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Five Questions: The Arrest Of Ukrainian Oligarch Associate Hennadiy Korban

Hennadiy Korban was arrested during dramatic raids targeting the offices of the political party he leads across the country, involving some 500 security officers.
Hennadiy Korban was arrested during dramatic raids targeting the offices of the political party he leads across the country, involving some 500 security officers.

The arrest of a close associate of one of Ukraine's most powerful oligarchs has pundits and the public wondering whether President Petro Poroshenko is finally cracking down on corruption or merely trying to silence political opponents.

Hennadiy Korban, the head of the anti-Poroshenko UKROP party, was initially arrested at his home on October 31 before being released and re-detained on November 3.

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament has formally asked the country's prosecutor-general and the head of the national security service to explain to lawmakers why Korban was arrested.

Who Is Hennadiy Korban?

Korban hails from the eastern industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, where in the 1990s he became a business partner of Ihor Kolomoyskiy, a banking, energy, and media tycoon. Korban said his interest was "redistributing the wealth of some to others."

Forbes estimates Korban's worth at $55 million.

When Kolomoyskiy was appointed governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region in 2014, Korban was named a deputy governor. He lost the post when Kolomoyskiy resigned under a cloud of suspicion in March.

In June, Korban became the leader of the radical opposition Association of Ukrainian Patriots (UKROP), and he has reiterated that the party stands in opposition to Poroshenko and the government.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service published last month, Korban suggested he was being hounded by Ukrainian authorities.

What Happened On October 31?

Korban was arrested during dramatic raids targeting UKROP offices across the country, involving some 500 security officers. At one point Korban yelled at the Ukrainian Security Service troops on his doorstep to take him into custody, "I defended you on the front lines!"

Searches were also carried out at the offices in Dnipropetrovsk of the nonprofit organization Fund For The Defense Of The Country, where Korban served on the supervisory board.

Members of the NGO said computers and stacks of documents were seized during the raid. "Papers were taken without any kind of documentation. They simply grabbed files and that was it," the group's deputy director, Oleksiy Anhurets, said, according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Security troops also searched the Dnipropetrovsk offices of Boris Filatov, a businessman and UKROP member of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament. Filatov wrote on his Facebook page that police had "burst into his home."

Why The Arrest?

Ukrainian authorities say that Korban, 45, was detained on suspicion of involvement in organized crime, embezzlement, and kidnapping.

Specifically, he was accused of stealing $1.7 million from the National Defense Fund, whose funds are earmarked for Ukrainian soldiers fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have denied that politics is involved. "There is no politics in the detention of Korban. It's not related to the elections, and the Prosecutor-General's Office will prove it," prosecutor Vladyslav Kutsenko said.

WATCH: Ukrainian protesters demanded the release of Hennadiy Korban at a rally on November 3, claiming that his detention is politically motivated.

Supporters Of Jailed Party Leader Rally In Kyiv
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But Isn't It Really Just Political?

Poroshenko has denied that the arrest is politically motivated, telling three Ukrainian TV stations on November 1 that Korban's arrest was just "the start" of the fight against corruption in Ukraine.

"The fight against corruption and to restore order will continue," he said, vowing that "no one will enjoy immunity,... neither representatives of the new dispensation nor representatives of the old regime."

But Kolomoyskiy, reportedly a financial backer of UKROP, has alleged that Korban's arrest is linked to UKROP's "big success" in local elections in most of Ukraine on October 25. (Korban ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Kyiv in those polls but fell short of enough votes to reach the second round.)

A co-founder of banking chain Privatbank, Kolomoyskiy was once a key ally of the central government's, reportedly arming and financing militia groups to hold off pro-Russian separatists in the east. Poroshenko signed off on his dismissal as Dnipropetrovsk governor in March after accusing Kolomoyskiy of setting up a private militia and trying to take over a state-affiliated oil company.

Now What?

Stepan Bozhylo of the Prosecutor-General's Office said Korban was detained again on November 3 based on new information related to his possible involvement in a series of crimes that was obtained on November 2.

He did not elaborate.

Some 500 Korban supporters rallied in front of the parliament building and pretrial detention center in Kyiv on November 3, demanding his immediate release.

Filatov said that with the arrest of Korban, Ukraine was being split politically. "In our country there will soon been only two political parties: the party of collaborators and the party of resistance," Filatov wrote on his Facebook page on October 31.

Analysts speculate that the Korban arrest is part and parcel to the feud between Poroshenko and Kolomoyskiy. Serhiy Rudenko is one of several observers to note that Kolomoyskiy has the "financial, organizational, and media" interests to take on Poroshenko.

Tony Wesolowsky contributed to this report

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