With new pres­i­dent on the way, what’s next for Vik­tor Medved­chuk?

Kyiv Post - - National - BY I GOR KOSSOV [email protected]

Over the course of mul­ti­ple pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions, oli­garch Vik­tor Medved­chuk built a busi­ness em­pire in Ukraine and cap­i­tal­ized on his role of an un­of­fi­cial in­ter­me­di­ary with the Krem­lin.

As Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy prepares to be­gin his pres­i­dency, an­a­lysts sug­gest that this is an op­por­tu­nity to cut down Medved­chuk’s in­ter­me­di­ary role, which al­lows him to be Moscow’s “eyes and ears” in Ukraine.

But Medved­chuk and his wife Ok­sana Marchenko have broad busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions, and Medved­chuk chairs the po­lit­i­cal coun­cil of the coun­try’s Rus­si­afriendly Op­po­si­tion Plat­form — Za Zhyt­tia party. He will un­doubt­edly re­sist moves to limit his in­flu­ence. His in­flu­ence in Ukraine de­rives from his per­sonal friend­ship with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“Ze­len­skiy also needs com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels with the Krem­lin,” Ilya Pono­marev, a for­mer Rus­sian law­maker and cur­rent ex­ile in Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post. “This is an op­por­tu­nity to do ev­ery­thing prop­erly, be­cause Medved­chuk is a bad in­ter­me­di­ary. He is a bro­ken tele­phone.”

Reached by phone, Medved­chuk spokesman Oleg Ba­banin de­clined to com­ment on the record.

Ze­len­skiy’s team also did not an­swer the Kyiv Post’s ques­tions about Medved­chuk. How­ever, the pres­i­dent-elect has pre­vi­ously stated that he will ex­clude Medved­chuk from ne­go­ti­a­tions with Russia.

In a sep­a­rate me­dia in­ter­view, Medved­chuk said that he wasn’t “send­ing greet­ings” from the Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko to Putin — as Ze­len­skiy once al­leged — but ne­go­ti­at­ing in Ukraine’s in­ter­est, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing the re­lease of 24 Ukrainian sailors cap­tured by Russia dur­ing its at­tack on the Ukrainian boats in the Black Sea in Novem­ber.

Af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Medved­chuk sug­gested that Ze­len­skiy ne­go­ti­ate with Russia and make a deal to bring about peace with Moscow and the Rus­siaoc­cu­pied ar­eas of eastern Ukraine. De­spite that, Medved­chuk said he isn’t plan­ning to of­fer any help to Ze­len­skiy. How­ever, some an­a­lysts dis­agree, say­ing Medved­chuk is un­likely to will­ingly give up his in­ter­me­di­ary role.

“There will be this game where Medved­chuk will try to of­fer his ser­vices to Ze­len­skiy as an un­of­fi­cial in­ter­me­di­ary to Putin,” po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Volodymyr Fe­senko told the Kyiv Post.

Fe­senko added that Ze­len­skiy is prob­a­bly un­in­ter­ested in Medved­chuk. How­ever, if Medved­chuk’s ser­vices are re­jected, he might plot against Ze­len­skiy, the an­a­lyst said.

"He may seek con­tacts (with Ze­len­skiy) through (oli­garch Ihor) Kolo­moisky, to con­vince him to use his ser­vices," Fe­senko said. “This will be about the ex­change of (cap­tive) sailors. It’s his fa­vorite topic. He will try to play this card.”

Ze­len­skiy has been linked to Kolo­moisky, whose tele­vi­sion chan­nel broad­casts his com­edy shows. But the pres­i­dent-elect de­nies that this re­la­tion­ship ex­tends be­yond busi­ness. For his part, Medved­chuk told jour­nal­ists last year that he does not know Kolo­moisky well and only spoke to him once.

