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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Source: Stefanie Loos/Pool via Reuters.
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  • Ukraine’s parliament passed a law on Thursday that forces oligarchs to register and stay out of politics
  • Oligarchs would be forbidden from financing political parties or taking part in privatisations
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it’s necessary to protect the country from powerful businessmen who have corrupted its political system for decades
  • It’s been suggested that anger at the law could be behind an attempt to kill Serhiy Shefir, a top aide and close friend of the president, on Wednesday
  • Zelenskiy’s critics, however, fear the law will be applied selectively to concentrate more power in his own hands

Ukraine’s parliament passed a law on Thursday that forces oligarchs to register and stay out of politics, just a day after a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy survived an assassination attempt.

The law provides a definition for an oligarch and gives a body headed by the president — the National Security and Defence Council — the power to determine who meets the criteria.

‘Oligarchs’ — a small group of powerful people who control a country or an industry — would be forbidden from financing political parties or taking part in privatisations. Many of these people built their wealth and power following the 1991 Ukrainian independence referendum, which saw the country transition to a market economy with the rapid privatisation of state-owned assets.

Top officials, including the president, prime minister and head of the central bank, would also be required to declare any dealings they had with them.

Zelenskiy, a former TV comic, says it is necessary to protect the country from powerful businessmen who have corrupted its political system for decades. His critics, however, say they fear it will be applied selectively to concentrate more power in his own hands.

“Thanks to the anti-oligarch law, Ukraine gets a historic chance to build a civilised and clean relationship between big business and the state,” Zelenskiy said.

“Yes, many politicians do not like it. Yes, they want to live as before, working for the oligarchs. Yes, there was a lot of pressure on our deputies, a lot of intrigue and even blackmail. But the law was passed.”

The law passed a first reading in July. Thursday’s second reading, which passed with 279 votes in the 450-seat parliament, means it now goes to Zelenskiy for approval.

It’s been suggested that anger at the law could be behind an attempt to kill Serhiy Shefir, a top aide and close friend of the president. His car was pockmarked with at least 10 bullet holes on Wednesday in an attack by unidentified assailants as he travelled between two villages outside the capital Kyiv.

Shefir managed to escape unharmed, although his driver was badly wounded and hospitalised.

Police said in a statement they had opened a criminal case on suspicion of attempted murder, and saw three possible motives: an effort to pressure the country’s leadership, an attempt to destabilise the political situation, or an attack engineered by a foreign intelligence service.

“The purpose of this crime was not to scare, but to kill,” Denys Monastyrsky, Ukraine’s interior minister, said.

Zelenskiy won a landslide election in 2019, promising to fight corruption and curb the influence of tycoons who have dominated business, the media and politics since the end of the Soviet era. Opponents say he owes his own rise to the tycoon whose TV channel backed his earlier career.

Opposition lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko, from former President Petro Poroshenko’s party, said by giving a presidential body the authority to determine who is an oligarch, the law “creates huge scope for corruption.”

Kira Rudyk, the leader of the Voice party, added that the bill was designed “only to strengthen the power, strengthen the position of the president and make it so that he can, together with the National Security and Defence Council, actually decide who can have control over the media and who cannot”.

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