other Kolomoisky companies and their ability to repay them – or not?  Are profitable bits of Privat (card payment infrastructure etc) to be split off, and if so who will own them and reap the rewards?  Who would be the negotiator with Ihor Kolomoisky if not President Poroshenko, the only person Mr Kolomoisky would negotiate with?

What reward does President Poroshenko personally desire from any such negotiations that ultimately remove a problem for Mr Kolomoisky?

The answer to that, if strong and repeated rumour be true, is a majority share in Mr Kolomoisky’s top rated TV station 1+1.

The President has one eye on his woeful popularity figures, and another eye on Presidential elections in just over 2 years time.  A 1+1 favourable editorial line toward President Poroshenko would be gratefully received and the only way to insure it with a sly character like Mr Kolomoisky is to own the majority share of 1+1.

1+1 together with the President’s Channel 5, and perhaps the fairly amenable (read rentable/for hire) Vadim Rabinovich and Evgen Muraev with NewsOne, will form a fairly solid national TV media platform from which to launch a presidential campaign for a second term – notwithstanding the administrative ability to throw a few policy sweeteners to the constituency and a few fairly big fish into the judicial frying pan if and when necessary – all with the timeliness associated to pre-election electioneering rather than official electioneering.

If this be the case, how does President Poroshenko buy a majority share in 1+1 when his business activities are now supposed to be run through a blind trust?  Is the trust blind in only one eye?  Will a trusted third party do the 1+1 (plausibly deniable) honours on behalf of President Poroshenko?

Will Mr Kolomoisky accept President Poroshenko saving him from serious banking problems/liabilities at the expense of control over the influential 1+1?  It is a question, according to rumour, that is still being pondered.

With Inter (if it is still operating and belonging to Dmitry Firtash) being an Opposition Block TV platform, the question in Ms Tymoshenko’s head perhaps is not what happens to Privat, but undoubtedly being aware of the persistent rumours surrounding the deals around what happens to Privat, is where she will find a national media platform that could compete.

Unless Ms Tymoshenko is entirely deaf to rumours circulating within her workplace, she already has a good idea of the answers to all the other questions – as do a lot of other people.

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