RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
Ukraine's former central bank chief, Valeria Hontareva, says she is not ruling out the possibility of applying for political asylum in Britain where she currently resides after experiencing an alleged hit-and-run attack and her daughter-in-law’s car being set on fire.
"If our country is going to treat its own reformer like dirt, to politically and physically persecute, then I’ll have no choice to but to ask for political asylum," Hontareva told Ukrainian news site Liga on September 9.
On September 5, her daughter-in-law's car was set on fire in Kyiv. On August 26, a car ran over Hontareva’s foot in London sending her to the hospital with broken bones.
She called the two incidents "part of the same link in a chain" of events and attributed them to her tenure as chairwoman of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) in 2014-2018.
In less than four years, Hontareva shuttered 80 banks whose owners were essentially using them as their personal piggy banks by engaging in pervasive third-party lending, including Privatbank, then the country’s biggest private lender.
International auditors had found a $5.5 billion hole in Privatbank’s balance sheet so the NBU nationalized it with taxpayers' money.
It was co-owned by billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy whom Hontareva accuses of threatening her and of being behind the incidents in London and Kyiv.
In previous interviews, Kolomoyskiy – a former business associate of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- has said he did nothing wrong at Privatbank and that there is no evidence tying him to the events involving Hontareva and her family.
Hontareva said she started receiving veiled threats from Kolomoyskiy three years ago and public threats in her direction a year ago.
Specifically, she accused the oligarch of threatening her in an interview she gave to BBC in June.
"I want this to be clear to everyone. If something happens to me, I want it so that everyone knows why," Hontareva said.
Authorities are investigating Hontareva in two criminal probes. In one of the cases she is a witness; in the other she is a suspect under investigation for abuse of office as a central bank official.
She hasn’t appeared for questioning in Ukraine, calling the cases "fabricated" and aimed at applying pressure on her for her role in nationalizing Privatbank.
On August 27, a Kyiv court granted authorities permission to "forcibly" bring her in for questioning, although she has lived in Britain for a year as a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
"We were carrying out reforms and are now suffering because of that," Hontareva said last week. "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," she said last week.
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