‘Ukraine’s richest man’ faces criminal prosecution over Zelensky's claims
Hundreds of criminal cases will soon be launched against companies linked to one of Kiev's most high-profile businessmen, Rinat Akhmetov, after he was accused of being behind a failed bid to oust the Ukrainian government.
Writing in a Facebook post on Thursday, the country’s Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova said that “an unusual show” had been playing out in recent weeks, with President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Akhmetov of plotting to stage a Russian-backed coup attempt. “I don’t think that in a public and political storm, the office of the Attorney General should sit aside,” she went on.
“I will repeat and emphasize,” Venediktova wrote, “I am not calling anyone an assailant, an oligarch or an offender, but I do have the right at such a pivotal moment for the country to activate the investigation of a whole number of criminal proceedings…regarding entities from the orbit of the owner of several famous TV channels, coal enterprises, and energy companies.”
“We have conducted a preliminary analysis of the whole array of criminal proceedings and now it turns out that we are talking about more than 200 cases. This figure is just a superficial estimate, I am convinced that there are more,” she added.
Akhmetov oversees a steel and coal empire worth a purported $7.6 billion, as well as owning Shakhtar Donetsk Football Club and several TV channels that backed opponents of Zelensky in the last presidential election. The business tycoon has been one of the most high-profile critics of the government in recent years.
The remarks from the top prosecutor come shortly after Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky accused Akhmetov of backing a bid to oust his government. The power-grab, however, did not materialize in early December, which is when the head of state had claimed it would take place.
Last month, Zelensky held a marathon press conference in Kiev to tell reporters that his country’s officials had “received information that a coup d’état will take place in our country on December 1-2. We have audio recordings in which representatives of Russia and Rinat Akhmetov discuss the coup.”
While the purported power-grab failed to materialize, large crowds descended on the streets of the capital on the day Zelensky had identified to demand the impeachment of the president. The rallies are understood to have included members of Ukrainian nationalist parties, supporters of former President Petro Poroshenko, and activists representing small business owners.
Zelensky has come under fire from several international observers for his crackdown on critical media and opposition in recent months. Earlier this year, Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the largest opposition party in the country’s parliament, was detained on charges of high treason. Although the details of the allegations have not been publicly disclosed, they are believed to relate to business interests in Crimea. Medvedchuk, however, insists that his prosecution is politically motivated and accused Zelensky of attempting to establish a “dictatorship.”