Ukrainian billionaire Zhevago maintains innocence

March 16, 2023 5:29 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Ukrainian tycoon Kostyantyn Zhevago said his record of investing in his homeland was proof of innocence ahead of Thursday’s extradition hearing in a French Alpine town over accusations of embezzling tens of millions of dollars.

Zhevago’s case comes as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy seeks to clip the wings of oligarchs dominating the economy since the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

The 49-year-old billionaire, who controls London-listed iron pellet producer Ferrexpo (FXPO.L), was arrested at a ski resort in December at the request of Ukraine which wants him over the disappearance of $113 million from the now bankrupt lender Finance & Credit Bank.

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Zhevago, a former lawmaker and former beneficiary owner of Finance & Credit Bank, was released on bail for 1 million euros and due to appear at an appeals court in the nearby town of Chambery.

“If I had actually embezzled $100 million as I am falsely accused of doing in Ukraine, I would have parked the money abroad,” he told Reuters.

“Instead, I have systematically invested in my public companies in recent years,” he added, saying he had ploughed $500 million into Ukraine over the past five years.

Zhevago told Reuters Finance & Credit was one of dozens of banks to lose vast sums of money after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Last week, a Ukrainian court ordered the seizure of shares owned by Zhevago in Ferrexpo following compensation claims worth nearly 46 billion hryvnias ($1.25 billion) over his bank which was declared bankrupt in 2015.

Zhevago said he would appeal the “unfair and illegal” decision. “I reinvested everything in the bank, losing all my invested capital,” he said, putting the institution’s capital at around $400 million before it went into receivership.

Since independence in 1991, a small group of businessmen with close ties to government have had an outsized influence over Ukraine’s political system.

In 2021, parliament passed a law aimed at limiting their influence. Since then, Russia’s invasion has inflicted huge damage on Ukraine’s industrial sector and contributed to the erosion of their wealth.

Monthly publication Forbes Ukraine estimated Zhevago’s worth at $2.4 billion in 2021 and $1.4 billion at the end of 2022.

Zhevago said the term “oligarch” did not apply to him.

“I own various domestic and international businesses – some larger, some smaller,” he said in the recent video interview.

“What they have in common is entrepreneurial success and the fact that my companies are demonstrably run properly within the framework of applicable laws and regulations.”