23 Jan 2024 20:50

Ukrainian business leaders, public officials discuss pressure on business, including prominent businessman's arrest

MOSCOW. Jan 23 (Interfax) - Members of the Ukrainian business community and senior public officials met on Monday to address pressure on business, prompted particularly by an outcry sparked by the arrest of prominent investment banker Igor Mazepa, EFI Group investment holding founder Igor Liski said.

"Among the good things is a quick reaction from public officials (Verkhovna Rada Chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk, First Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Yulia Sviridenko, and Deputy Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Mikhail Fedorov). They listened to us carefully and it seems to me, they heard us," Ukrainian media quoted Liski as saying on his social account on Monday.

The meeting participants voiced numerous constructive proposals on amending laws to avoid radical steps, "which a desperate business community can resort to," he said.

"I personally proposed amending not laws but the approach and attitudes toward businesspeople. The dramatic events in the country require quick changes in the social contract, where law enforcement agencies perform a different function, not a punitive one, [...] and where the attitude toward business that creates jobs and pays taxes will be respectful," Liski said.

At the same time, he regretted the fact that the public officials present at the meeting have no real influence on law enforcement and security agencies.

"I do hope that they'll convey our demands and proposals to the president and there'll be real changes rather than attempts to talk round the problem," he said.

As follows from a picture posted by Liski, present at the meeting were also senior advisor to the presidential office chief Darya Zarivna and Deputy Economy Minister Alexei Sobolev.

The Ukrainian business community was represented by Astarta co-founder and head Viktor Ivanchik, Board Chairman of the Ukrainian Federation of Employers Dmitry Oleinik, Chairman of the Organization of Light Industry Employers Alexander Sokolovsky, head of the Ukrainian Anti-Raid Union Andrei Semididko, X-Park owner Yury Zozulya, and UIF Director for Economic Programs Anatoly Amelin. Most of these businesspeople, as well as Mazepa, are signatories to the Manifest 42 civic movement.

Manifest 42 announced on Monday that it would switch to more radical forms of protest against arbitrary treatment of business by security agencies and warned that companies would suspend their operations for one hour on February 1 unless the government addressed the problem of pressure on business.

"We expect the country's leadership to take the following steps before noon on February 1, 2024 to resolve the problem threatening the state's national security: the president and the government of Ukraine must draft and submit to the Verkhovna Rada legislative initiatives drawn up by Manifest 42 with assistance from leading lawyers, which are aimed at curbing abuse of power by bent cops while conducting searches and seizing accounts and property," the group said in a statement.

Manifest 42 also demanded initiating a bill depriving all law enforcement agencies other than the Economic Security Bureau of the right to investigate economic crimes.

Manifest 42 also urged President Vladimir Zelensky to voice his position regarding searches of businesses without court warrants and in the absence of lawyers, taking into account Article 42 of the Ukrainian constitution guaranteeing the right to entrepreneurial activities, thus expecting Mazepa's release from pretrial detention.

As reported earlier, on January 18, officers of the State Bureau of Investigations and National Police detained Mazepa on the Ukrainian-Polish border on charges of devising a scheme to unlawfully take possession of 2.4 hectares of land, where hydropower facilities of the Kiev Hydropower Plant were supposedly located and which is currently the site of the Goodlife Park premium-class gated community. As reported, three more people, including Mazepa's brother, were detained in different parts of Ukraine, while the office of Concorde Capital and the offices of some of its employees were searched.

According to the State Bureau of Investigations, eight suspicion warrants were served and a number of other individuals were arrested in a similar case involving 7 hectares of land nearby. As follows from the database of judicial rulings, the matter concerns plots of land used "in a construction project for the Riviera Village premium-class gated community, which was initially pursued by Dragon Ukrainian Properties and Development (DUPD), a fund for investment in Ukrainian real estate.

The State Bureau of Investigations said the suspects were facing up to 12 years' imprisonment and the confiscation of their property.

The Ukrainian business community founded Manifest 42 in summer 2023. Its declared goal is protecting businesses from arbitrary actions by law enforcement and security agencies, corrupt officials, judges, notaries and registrars. It was signed by 42 businesspeople and investors. Zelensky met with business leaders at the end of June 2023, after which the presidential office launched a coordination platform on relations with business, which was co-chaired on the government side by deputy presidential office chief Rostislav Shurma. However, as Ukrainian media have said, there have been no reports on positive results from the platform in the past few months.