Pono­marev said that Poroshenko val­ued hav­ing a di­rect line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Putin and wanted to avoid re­tal­i­a­tion from Russia against his busi­ness in­ter­ests. This may be less im­por­tant to Ze­len­skiy, who also lacks Poroshenko’s rel­a­tively close re­la­tion­ship with Medved­chuk. Ukrainian jour­nal­ists spot­ted the pres­i­dent and the oli­garch meet­ing sev­eral times, in­clud­ing in Poroshenko’s pri­vate res­i­dence.

Poroshenko pre­vi­ously de­nied crit­ics’ asser­tions that he was help­ing Medved­chuk and his wife’s busi­ness em­pire to flour­ish.

Glen Grant, a de­fense ex­pert with the Ukrainian In­sti­tute for the Fu­ture, harshly crit­i­cized Medved­chuk, whom he termed “com­pletely un­trust­wor­thy.” He called on the politi­cian to stop play­ing both sides and de­cide if he will be a Rus­sian am­bas­sador or a Ukrainian who is fully di­vested of all his Russia-re­lated hold­ings.

“There has been no ev­i­dence to sug­gest change,” in what Medved­chuk is do­ing, Grant said. “I’m hop­ing that the body of hon­est peo­ple try­ing to

work with Ze­len­skiy will make this very clear to him… This cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is wrong.”

Busi­ness em­pire

Medved­chuk’s celebrity wife, for­mer TV host Ok­sana Marchenko is the pri­mary of­fi­cial ben­e­fi­ciary of the busi­ness em­pire she shares with her hus­band. She owns in­vest­ment com­pa­nies Ukr­cap­i­tal, Terra-In­vest and Sport Tour. Through them, she owns a num­ber of other firms and prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing ones in Crimea.

Some of Marchenko’s com­pa­nies have links to Ukrainian, U.K. or Cyprus com­pa­nies which, through their em­ploy­ees, were con­nected with off­shore com­pa­nies as­so­ci­ated with al­lies of the dis­graced ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and named in em­bez­zle­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

For ex­am­ple, one of the founders of Marchenko’s com­pany Ukr­cap­i­tal is the U.K.-based In­ter­may Man­age­ment. This com­pany lists Anze­lika Pasenidou as its sec­re­tary. Pasenidou used to be a di­rec­tor on the board of Burisma Hold­ing, the gas com­pany of con­tro­ver­sial ex-min­is­ter Mykola Zlochevsky, who was in­ves­ti­gated for al­legedly mov­ing $23 mil­lion out of Ukraine. Panesi­dou is no longer listed on Burisma’s site.

Marchenko owns sev­eral agri­cul­tural hold­ings, in­clud­ing MBK Agrotekhni­ka, Lan­drasA­gro, the Gali­cian Agri­cul­tural Com­pany, Ko­los, Oskar, Rod­ni­chok, Ta­mavarowood­ex­port, Galichina Or­ganic and Gala­grobusi­ness.

Some of these agri­cul­tural com­pa­nies were in­ves­ti­gated by Ukrainian courts for al­legedly using fic­tive en­ter­prises for the purpose of tax eva­sion, as well as ar­rang­ing trans­ac­tions worth tens of mil­lions of dol­lars with U.K. and Cyprus based com­pa­nies in which no goods changed hands.

In­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists found that a Yalta com­pany con­trolled by Marchenko's firms, Tavria In­vest, has the same joint di­rec­tor as Rus­sian com­pany Tavria Sever, which is con­trolled by Cyprus-reg­is­tered hold­ing com­pa­nies. This com­pany is linked to an oil and gas ex­trac­tion com­pany op­er­at­ing in Russia's Khanty-Mansi Au­ton­o­mous Okrug, NZNP Trade, which is also linked to a re­fin­ery in the Rus­sian city of Novoshakht­ynsk. That re­fin­ery is al­leged to have been send­ing fuel to Ukraine.

“They are re­selling this oil (in Ukraine) using var­i­ous brands,” said Ukrainian law­maker Hanna Hopko told the Kyiv Post.

