Ukraine arrests former PrivatBank official as US prioritizes criminal investigation of former owners

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Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested former Ukrainian bank vice president amid FBI criminal investigation as he tried to fly overseas, sign Kiev is taking action to fight against corruption and anarchy.

Volodymyr Yatsenko was arrested at Boryspil Airport in Kiev on February 22 after investigators forced the pilot of the private jet he was traveling on to land, the office said in a tweet.

Yatsenko, who was on his way to Vienna after being informed of his arrest, was accused of embezzling funds at PrivatBank, once the country’s largest lender.

Other management arrests could follow, the Kyiv Post reported.

The FBI is investigating the two owners of PrivatBank – Ihor Kolomoyskiy and Hennadiy Boholyubov – in connection with charges that more than $ 5 billion was stolen from the lender through fraudulent loans and that the money was subsequently laundered.

In a move that grabbed international headlines, Ukraine was forced to nationalize PrivatBank in 2016 and inject more than $ 5 billion into the lender in order to avoid bankruptcy.

The United States accuses Kolomoyskiy and Boholyuobov of using part of the bleached proceeds to purchase US assets ranging from metallurgical companies to commercial properties with the help of two Miami-based US associates.

Last year, the Justice Department filed three civil forfeiture suits in Florida court against a US real estate holding company controlled by the two tycoons and managed by the partners.

However, a judge last week accepted a request from the Justice Ministry to temporarily suspend the civil confiscation process, fearing that this could harm the criminal investigation against the Ukrainian businessmen and their two American partners.

“Allowing [the tycoons] making a discovery would expose the identity of witnesses who have provided and will provide information and testimony both in the civil confiscation actions and in the criminal investigation, ”the justice ministry said in its February 19 file. .

“If this happens, confidential informants may stop providing information and, since they are not reachable through a process in the United States, they may make themselves unavailable for future testimony. Potential sources of information that have not yet been interviewed by the government would likely be deterred from coming forward. “

The tycoons deny the charges and neither Ukraine nor the United States has filed a complaint against them.

Kolomoyskiy is one of Ukraine’s most influential tycoons and the US government’s investigation into his activities is being closely followed.

The billionaire has key assets in media, energy and metals and is said to have a disproportionate influence over President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration.

Kolomoyskiy’s TV stations supported Zelenskiy’s successful presidential candidacy.

The United States, one of Ukraine’s biggest financial and military donors, has repeatedly expressed concern over oligarchic influence over the country’s government and economy.

Washington has also complained about the lack of investigations into tycoons and corrupt officials and has linked some assistance to improving judicial reform.

The arrest of Yatsenko, who was flying on a private plane owned by Kolomoyskiy, is the latest in a series of moves Kiev has taken to tackle cases resonating with the United States.

Zelenskiy last week approved sanctions against Viktor Medvedchuk, a tycoon and lawmaker with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the United States in 2014 for undermining democracy in Ukraine.

On February 2, Zelenskiy sanctioned three TV stations allegedly owned by Medvedchuk. At the end of January, he announced an investigation into Ukrainian individuals accused of meddling in the 2020 US presidential elections.

These measures come after the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20. Biden knows Ukraine well, having served as the focal point in Kiev while serving as vice president from 2009 to 2017.

Political analysts say Zelenskiy is looking to win over the Biden administration after a difficult relationship with the Trump administration caused by the 2019 impeachment inquiry.

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