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Rumors of Zelensky stripping top oligarch Kolomoisky’s citizenship gain ground

by Igor Kossov and Oleksiy Sorokin July 23, 2022 8:02 PM 5 min read
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky while visiting the positions of Ukrainian troops located in the Bakhmut city and Lysychansk districts, Ukraine on June 05, 2022 (Photo by Ukrainian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, once deemed the most powerful businessman in the country, was allegedly stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, according to Ukrainian media and several top officials and politicians.

The news was first reported on July 20 by Ukrainska Pravda, citing its sources in the presidential administration. What first seemed like an unprecedented, and improbable development, soon started gaining ground.

Shortly after the initial report, a photo was leaked online of what appears to be a draft presidential decree. The document, dated July 18, seizes Ukrainian citizenship from 10 people, including Kolomoisky. It doesn’t bear Zelensky’s signature.

One of the people who shared the document was Serhiy Leshchenko, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff.

Besides Kolomoisky, the list includes pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vadym Rabinovich and lawmaker Ihor Vasylkovsky, representing Zelensky’s Servant of the People party.

The list also includes businessman Hennady Korban, a former ally of Kolomoisky, who split with the oligarch. Korban runs the territorial defense force in Dnipro, a large industrial city close to the fighting in Donbas.

Korban was the first to speak up about the issue, asking the president to “solve the misunderstanding” with his revoked citizenship.

According to Korban, customs officials informed him about the termination of his Ukrainian citizenship and confiscated his passport as he was trying to enter Ukraine from Poland on July 22.

The decision, if confirmed, is unprecedented and vague in terms of legality, with the process of revoking birthright citizenship not established within Ukraine’s legal framework.

A secret decree

Opposition lawmaker Serhiy Vlasenko, representing the Batkivshchyna party, was the first one to publish what appeared to be a draft of the presidential decree on July 21.

According to the draft, 10 people had their Ukrainian citizenship revoked. The draft decree is numbered 502. A decree with that number is missing from the president’s website, which implies that it has been signed but not yet made public.

Leshchenko published the draft on his social media accounts. He told the Kyiv Independent on July 22 the decree was indeed signed.

According to the published draft, the reasoning behind the implementation of such a procedure was the dual citizenship of those mentioned in the decree.

According to the law, if a Ukrainian citizen obtains a foreign passport they must revoke their Ukrainian documents, as the country doesn’t permit dual citizenship.

However, the process by which a Ukrainian citizen loses their Ukrainian passport isn’t set. According to the law, even if the individual possesses other passports, a Ukrainian passport holder is considered a Ukrainian citizen and is subject to Ukrainian law.

Furthermore, article 25 of Ukraine’s Constitution says a “citizen of Ukraine cannot be deprived of citizenship and the right to change citizenship,” adding that “a citizen of Ukraine cannot be expelled from Ukraine or extradited to another state.”

The only person directly involved who confirmed the existence of such a decree was Korban, who officially heads the staff of Dnipropetrovsk Territorial Defense, and who was denied entry into Ukraine as his passport was revoked at the border on July 21.

“I still think it's some kind of misunderstanding or a joke,” Korban wrote on Facebook. “They confiscated my passport (at the border).”

Despite being vague in terms of legality, the procedure isn’t new.

In 2017, then President Petro Poroshenko revoked the citizenship of five people, including opposition lawmaker Andriy Artemenko, an alleged Canadian citizen and vivid supporter of then-President Donald Trump.

A separate legal debacle occurred with ex-President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili.

In 2015, Poroshenko awarded Saakashvili a Ukrainian passport and appointed him governor of Odesa Oblast. Saakashvili soon began criticizing the president and his administration.

In 2017, Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian passport giving as a reason the violation of the procedure by which the passport was issued in the first place. Ukraine’s Security Service soon launched an investigation into the former Georgian president.

After taking office in 2019, Zelensky annulled Poroshenko’s 2017 decree, reinstating Saakashvili as a Ukrainian citizen.

