Ukraine officials raid home of ‘Bond villain’ who helped Zelensky’s career

Istanbul: A Notorious “warlord oligarch” accused of keeping sharks in his office to intimidate foes, has had his home raided in Ukraine.

Ihor Kolomoisky was once regarded as one of the country’s most powerful men, with majority shares in oil companies, a bank and the TV channel that launched Volodymyr Zelensky’s comedy career before the Ukrainian president entered politics.

Ukrainian businessman Ihor Kolomoisky in 2015.Credit:Spravedlive/Commons

Kolomoisky was pictured in a tracksuit and slippers inside his hunting lodge-style residence near the city of Dnipro on Wednesday as security agents conducted a search.

The SBU, Ukraine’s security service, has not commented on the raid but unnamed officials quoted in Ukrainian media said it was part of an investigation into claims that Kolomoisky embezzled about £1 billion ($1.7 billion) from two oil companies in which he was once a majority shareholder. He was also suspected of dodging customs duties.

Kolomoisky is credited with helping Zelensky win the 2019 presidential election, throwing the weight of his media empire behind him during the campaign.

The Ukrainian president denies being supported by the tycoon.

Life imitating art … Zelensky starring in Servant of the People before he was elected as Ukraine’s president.

The 59-year-old has over the years cultivated a Bond villain persona, infamously keeping a shark tank in his office to intimidate visitors. He once attempted to forcibly take over a steel plant by deploying “hundreds of hired rowdies” armed with chainsaws and baseball bats, according to Forbes.

According to another report, he previously filled the reception of a rival Russian oil company with coffins.

Despite multiple corruption scandals and his verbal attacks on journalists, Kolomoisky did not face any pressure from the government until recently, mainly because he was often hailed with staving off Kremlin-fuelled separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Shortly after he was appointed governor of Dnipro in spring 2014, Kolomoisky diverted part of his fortune to hire and train volunteers to fight the separatists in the Donbas.

The Ukrainian-born businessman with Jewish heritage famously helped to bankroll Azov, a volunteer battalion, known for having far-right leanings in its infancy. It has over the years expelled some of its most notorious elements and evolved into an ordinary military unit.

PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest financial institution, was previously owned by billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky.Credit:Getty

However, Kolomoisky has recently called for heightened co-operation between Russia and Ukraine saying it would leave NATO “soiling its pants and buying pampers”, a reference to a brand of nappies.

The oligarch’s fortunes began to sour in 2021 when he was sanctioned by the United States sanctioned because of “significant corruption” during his time in office as Dnipro governor.

The sanctions were seen as an effort from Washington to steer Zelensky away from the influence of powerful oligarchs.

Zelensky clamped down on oligarchs a couple of months before the invasion in November 2021 when he introduced a bill banning them from owning majority states in strategic sectors of the economy.

Last northern summer, Zelensky reportedly stripped Kolomoisky of Ukrainian citizenship, paving the way for him to be extradited to the US where he is being investigated for money laundering.

The raid at Kolomoisky’s home appears to be part of a major anti-corruption sweep currently under way. Ukrainian investigators also unveiled corruption charges against Kyiv’s top customs official on Wednesday, while a former senior official at the defence ministry will face charges of embezzlement.

The Telegraph, London

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