Leading Ukraine politician says billionaire inciting unrest

AP News
Posted: Apr 24, 2015 8:39 AM
Leading Ukraine politician says billionaire inciting unrest

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — A leading politician in Ukraine published documents Friday that he says show the country's richest man is plotting to incite unrest to ensure the government steers clear of reforms that would hurt his business.

Parliament deputy Mustafa Nayyem, a respected former reporter, wrote in an article on the Ukrainska Pravda website that protest marches this week by miners had been coordinated by an energy company owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov.

Hundreds of miners have gathered outside government buildings in the capital over recent days in calls for the resignation of the energy minister and for guarantees on a moratorium on mine closures.

Demonstrators have also demanded that the government suspend purchases of coal from overseas. That measure was prompted by the ongoing war against Russian-backed separatists in the east, where Ukraine's most productive coal mines are located.

The concern among supporters of Ukraine's coal industry is that cheaper foreign fuel could undermine the viability of domestic production.

Akhmetov's DTEK holding company controls the bulk of Ukraine's coal industry, much of which is located in conflict-hit areas in the east. The government has recently adopted measures to eliminate subsidies for loss-making parts of the coal sector.

DTEK has since its creation in 2006 steadily acquired large chunks of Ukraine's power and coal production sector.

Akhmetov, who has ultimate control over DTEK, was estimated in the most recent Forbes rich list to be worth $7.1 billion. He was a senior figure in the ruling party of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed in a public revolt last year.

DTEK said in a statement it could not account for the provenance of documents presented by Nayyem, but stopped short of denying they were genuine. The company has previously denied it is behind miners' protests that have taken place over recent months.

The alleged DTEK plan of action in a memorandum reproduced by Nayyem details measures on how to incite what it terms an "energy revolt."

One aim of the strategy outlined in the documents includes using "the rising fear of losses of jobs and salaries to cast the unprofessional (energy) minister as an enemy."

DTEK described Nayyem's claims as an attempt to divert public attention from poor management of Ukraine's energy sector.

The prospect of a confrontation between the government and Akhmetov will reawaken fears of political instability sparked in March, when the president was forced to dismiss another truculent billionaire as a regional governor. Kolomoysky, who has major interests in oil and banking, locked horns with the authorities following moves to wrest important energy companies from his control.