Korban and Rabinovich allegedly have Israeli citizenship. The Kyiv Independent couldn't reach them prior to publication.

Kolomoisky holds Israeli and Cypriot citizenship in addition to his Ukrainian citizenship. He famously quipped once that Ukrainian law prohibits dual citizenship, but doesn’t say anything about triple citizenship.

Who are Kolomoisky and Korban

Despite not being the first people to lose citizenship via presidential decree, Kolomoisky, Korban and Rabinovich would be the most high-profile people to fall under such a procedure.

Kolomoisky is one of Ukraine’s best-known oligarchs. His business interests were wide-ranging, including oil and gas, metallurgy, mass media, and most infamously, banking and finance.

Many of his business activities led to scandals or long legal battles against the state. But no scandal had a higher profile than the case of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest bank.

Kolomoisky and his business partner, oligarch Gennadiy Boholyubov, were once the owners of PrivatBank, which saw a meteoric rise throughout the 2000s and the first half of the 2010s. However, much of that success was smoke and mirrors.

In December 2016, Privatbank, on the verge of bankruptcy, was nationalized by the state.

According to an audit by Kroll, a corporate investigation firm, PrivatBank had a $5.5 billion hole in the bank’s ledger, leading to the now state-owned bank going after Kolomoisky in Ukraine, Switzerland, the U.K., and eventually the U.S.

As a result of legal battles, and then ongoing conflict with President Petro Poroshenko, Kolomoisky left Ukraine in 2016, with the oligarch himself publicly stating that he possessed at least three passports.

In 2019, Kolomoisky returned home when Zelensky was elected into office. The oligarch’s media holding, 1+1 Media, aired Zelensky’s comedy shows and heavily promoted the actor.

Civil cases against the oligarch in Ukraine went nowhere, with Zelensky’s critics alleging that Kolomoisky had influence over the president, who was employed by the oligarch's media empire for years. A number of lawmakers from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party have been linked to the oligarch through a variety of business ventures.

However, a 2020 law sponsored by Zelensky and set to ban former owners from returning their assets nationalized by the state soured their relations, with the law colloquially referred to as the anti-Kolomoisky law.

Another person on the list is Korban, who was once an ally of Kolomoisky, before falling out with the oligarch in 2016.

He, too, clashed with the Ukrainian state.

Holding executive positions at mining companies, Korban in 2005 became a member of the supervisory board of Ukrnafta and in 2009, became a member of the board at Ukrtatnafta -- both companies owned or heavily influenced by Kolomoisky.

When Kolomoisky became governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in 2014, Korban served as his deputy, both quitting their jobs in 2015 after a fall-out with then-President Poroshenko.

Later that year, Korban was arrested and charged with embezzlement, kidnapping, and organized crime. Korban eventually accepted a plea bargain, receiving a 1.5-year suspended sentence.

In the ensuing years, according to the Anti-Corruption Action Center, Korban and his real estate development associates threatened activists who fought against illegal construction in Kyiv.

Lawmaker Rabinovich is also not shy of scandal. Being one of the co-founders of the Kremlin-linked Opposition Platform - For Life party, Rabinovich was one of the closest allies of co-party member Viktor Medvedchuk, known for being close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rabinovich was the official owner of a pro-Russian TV channel, News One, which later was officially passed to another pro-Russian lawmaker, Taras Kozak. In February 2021, the Kozak-Medvedchuk media empire was shut down by the National Security and Defense Council, for alleged sponsoring of terrorism. Kozak and Medvedchuk were also sanctioned by the Council.

Vasylkovsky is the least known among the four. He became a lawmaker in 2019 as part of Zelensky’s Servant of the People’s party landslide victory in the snap parliamentary elections.

According to Chesno parliament monitoring website, Vasylkovsky supported only half of his party’s bills. He also hasn’t been seen in parliament after Russia launched its war full-scale against Ukraine on Feb. 24, implying that he has left the country and hasn’t returned.

The Kyiv Independent hasn't been able to identify the other people in the decree. They don't appear to be public persons.

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