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The battle for Privatbank: part two

Handing Ukraine’s largest bank back to its former shareholders would amount to economic suicide – but speculation is rising that leading presidential candidates plan to do just that.


It is almost exactly two years since I first heard a theory that, at the time, seemed far-fetched in the extreme – to whit, that Ihor Kolomoisky, Ukrainian oligarch par excellence and former owner of Privatbank, was plotting to regain control of the recently nationalized lender.

“He wants to create a managerial vacuum and prevent the government restructuring the bank,” a senior Ukrainian banker told me. “He will then come back in a year and buy it back for one hryvnia.”

Fast forward to February 2019. Ukraine’s largest bank is still in state hands and, under new chief executive Petr Krumphanzl, restructuring is proceeding apace – although attempts to recover part of the $5.5 billion that went missing pre-nationalization recently suffered a setback in the High Court in London.

Far from fading away, however, the notion that Kolomoisky has his sights set on taking back ownership of Privat appears to be gaining currency in the run-up to the first round of presidential elections in Ukraine at the end of March.

Since the start of the year, three candidates for the top job have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack: incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, veteran politician Yulia Tymoshenko, and actor/comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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