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Suspected Arson At Home Of Ukraine's Former National Bank Chief


Former Ukrainian Central Banker's House In Flames
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KYIV -- The former governor of the National Bank of Ukraine says her home outside of Kyiv was burned to the ground overnight in an apparent case of arson.

Speaking to RFE/RL by phone from her home in London, Valeria Hontareva said that someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at her residence in the village of Horenychi, setting it ablaze in the early morning hours of September 17, in what she believes is an attack related to her time as central-bank chief from June 2014 to May 2017.

Ukraine's National Police said in a statement that CCTV cameras at the home showed an unknown person hopping over a fence on the property, which Hontareva said was uninhabited at the time of the incident, at about 3 a.m. local time.

Hontareva, an economist who now lives in London and is considering seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, sent RFE/RL a video that showed the home and the grounds around it engulfed in flames as firefighters worked to put it out.

"It's absolutely awful...the house was completely burned down," she said, adding that it was the latest in a worrying string of incidents targeting her or her family.

In a statement on Facebook, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the fire "a brutal crime" and said that law enforcement agencies should make the case a top priority.

"In Ukraine, everyone should feel protected, regardless of their past or current positions and political views," Zelenskiy said. "The right to security and the right to private property must be inviolable."

On Twitter, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called the fire "unacceptable."

Police said that "measures are being taken to locate and identify the person who committed the destruction of property."

"The Kyiv-Svyatoshinsky District Investigative Task Force, a crime lab, investigators and criminal police from the regional police department, and the criminal analysis unit are operating at the scene," they said.

While investigators were still on the ground, Avakov suggested a possible political motive behind the fire, saying he thought it was set now to coincide with the Kyiv visit of members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"Whoever ordered and executed it at the time of the IMF mission's arrival in Ukraine is not just an arsonist, he is an enemy who is hurting his country," Avakov said.

Hontareva and her family have faced several threats and violent incidents in recent months.

Bank Privatization Controversy

She told RFE/RL she believed they are related and that her enemies, including tycoon Ihor Kolomoyskiy, are going after her over her decision while governor of the National Bank of Ukraine in 2016 to nationalize PrivatBank.

PrivatBank, the country's largest lender, was owned by Kolomoyskiy when regulators found a $5.5 billion black hole in its balance sheet. It was nationalized soon after and is now overseen by the Finance Ministry.

Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk told the Financial Times on September 17 that the government was seeking a "compromise" with Kolomoysky over the issue of PrivatBank, a move that would likely frustrate Ukraine's Western backers and undermine Zelenskiy's reform message.

Hontareva was struck by a car in London and hospitalized on August 26. The car drove off and the driver has yet to be found. London police are investigating the incident.

Hontareva told RFE/RL that she was recently discharged from the hospital and is recovering at her home in the British capital before another surgery in two weeks.

On the night of September 5, the car of Hontareva's daughter-in-law was doused with gasoline and burned in front of the family's home in central Kyiv.

On September 12, law enforcement officers raided a home in Kyiv belonging to Hontareva and her family. The search came two days after Kolomoyskiy met with Zelenskiy in the Presidential Office and Hontareva has linked the string of attacks with the return of the businessman to Ukraine. Before Zelenskiy was elected president, the tycoon had been living in Switzerland and Israel.

In a note to investors, London-based economist Timothy Ash wrote that the incidents take "Ukraine back 20 years -- to bad old days of oligarch wars."

"Smells ugly in Ukraine -- with reformers subject to intimidation," he added.

Zelenskiy and Kolomoyskiy are linked by the latter's 1+1 television station, which aired the president's entertainment programs.

Kolomoyskiy could not be reached for comment on September 17, but he denied any connection to the previous incidents involving Hontareva and her family property during an impromptu press conference at the Yalta European Strategy conference in Kyiv on September 13.

Asked about the car accident that injured Hontareva in London, Kolomoyskiy said with a smirk, "I promised to send her a plane, not a car."

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