Ukraine adopts law limiting oligarchs after gun attack on top official

Filed on September 23, 2021

Gunmen opened fire on a car carrying President Volodymyr Zelensky’s senior aide, Sergiy Shefir, on Wednesday

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday passed a law to reduce the influence of oligarchs in the country a day after an attack on a top presidential aide that officials said could have been a retaliation for the legislation.

Gunmen opened fire on a car carrying President Volodymyr Zelensky’s senior aide, Sergiy Shefir, on Wednesday.

The new law aims to “prevent risks to national security linked to the excessive influence” of oligarchs, according to the parliament’s website.

Zelensky put forward the legislation earlier this year when he announced a new campaign to limit the authority of the country’s oligarchs, accusing them of exerting too much control over the economy.

“Ukraine is open to big business but not to the influence of oligarchs on officials, politicians and the media,” Zelensky said on Twitter, hailing the adoption of the law.

“Today, we took one more step to get rid of that.”

Under the law, individuals recognised as “oligarchs” will be prohibited from financing political parties and participating in the privatisation of large companies.

An individual may be classified as an oligarch if three out of four criteria outlined by the law are met.

These are beneficial ownership of a monopoly company, significant influence over the media, participation in political activities, and a fortune of over 2.4 billion hryvnias (about $87 million).

The law also requires officials to declare any “contact” with the person designated as the oligarch.

Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, powerful tycoon Igor Kolomoisky and former president Petro Poroshenko — an outspoken critic of Zelensky — are among those who could be targeted by the law.

The legislation was passed in a second and final reading by 279 lawmakers out of a required minimum of 226.

But some analysts doubted the new law will be effective, saying the criteria for identifying oligarchs are too vague.

“I don’t see how this (law) can in practice undermine the ability of oligarchs to influence” the government, Glib Vyshlinsky, head of the Kiev-based Centre for Economic Strategy, told AFP.

He said the legislation was adopted “as a card in negotiations to bargain with the oligarchs, and not in order to destroy them”.

Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, tweeted that the law could help reduce “the harmful effects of vested interests” but that “it will need to be implemented legally and apolitically”.

“Increased transparency, decisive anti-monopoly measures, real competition in the energy sector, a strong public broadcaster, and of course judicial reform, will all be needed to make this step a lasting reality,” she said.

The vote came after what officials described as an assassination attempt on presidential aide Shefir.

More than 10 bullets hit Shefir’s car during the attack near the village of Lisnyky, south of the capital Kiev. He escaped unharmed but his driver was “seriously injured”.

Shefir is a 57-year-old former script writer and longtime associate of comedian-turned-politician Zelensky.

Zelensky, who was on a visit in the United States, promised a “strong response”.

The new law came as the European Union’s financial watchdog on Thursday said the bloc should target Ukrainian oligarchs behind “grand corruption” in the country which has received billions of euros in aid.

A report by the European Court of Auditors said major EU backing for reforms in Ukraine had proved “ineffective” in tackling graft put at tens of billions of euros annually.

“The EU has long been aware of the connections between oligarchs, high-level officials, politicians, the judiciary and state-owned enterprises,” the report said.

“However, it has not developed a real strategy for targeting grand corruption.”

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