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Prosecutor general vows to step up 200 criminal cases against top oligarch over his media attacks

December 3, 2021 4:53 pmby Oleg Sukhov
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Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova gives a press conference on Oct. 13, 2021. (gp.gov.ua)

Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said late on Dec. 2 she would step up more than 200 criminal cases against “the owner of several well-known television channels, coal companies, and energy companies.”

Although Venediktova did not refer to him by name, this appeared to be a veiled reference to oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man. The Prosecutor General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The comments came amid a conflict between President Volodymyr Zelensky and Akhmetov. The conflict intensified after Zelensky signed the so-called “anti-oligarch” bill into law on Nov. 5.

In recent weeks Akhmetov’s media, including the Ukraine television channel, started to heavily criticize Zelensky.

Venediktova openly said she was stepping up criminal cases in response to the oligarch’s political and media attacks. 

“I don’t believe that the Prosecutor General’s Office should step aside when a public and political attack is going on,” she wrote. “While politicians are arguing at the parliament and on TV, we will make our argument with the language of criminal case documents.” 

When commenting on the criminal cases, Venediktova mentioned “various unusual television shows” aired in recent weeks.

She said that “during this crisis moment” she had to “step up the investigation in a number of criminal cases” against the businessman she was referring to. She claimed that the losses caused by the businessman’s companies were estimated at billions of hryvnias.

The statement was seen by Venediktova’s critics as an attempt to pressure Akhmetov in response to criticism of Zelensky by his media.

On Nov. 26, the president said that the Kremlin is preparing a coup scheduled for Dec. 1 or 2 and claimed that there were audio recordings of Ukrainians and Russians discussing Akhmetov’s alleged participation in the coup. Akhmetov responded that the information is “an absolute lie."

This is not the first time Venediktova is accused of pressuring critics of Zelensky.

Brian Bonner, the ex-chief editor of the Kyiv Post, told The Ukrainian Weekly on Nov. 12 that after the Kyiv Post ran a critical story about Venediktova in November 2020, he was invited to her office where he faced “pressure.”

The Kyiv Post ran another critical article about Venediktova on Sept. 3, after which Bonner said she opened criminal cases against the newspaper’s owner, Odesa tycoon Adnan Kivan. The cases were later closed, he said.

Kivan shut down the Kyiv Post and fired all of its staff on Nov. 8. Kivan says he intends to relaunch the paper.

In response, Venediktova stated that she never pressured anybody or even met Kivan, who has also denied allegations of pressure.

Oleg Sukhov
Author: Oleg Sukhov

Oleg Sukhov is a political reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He is a former editor and reporter at the Moscow Times. He has a master's degree in history from the Moscow State University. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 due to the crackdown on independent media in Russia and covered war, corruption, reforms and law enforcement for the Kyiv Post.