WORLD Former director of Ukraine's PrivatBank charged with fraud


Former director of Ukraine's PrivatBank charged with fraud


07:13, February 25, 2021

Volodymyr Yatsenko, the former deputy chairman of Ukraine's PrivatBank, has been arrested by the country's anti-corruption bureau at Boryspil Airport in Kyiv.

The bank, which was once the nation's biggest lender, has been at the center of an FBI criminal investigation for misappropriation of funds.

Yatsenko was detained on Monday as he attempted to fly to Vienna in a private jet, but the investigators forced the pilot to land the plane, the bureau announced in a tweet.

This has come as the latest sign that Kyiv is taking steps to counter corruption and lawlessness.

Yatsenko planned the trip after being tipped off about his arrest. He had been charged with the embezzlement of funds at PrivatBank.

More arrests of management could follow, according to Kyiv Post.

The FBI is investigating the two owners of the bank, Ihor Kolomoyskyi and Hennadiy Boholyubov, for allegations that more than $5 billion was stolen from the lender through fraudulent schemes and subsequent laundering of funds.

Kolomoyskyi denies the accusations of wrongdoing.

Ukraine was forced to nationalize PrivatBank in 2016 and inject more than $5 billion of taxpayers' money to save it from bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has accused Kolomoyskyi and Boholyuobov of using some of the laundered proceeds to buy assets in the U.S., ranging from metal firms to commercial properties with the help of two Miami-based associates.

The ex-banker planned the trip after being tipped off about his arrest. (Photo: AFP)

The Justice Department filed three civil forfeiture lawsuits in 2020 in a Florida court against a U.S. real estate holding controlled by the two businessmen and run by their associates.

However, a judge agreed last week with a Justice Department request to temporarily suspend the civil forfeiture proceedings amid concerns it could hurt the criminal investigation against the Ukrainian businessmen and their two American partners.

"Allowing [the tycoons] to conduct discovery would expose the identities of witnesses who have provided and will provide information and testimony in both the civil forfeiture actions and the criminal investigation," the Justice Department said in its February 19 filing.

"If that occurs, the confidential informants may cease providing information, and, to the extent they are not reachable through process in the United States, they may make themselves unavailable for future testimony."

The tycoons deny the allegations and neither Ukraine nor the U.S has filed criminal charges against them.

The tycoon, the president and the U.S. concern

Kolomoyskyi is one of the most influential tycoons in Ukraine and the U.S. government's investigation into his activities is being closely followed.

The billionaire owns media, energy, and metals assets companies, and is believed to have considerable influence over the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Kolomoyskyi's media empire helped Zelensky win the election, but the president has since sought to distance himself from the controversial figure.

The U.S., one of Ukraine's main sources of financial and militarily aid, has repeatedly expressed concern about oligarchic influence over the country's government and economy.

Washington has also complained about the lack of investigations into corrupt tycoons and officials and has made some aid conditional to improvements in judicial reform.

Kyiv has been pressured to act by donors such as the International Monetary Fund, which has withheld aid owing to a lack of reforms.

Zelensky, elected president in 2019 after pledging to root out corruption, said on Monday that he was "confident" the IMF will unblock aid to his country this year.

The president has been accused of failing to find and prosecute people suspected of laundering PrivatBank funds.

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