Medved­chuk filed a sym­bolic li­bel suit against Hopko af­ter she crit­i­cized him on Face­book in Septem­ber, su­ing her for Hr 1 com­pen­sa­tion.

Crit­ics have also al­leged that Marchenko is the ben­e­fi­ciary of all these com­pa­nies as a way to get around the U.S. sanc­tion on Medved­chuk, im­posed in March 2014. Hopko told the Kyiv Post that the U.S. ought to ex­tend the sanc­tions and also is­sue them against Marchenko.

The Kyiv Post also reached out to Ukraine’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil to see if any sanc­tions were in the works for Medved­chuk and Marchenko’s for­eign hold­ings. The Coun­cil replied with a state­ment that it will ex­am­ine any sanc­tions pro­pos­als it re­ceived ac­cord­ing to es­tab­lished pro­ce­dure.

Fe­senko said that it is still too early to dis­cuss sanc­tions, and this ques­tion will prob­a­bly wait un­til Ze­len­skiy has fi­nal­ized his plans for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil.

Un­til then, an­a­lysts said, Medved­chuk may con­tinue to build up his power base and try to be­come the main pro-Russia op­po­si­tion leader in Ukraine. His party, Op­po­si­tion Plat­form — Za Zhyttya, came sec­ond in an April poll that asked peo­ple who they would sup­port in the par­lia­ment elec­tion, sched­uled for Oc­to­ber. It re­ceived nearly 16 per­cent of the vote in the poll done by the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy.

Medved­chuk’s al­lies have also been build­ing a me­dia em­pire. In 2018, his close ally, a low-pro­file law­maker Taras Kozak ac­quired two TV chan­nels, Chan­nel 112 and NewsOne, in 2018. Many al­leged Kozak owns them on be­half of Medved­chuk, which he de­nied. The in­flu­ence of this mini TV hold­ing might be a threat to Ze­len­skiy, ac­cord­ing to Grant.

“Ze­len­skiy has to take this se­ri­ously if he is to main­tain any sem­blance of na­tional con­trol,” said Grant. “If the oli­garchs who own the me­dia de­cide you aren’t a bloody good pres­i­dent, they’ll crush you.” ■

(Pavlo Po­d­u­falov)

Oli­garch and pro-Rus­sian politi­cian Vik­tor Medved­chuk sits for an in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post in Jan­uary 2014. The U.S. would im­pose sanc­tions on Medved­chuk sev­eral months af­ter this in­ter­view for "threat­en­ing the peace, se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity, sovereignt­y, or ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of Ukraine," ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by thenU.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama's press of­fice.

(Volodymyr Petrov)

Pro­test­ers de­mand govern­ment ac­tion against oli­garchs and politi­cians with Rus­sian con­nec­tions, in­clud­ing Vik­tor Medved­chuk, pictured on the ban­ner, dur­ing a rally near the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on Jan. 16, 2018.

(UNIAN)

Left: On­go­ing con­struc­tion at the Gavrykovsk­y oil de­posit in Russia's Khanty-Mansi Au­ton­o­mous Okrug in Oc­to­ber 2018. The com­pany that won the ten­der to ex­tract the oil is linked with oli­garch Vik­tor Medved­chuk's wife, Ok­sana Marchenko. (nznpt.ru) Right: For­mer TV pre­sen­ter Ok­sana Marchenko ap­pears on the show X-Fac­tor in Kyiv in Oc­to­ber 2010. She is the ben­e­fi­cial owner of many of the com­pa­nies in her and Medved­chuk's busi­ness em­pire.

(AFP)

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and oli­garch Vik­tor Medved­chuk visit the New Jerusalem Ortho­dox Monastery out­side the town of Is­tra, some 70 kilo­me­ters out­side Moscow, in Novem­ber 2017. Putin is the god­fa­ther of Medved­chuk's daugh­ter, Daryna.

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