Former NBU Head Gontareva on Threats from Kolomoisky and PrivatBank Nationalization
3 July, 2019

London, UK - Valeria Gontareva, the former head of the National Bank of Ukraine, wants to go home. Amid "consistent threats" from oligarch Kolomoisky (who just returned to Ukraine from exile following Zelenskyy's victory in the 2019 Presidential Elections), she sat down with Hromadske and BBC Ukraine to defend the nationalization of PrivatBank, discuss Zelenskyy's presidency and explain why she can't go back to Ukraine.

When Gontareva arrived to head the National Bank of Ukraine, she was met with an unstable market, a fluctuating exchange rate, and the onset of the Donbas war. Thus began her attempt to reform the oligarchic banking system by the process of recapitalization. 

“In a country where there is no law at all, or if there is one but no one fulfills it, anything can happen,” Gontareva tells Hromadske.

Former Head of the National Bank of Ukraine Valeria Gontareva speaks to Hromadske and BBC Ukraine on June 25 in London, United Kingdom. Photo: Hromadske

Now she is in London hiding out from the threats that, she claims, came after nationalizing PrivatBank. Though she says her work has gone from local level to global level, what she really wants is to go home. 

“In English it’s called kidnapping,” Gontareva explains that she received numerous threats from Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky who has business ties with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Kolomoisky did indeed say in an interview to (published on May 2) that if Gontareva doesn't arrive to Ukraine, they will bring her there, "on an individual basis." 

Then, according to Gontareva, there was a cyber attack from Kolomoisky's 1+1 at the London School of Economics where she currently works.

Kolomoisky returned to Ukraine and with it has begun strategizing how to re-privatize PrivatBank after Ukrainian courts ruled that the nationalization of the bank was illegal. On the other hand, Gontareva, expresses how their actions may be idealistic. 

She describes it quite simply. The state would receive their 155 billion hryvnia (nearly $6 billion) back, PrivatBank would then be insolvent, the National Bank would reapply for nationalization and so the process will begin all over again. But she stresses that after that, it’s then up to the upcoming Ministry of Finance what would result from that process. 

“This is bad for me personally, this is bad for our country. I think this is bad for President Zelenskyy,” Gontareva says on the return of Kolomoisky to Ukraine

The future is still in question. Lawsuits against Kolomoisky have been filed in various countries. Some are ongoing, such as the case in the United States. Others, like the case in the U.K., have been closed due to the problem of jurisdiction. But Kolomoisky argues that there should never have been an open case in the first place. 

“All banks had the exact same requirements,” Gontareva says, but PrivatBank did not fulfill its duties. She argues that other oligarchical banks such as Viktor Pinchuk’s and Rinat Akhmetov’s banks“fulfilled their requirements, contributed capital and gave securities” or they were taken off the market, as was the case of the banks from Oleg Bakhmatyuk and Dmytro Firtash. 

Gontareva continues to contend that there was never an intention to withdraw any banks from the market. The National Bank only wanted to implement the recapitalization program agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund. But when a hole in the balance sheet emerged, the National Bank began to see the “expanding universe” and “endless pyramid scheme.”

The bank called in Krol, an international investigative body. While Kolomoisky continues to claim that due to insufficient evidence, a call to Krol was unnecessary. However, Gontareva counters that once such a scheme was detected an investigation had to proceed. 

“We are the National Bank, we are not detectives,” Gontareva asserts. 

Through this investigation, the basis for nationalization began. Since then a myriad of court decisions, appeals and more have been at the center of PrivatBank. The question on every investors mind is, how does this affect the financial markets of Ukraine now? To that Gontareva maintains:

“I always hope that common sense will win. You can not destroy the country, putting it at the feet of one odious oligarch, right?”

/Interview by Sashko Shevchenko

/Text by Allison Martinez-Cortes