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RUSSIA

Oligarch Who Called Putin “Shorty” Gets Stripped of His Fortune

RUSSIA
Sep 03, 2014 at 2:31 PM ET

One Ukrainian oligarch pissed off Putin and now is paying for it. Literally.

On Wednesday, 70 of the 100 lawmakers that make up the Crimean parliament voted to nationalize the assets of billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky after the oligarch ruffled some Russian feathers by financing pro-Kiev fighters in eastern Ukraine. Kolomoisky will now have to watch as his assets get sold off to the highest bidder.

With a reported net worth of $1.7 billion, Kolomoisky made much of his fortune through his massive banking and industrial conglomerate Privat Group, which owns Ukraine’s largest lender, Privatbank. While Kolomoisky pulled the bank’s operations from Crimea in March, after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, his remaining Crimea-based assets will now be nationalized and put up for public auction. These include a chain of gas stations, a hotel complex, numerous plots of land and dozens of other facilities owned by Kolomoisky or his affiliates. Earlier this week, his Crimean assets were seized by the Investigative Committee, Russia’s FBI.

Crimea’s de facto prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, said that the money from the auctions would be used to compensate Privatbank customers who were left high and dry when the bank hastily exited the region in response to the growing conflict between Russian and Ukraine. He added that it is the council’s “moral right and moral duty” to auction off Kolomoisky’s assets after he showed support for the pro-Kiev factions in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian government’s seizure of Kolomoyskyi’s estate is just another episode in the soap opera between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian oligarch enemies. Kolomoyskyi once had the audacity to call Putin a “schizophrenic shorty” and “totally out of touch, completely crazy.” Sensitive about his height, Putin angrily responded a few days later, calling Kolomoyskyi “a unique crook” after he allegedly went back on a deal with a Russian oligarch. Now Putin thought it was his turn to show his real stature.

The Jewish oligarch used his net worth to ensure that the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine remain pro-Ukraine. He was appointed governor there soon after an eruption of civilian protests that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine from power earlier this year.

The seizure of Kolomoyskyi’s Crimea compound ironically brings to mind Ukrainians’ rampage through Yanukovich’s palace after protesters kicked the president out of the country. Ukrainians found Yanukovich’s private zoo, confidential documents and other luxuries. Evidently, Russian officials wanted their own palace to storm.