Some business tycoons will be forced to disclose assets and banned from financing political parties
Mark Raczkiewycz and Polina Ivanova
September 23, 2021
Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law defining the term “oligarch” and establishing a register of individuals who meet the description and who would be forced to disclose their assets and banned from financing political parties.
The so-called “de-oligarchisation” bill is aimed at curbing the influence of business tycoons on the country’s politics. It was initiated by President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian and actor elected in 2019 on a promise to eradicate corruption.
Some 279 lawmakers in the 450-member parliament, mainly members of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, voted in favour of the bill on Thursday. The vote comes a day after an assassination attempt against one of the president’s a top aides that some linked to the new bill.
The bill requires the president’s signature before coming into force. It will then be in effect for 10 years.
The law defines an oligarch as someone who meets three of four criteria: they have significant influence over mass media, have control over a business monopoly, take part in political life and have a net worth of $89m or more.
Anyone meeting this definition will be included in an official register and will be subject to restrictions, including a ban on holding public office, funding political parties and privatising state assets. They will also be required to disclose their assets in exhaustive declarations. Senior government officials will have to report any meetings with them.
Officials have said the register could include about a dozen individuals. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has been instructed to compile the list once the law has been signed into force.
The bill is under review by a European Council advisory body on constitutional matters, which is expected to provide a legal opinion in December.
Asked why the policy was passing through parliament before the commission had shared its opinion, Tymofiy Mylovanov, an adviser to Zelensky, told the FT on Thursday that speed was of the essence. “If you give them more time they [the oligarchs] will derail any reforms,” he said. “We can’t wait because there will be more opposition over time.”
A handful of tycoons have long wielded significant influence in Ukraine’s political scene, owning media outlets and cultivating close ties with lawmakers.
Zelensky has previously appeared reluctant to take them on, and his own electoral campaign was backed by a TV channel owned by billionaire Igor Kolomoisky. He has since distanced himself from the businessman, however, and taken several bold steps in recent months against some members of the business elite.
The government in March shut down three pro-Moscow television channels owned by an associate of businessman and politician Viktor Medvedchuk, and later charged Medvedchuk with treason. The businessman has denied wrongdoing.
The same month Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau charged three former senior executives at PrivatBank, a bank formerly co-owned by Kolomoisky, with embezzlement and prosecutors have signalled charges could also be pressed against the businessman himself in the near future. Kolomoisky and the three former executives have denied wrongdoing.
Less than 24 hours before the new bill was passed, Zelensky’s aide, longtime friend and former business partner Serhiy Shefir, was the target of an assassination attempt as a volley of automatic gunfire struck a vehicle in which he was travelling. Shefir was unharmed, but his driver was seriously injured. Police are investigating the attack.
Zelensky said: “Greeting me with shots from the forest at my friend’s car is a weakness. But the response will be forceful.”
Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, on Wednesday linked the shooting to the new bill, telling journalists the attack was part of a campaign against “a policy aimed at significantly reducing the traditional influence of shadow oligarchs on social processes, as well as the destruction of political and financial groups that openly work for our external opponents”.