Chief Kharkiv opposition figure left without his business


Search of editorial office of the newspaper and Internet site Glavnoye which belongs to Avakov

The Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle writes that the police are carrying out large-scale searches at business enterprises belonging to members of the opposition Batkivshchyna Party. The opposition calls this political persecution, which the authorities deny.

At the end of August the National Bank of Ukraine passed a decision on withdrawing the licence of the Kharkiv Basis Bank and on its liquidation. The bank’s founder is former Governor of the Kharkiv Oblast and current leader of the Kharkiv Batkivshchyna Party, Arsen Avakov. As reported here, criminal proceedings were brought against Mr Avakov over alleged “abuse of power” in January 2012, and Mr Avakov has since then not returned to Ukraine. 

Deutsche Welle reports him awaiting political asylum in Italy, however this may not be the case. Certainly until recently Avakov, who hoped to take part in the October elections and is a popular politician in the area, had not wished to apply for asylum.

The Interior Ministry CID for the Kharkiv oblast asserts that bank officials over several years illegally withdrew assets worth 600 million UAH.

In an interview to Deutsche Welle, Mr Avakov called the situation around the bank continued methodical destruction of his business which he says began two years ago after Party of the Regions candidate Hennady Kernes beat him with a tiny lead of 0.63% in the elections for Mayor of Kharkiv. He asserts that political expediency is being used as a pretext for making money out of the situation. He denies that Basis is bankrupt and says that if the National Bank carries out politically unbiased liquidation procedure, it will see that.  He is convinced that his business was brought to a state of artificial bankruptcy through manipulation by the local authorities and banks controlled by those in power. He asserts that several large enterprises long before the National Bank’s intervention in the activities of Basis had “after instructions from the Mayor’s Office stopped fulfilling loan commitments to the bank”.

The bank also lost almost 100 million UAH which, together with a foreign business, it had invested in the purchase and reconstruction of a hotel in the city centre. The hotel was returned by the court to the City Council, together with premises of the bank purchased back in the 1990s. The court applications were initiated by Avakov’s rival in the 2010 elections, H. Kernes.

Svitlana Semko, lawyer and City Council Deputy from the Batkivshchyna Party is convinced that the actions against Avakov must have received the go-ahead from Kyiv. She asserts that the law enforcement agencies are also being used against other Kharkiv businesspeople who support or are members of opposition parties. “All of this is being done to block financial support to the opposition in the run up to the elections”, she says.

Both the Kharkiv Governor, Mykhailo Dobkin and Mayor Kernes give a lot of attention to Avakov and his business on the official websites of the Regional Administration and the City Council. Dobkin, for example, did not exclude the possibility that the activities of the opposition were being financed through bank money.

He denies any politics, however, and claims the matter is economic and about a criminal offence.

Opposition political protests often blocked by the police

Political commentator, Yulia Bidenko considers “such scrupulous attention and the systematic nature of various actions by the local authorities specifically to Avakov fairly suspect”.  She notes however that Ukrainian businessmen engaged in politics have had similar problems to Avakov throughout Ukraine’s independence. “What is forgiven businesses run by Party of the Regions people, will never be accepted from opposition supporters”,  

She points out that the same problems have been encountered by media publications within Avakov’s business structure which were cut off a year ago.

As reported, in September 2011 three TV channels – ATN and two channels which broadcast ATN news – Fora and A/TVK – were removed from air.  The reasons given in each case were different, and convinced few. ATN news broadcasts were extremely popular in Kharkiv and provided hard-hitting questions and critical reports about the activities of the local authorities. The channels accused Kernes of direct involvement and concern was also expressed by Stop Censorship and other media organizations, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the OSCE Media Representative and many others.

Just a few of the details about how ATN ended up off air

On 22 July 2011, ATN  General Director, Oleh Yukht received a letter from the provider IT-Service terminating their contract to provide the channel with a signal. No explanation was given, there was only a reminder that ATN needed to pay money owing. Yukht replied that ATN asks the provider not to break the agreement, and to explain their reasons. He received no response, but the ATN News disappeared from the screen. Yukht asserts that the arrears were merely those which regularly arise during the normal working process, and there was no problem with paying the money due.  ATN was forced to turn on its on radio relay station. A resident of the neighbouring building, Anastasia Kobets complained that her health had deteriorated as a result of the radio relay. A few days after this she became the Head of the Kharkiv regional organization “Young Regions” which is a youth branch of the ruling Party of the Regions which Kernes represents.

It further transpired that ATN did not have a sanitary hygiene passport without which you can’t use a radio relay station. On 28 July ATN applied for this passport from the Sanitary Hygiene Service in Kharkiv. On 1 August doctors from his Service arrived at ATN to check whether they had such a passport, and on 2 August the Chief Sanitary Service Doctor Irina Zubkova issued a decision temporarily banning use of the radio relay station due to the lack of a sanitary passport. ATN approached the Health Ministry and a commission arrived in Kharkiv from Kyiv to ascertain whether the station’s work was detrimental to the health of people in adjoining buildings. On 1 September the channel received a certificate from the Chief Doctor of the Central Sanitary Hygiene Service, Lybov Nekrasova, confirming that the relevant building could house a radio relay station. However the Kharkiv Sanitary Hygiene Service did not remove its ban.

Information about Avakov, the bank etc, from an article at the Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle

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