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11 Jul, 2022 17:58

Ukrainian ‘oligarch’ hands over media empire to state

Owner says the “involuntary” decision was forced under President Zelensky’s “oligarch law”
Ukrainian ‘oligarch’ hands over media empire to state

The largest private equity fund in Ukraine announced on Monday it was handing over its media holdings to the government in response to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decree mandating the registration of “oligarchs.” The law mandated all individuals so designated to divest from all media ownership within six months, something SCM investment group head Rinat Akhmetov said was not possible amid the ongoing conflict.

“I made an involuntary decision that my investment company SCM will exit its media business,” Ahkmetov said in a statement on Monday. 

Between the six-month deadline provided by law and the ongoing conflict, it was “impossible for SCM to sell its media business on market terms,” he added. Therefore, Media Group Ukraine will surrender to the state the licenses for all 10 of its terrestrial and satellite TV channels, as well as print media, and cease operations at all of its online outlets. 

System Capital Management (SCM) has owned the two top-rated TV channels in the country – Ukraina TV and Ukraina 24 – as well as the most popular sports channel. Akhmetov said he had invested more than $1.5 billion into the media business, with over 4,000 employees. 

“Being the largest private investor in the Ukrainian economy, I have repeatedly stated that I have never been and am not going to be an oligarch,” said Akhmetov. 

The Donetsk-born Akhmetov is considered Ukraine’s richest man, with a coal and steel empire valued at $7.6 billion in 2021 and ownership of the Shakhtar Donetsk Football Club. Between 2006 and 2012, he was also a member of parliament for the Party of Regions – ousted in the US-backed coup in 2014, which set off the conflict over Donbass.

Since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, Zelensky has banned a total of 15 political parties as “pro-Russian” and arrested a number of opposition figures. On June 30, he also issued a decree establishing a “register of oligarchs,” targeting the top business figures in the country under a law passed in 2021.

The law defines oligarchs as individuals who fit certain criteria, prohibits them from financing political parties, advertisements and demonstrations, and requires public officials to declare any contact with persons so designated.

To qualify as an oligarch, an individual must fit three out of four of the following criteria: be directly involved in political activities, have “considerable influence” over media, benefit from monopolies as designated by antitrust authorities, and own assets whose value exceeds $81 million. A January 2022 poll showed that 55% of Ukrainians considered Zelensky himself to be an oligarch, in the same company as his predecessor Petro Poroshenko, his benefactor Igor Kolomoisky, and Akhmetov.