A notorious “warlord oligarch” accused of keeping sharks in his office to intimidate foes has had his home raided in Ukraine.
Ihor Kolomoisky was once regarded as one of Ukraine’s most powerful men, with majority shares in oil companies, a major bank and the TV channel that launched Volodymyr Zelensky’s comedy career before he entered politics.
He was pictured in a tracksuit and slippers inside his hunting lodge-style residence near the city of Dnipro on Wednesday morning as security agents conducted a search.
The SBU, Ukraine’s security service has not commented on the raid but unnamed officials quoted in Ukrainian media said it was part of an investigation into claims Mr Kolomoisky embezzled about £1 billion from two oil companies where he was once a majority shareholder.
He is also suspected of dodging customs duties.
Mr Kolomoisky is credited with helping Mr Zelensky win the 2019 presidential election, throwing the weight of his media empire behind him during the campaign. The Ukrainian president denies being supported by the tycoon.
The 59-year-old oligarch has over the years cultivated a Bond villain persona, infamously keeping a shark tank in his office to intimidate visitors.
He once attempted to forcibly take over a steel plant by deploying “hundreds of hired rowdies” armed with chainsaws and baseball bats, according to Forbes.
And according to another report, he previously filled the reception of a rival Russian oil company with coffins.
Despite multiple corruption scandals and his verbal attacks on journalists, Mr Kolomoisky did not face any pressure from government until recently, mainly because he was often hailed for staving off Kremlin-fueled separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Shortly after he was appointed governor of Dnipro in the spring of 2014, Mr Kolomoisky diverted part of his fortune to hire and train volunteers to fight the separatists in the Donbas.
The Ukrainian-born businessman with Jewish heritage famously helped to bankroll Azov, a volunteer battalion, known for having far-Right leanings in its infancy, which over the years got rid of some of its most notorious elements and evolved into an ordinary military unit.
The oligarch’s fortunes began to sour in 2021 when the US sanctioned him because of “significant corruption” during his time in office as Dnipro governor.
The sanctions were seen as an effort from Washington to steer Mr Zelensky away from the influence of powerful oligarchs.
Mr Zelensky clamped down on oligarchs a couple of months before the Russian invasion when in November 2021, he introduced a bill banning them from owning majority states in strategic sectors of the economy.
Last summer, Mr Zelensky reportedly stripped Mr Kolomoisky of Ukrainian citizenship, paving the way for him to be extradited to the US where he is being investigated for money laundering.
The raid at Mr Kolomoisky’s home appears to be part of a major anti-corruption sweep as Ukrainian investigators on Wednesday also unveiled corruption charges against Kyiv’s top customs official, while a former senior official at the defence ministry will face charges of embezzlement.
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