Ukraine: PrivatBank was a boon to Mills

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Back in June, holders of Eurobonds bailed in during the state takeover of Ukraine’s PrivatBank last year hired a clutch of upmarket American PRs to make the case to western journalists that the nationalization was illegitimate.

Some of their arguments seemed tenuous – they had little luck convincing writers from reputable publications. They did, however, score one notable success. Later that month, an outraged blog post was published on the website of the Mises Institute, a US think-tank dedicated to promoting the ideas of Austrian School economists. 

The post, which was widely disseminated by the bondholders’ PRs, savaged the Ukrainian central bank for nationalizing Privat “for what we now know was an incorrect understanding of the facts. 

“This extraordinary takeover … is an almost classic case of government overreach,” it read. “The NBU’s inappropriate and unnecessary nationalization has hurt the Ukrainian economy, stolen millions from PrivatBank’s owners and is forcing Ukraine’s taxpayers to bear a substantial additional burden … It is the textbook definition of a scandal.”

Scathing denunciation

The author of this scathing denunciation – which bore a striking resemblance to the line being peddled by the bondholders and their representatives – turned out to be the UK’s own John Mills.

A self-styled economist and prolific writer, Mills is better known as a consumer goods entrepreneur and a pioneer of shopping channel marketing. 

He is also a long-time supporter and financier of the Labour Party, as well as chairman of the Pound Campaign, a pressure group set up in 2014 to force a devaluation of sterling by unspecified means to boost UK manufacturing. 

Two years later, he founded the much-mocked pro-Brexit group Labour Leave, which did the job nicely. 

When contacted by Euromoney, Mills cheerfully admitted that he had little knowledge of the situation in Ukraine but had been passed information on PrivatBank by his son-in-law. 

“He was obviously well-informed and had an interesting angle on it,” he said.

Asked if he had attempted to check any of the facts or contact anyone in Ukraine, Mills replied: “No.”

Mills’ son-in-law, David Sowells, formerly of Bell Pottinger, works in Washington for PR firm Tricuro. By an extraordinary coincidence, the company was one of those hired by the Privat bondholders.