Former Ukrainian governor says she was targeted in attack

Central bank says police must protect officials after Gontareva reveals she fears for her safety
Valeria Gontareva
Valeria Gontareva
Oksana Parafeniuk

Ukraine’s central bank has called on police to protect current and former officials from intimidation, after a former governor said she thinks she was deliberately hit by a car.

Valeria Gontareva was hit by a car in London on August 26 and required medical attention for a leg injury. She said that the driver of the car did not stop. On September 4, Gontareva told Ukrainian journalists, unknown people set her daughter’s car on fire in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Gontareva told Ukrainian magazine Novoye Vremya Biznes that she thought both incidents were deliberate attacks, Radio Free Europe reported. She said she suspected they were commissioned by people who had been badly affected by the central bank’s clean-up of the Ukrainian banking sector.

Central Banking could not immediately reach Gontareva for comment.

In July this year, she told the Ukrainian magazine Hromadske that she feared influential Ukrainian individuals might have her attacked in London. She is currently a senior fellow at the London School of Economics.

Ukrainian prosecutors requested in April and July that Gontareva return to the country to face questioning over alleged corruption, the news outlet Unian reported. She has refused, saying the charges are fabricated and that her life would be in danger if she returned to Ukraine.

The National Bank of Ukraine issued a statement on September 5 saying it thought the incidents could be part of a deliberate campaign. The central bank said the two incidents “may indicate that the former NBU Governor has become the target of psychological and physical pressure pursuing a certain goal”.

The incidents “aim to derail the NBU’s efforts as it pursues its mandate, which is to ensure price and financial stability as a basis for sustainable economic growth,” the statement continued. “The NBU Board calls on law enforcement authorities to promptly conduct an impartial investigation of these incidents, prosecute those responsible, and safeguard the life and health of the NBU’s former governor, current leadership, and staff.” 

Gontareva was appointed as NBU governor in the spring of 2014, after a revolution which removed the country’s previous pro-Russian president from power. She resigned in May 2017.

During her tenure, the central bank shut down 89 commercial lenders, including the country’s biggest, PrivatBank. Gontareva told Central Banking in April 2017 that PrivatBank’s owners had stolen billions of dollars of assets.

A forensic audit commissioned by the NBU repeated similar charges against the owners. PrivatBank’s former main owners, oligarchs Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennady Bogolyubov, have repeatedly denied the claims and said there was no justification for nationalising the bank.

Demonstrators opposed to the December 2016 nationalisation of PrivatBank paraded outside the NBU with an effigy of Gontareva lying in a coffin.

More political pressure

There were several widely publicised attempts to put pressure on the central bank to halt its banking sector reform. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, threatened to withhold billions of dollars of aid from Ukraine if lawmakers blocked the reforms.

Gontareva was succeeded by her deputy governor, Yakiv Smolii, who served initially as interim governor. He was confirmed in the role in March 2018.

Smolii told Central Banking in March that “When we started our banking sector reforms in 2014, we faced opposition – both directly and indirectly, through the media – from many, politically well-connected bank shareholders.” But he said the central bank had faced down the pressure so far.

There are signs that the political and legal pressure on the central bank has returned strongly in recent months. In June, a court barred NBU first deputy governor Katerina Rozhkova from attending central bank board meetings or carrying out her duties. Under Gontareva, Rozhkova was the official put in day-to-day charge of the banking sector reforms.

The central bank is also facing a series of legal challenges aimed at reversing the nationalisation of PrivatBank. It has described these lawsuits as efforts at “coercion”.

The NBU carried out its banking reforms when Ukraine’s government was led by president Petro Poroshenko. He lost elections in April to Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no previous political experience. 

Zelensky is closely linked to PrivatBank’s main owner, the billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, who left Ukraine for several years after PrivatBank’s nationalisation but returned to the country after Zelensky was elected.

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