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Ukraine's Ex-Central Bank Head Complains Of 'Physical Pressure' In London

Valeria Hontareva (right), then National Bank chairwoman, and Yakiv Smoliy, the bank's current chairman, attend a news conference in Kyiv in April 2017.
Valeria Hontareva (right), then National Bank chairwoman, and Yakiv Smoliy, the bank's current chairman, attend a news conference in Kyiv in April 2017.

KYIV -- Ukraine's central-bank chairman, Yakiv Smoliy, has asked police to investigate "without bias" recent incidents involving his predecessor, who was the victim of an alleged hit-and-run attack in London and whose daughter-in-law had her car set on fire overnight in Kyiv on September 5.

After announcing cutting the country's prime interest rate, Smoliy told journalists at a briefing that he saw signs of "targeted psychological and physical pressure" on ex-Chairwoman Valeria Hontareva, who is credited with cleaning up the rotten banking system during her tenure and helped the state take over the country's biggest private lender.

A car ran over Hontareva's foot in central London on August 26, which she attributed to her work as National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) chairwoman in 2014-18 in a video posted on YouTube on September 5 showing her inside a London hospital wearing a leg brace.

Police in London are investigating the incident, the Kyiv Post reported. Police in Kyiv said they will classify the incident concerning the scorched car once they receive more information from firefighters who examined the burnt-out vehicle.

Speaking to Ukrainian magazine Novoye Vremya Biznes on September 5, Hontareva called the incidents in London and Kyiv "part of the same link in a chain" of events.

The former NBU head has previously spoken out against threats she has received from people allegedly close to Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the former co-owner of Privatbank,which the NBU nationalized under Hontareva's watch after international auditors found a $5.5 billion hole in its balance sheet.

During her four-year tenure, Hontareva closed 80 banks that essentially were insolvent and being used as personal piggy banks by their owners, who engaged in pervasive third-party lending.

Along the way, she made many enemies and this is when she began receiving verbal threats.

In numerous interviews with local and international media, Hontareva has said she fears for her safety, even in London, where she is a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In a June interview with BBC Ukraine, Hontareva cited previous interviews Kolomoyskiy has given threatening to help bring her to Kyiv: "In an interview, Kolomoyskiy said that, if I do not return to Ukraine, he will take me out privately. In English this is kidnapping. This is a crime in the U.K. I want this to be clear to everyone. If something happens to me, I want it so that everyone knows why."

Kolomoyskiy could not be reached for comment and there is no evidence linking him to the incidents in London or Kyiv.

The NBU's Smoliy said the two separate incidents related to Hontareva and her family were a "real threat" to the safety of officials striving to push through financial reforms.

In April, Ukrainian prosecutors asked Hontareva to appear for questioning in a case related to abuse of office. She has told local media that any open cases against her "are fabricated" and and aimed at putting pressure on her for her role in nationalizing Privatbank.

Additional summons were issued in July.

Kolomoyskiy, a former business associate of President Volodymr Zelenskiy, has said he did nothing wrong and wants to regain ownership of Privatbank through the courts.

"We were carrying out reforms and are now suffering because of that," Hontareva said. "There's no other country in the world where reformists are being persecuted in such a way. I understand when it's political persecution -- that happens everywhere. But this is about exploding cars."

With reporting by Novoye Vremya, Ukrainska Pravda, BBC Ukraine, the Kyiv Post, and Bloomberg
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