Ex-owner of VAB Bank Oleg Bakhmatyuk: People in power think they're immortal and that they'll be around for a hundred years, thus repeating the same mistake their predecessors made
Oleg Bakhmatyuk, ex-owner of VAB Bank, and owner of Ukrlandforming agricultural holding, who was put on wanted list on November 22 on suspicion of embezzling UAH 1.2 billion in VAB Bank's stabilization loan, told UNIAN about the circumstances of the case, the nature of conflict with NABU Director Artem Sytnyk, as well as further plans to shape up his line of defense and return to Ukraine.
On Friday, November 22, the Ministry of Internal Affairs published information on its website stating you had been put on wanted list. Could you comment on this situation?
We get everything "post factum": suspicions, summonses, and entries to the wanted list. But no one is hiding anywhere.
Now basic human rights are being violated. This is a purely political case. We're consulting with international lawyers and we're clearly seeing this politicized nature, as everyone has some interest in this situation.
Also, we understand that this is used to divert attention. We understand that we have a personal conflict with [NABU Director Artem] Sytnyk so this is the way he sends me his greetings. There was a court hearing on Friday because the advisor of my sister, who is a suspect in this case, is a witness, testifying against Sytnyk. That is, there is a conflict of interest. We have nothing to do with it, but we have fallen victim to his vendetta.
And the very case of VAB Bank, as we see, is worth nothing. It was resuscitated completely illegally. This was preceded by two court rulings and repeated investigations by law enforcement agencies. And now we are actually being deprived of our right to defense – NABU wants to become the last resort truth and appoints guilty ones, while not willing to resolve the issue.
In addition, the issue is being mixed into this of Pysaruk [Oleksandr Pysaruk is chairman of the board of Raiffeisen Bank Aval, who at the time of VAB Bank bankruptcy served as first deputy chairman of the NBU]. There is no case of Pysaruk-Bakhmatyuk. There is no Pysaruk without Bakhmatyuk, and vice versa. The case has it that Bakhmatyuk conspired with Pysaruk, but, in fact, Bakhmatyuk did not violate anything, nor did he ever conspire with anyone, and in fact, there's no case here. It is painful for them now to admit it, and they are feeding the dragon with such PR moves. A sacrifice should be made every week.
And we only claim a simple thing – to be able to defend ourselves in the legal field, to be able to be heard and have the right to equal access to information, expertise, understanding of the process itself, so that we can explain that the public is being manipulated. I'm not going to run anywhere or hide anywhere, but I want to have the right to be heard and not to be appointed the guilty one. I know how it's done.
You and a former VAB Bank chairman, Denys Maltsev, were sent suspicions by mail. Did you get them?
I learned everything from the Internet. Physically, I received neither suspicion nor summons. So now we will think how to act and what to do.
Where are you right now and for what purpose?
We came up with a proposal to the Individual Deposit Guarantee Fund that we want to repay UAH 8 billion as conscientious shareholders. And I went to negotiate with the buyers of our raw materials – cereals – with Cargill. I was in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Geneva, where I fully agreed that they could secure this plan for future repayment under future contracts.
And when we were already at the final stage on Sunday, I was issued a suspicion notice, thus everything is being completely disrupted, which made negotiations unprofitable. We appealed to the President but were not heard. Now this mess is ongoing, and we have been working with international lawyers for a week now on how to come back and when. I do not want to be doused in mud once I return and not even be able to say a word.
What were your arrangements with the IDGF, and what plan did you offer for a repayment?
We offered to take in international advisors, such as, for example, Rothschild, Lazard, the Big Four auditors, take on globally acclaimed debt restructuring companies and hire lawyers. Plus, there's the offer we mentioned earlier: we return UAH 8 billion, of which we immediately pay a UAH 500 million guarantee fee while documents are being processed, and we return a billion hryvnias annually. What's wrong with that?
You will see, in three to four months, the IDGF will sell the assets of those banks, and how much will it receive? Ten or fifteen times less! We see stupid demotivation and we cannot understand it.
In this situation, something does not add up... If the debt restructuring schedule were to be followed and a clear scenario was proposed, why would suspicion and persecution be required?
You're asking me questions I have no answers to. A wise person, if they want to take something away, they don't destroy it. Or there's some other purpose.
If Bakhmatyuk comes in, who does external borrowing and says: I, as a responsible shareholder, do not want to wait four more years to spend in hostilities with prosecutors and detectives. I want to sit at the negotiating table and solve the problem normally. Moreover, I have 27,000 people in my company [Ukrlandfarming agricultural holding]. They produce a certain percentage of GDP, we pay taxes. I want to be heard. May I?! They say to me, okay. The IDGF heard me. And so they will get even more than in a non-constructive dialogue. So why not make a positive case?
Probably, there is some motivation for all participants in the process. They need to imitate work and struggle, "to feed the dragon". But it seems to me that they have wrongly chosen the scapegoat due to the fact that for four years the previous government had been fighting us as much as they could, and now these guys have come and are trying to finish us. But we do not know all the interests.
Who do you think might profit from this?
Sytnyk, of course. [Prosecutor General Ruslan] Riaboshapka might, too – he needs to expose an oligarch a day. This is not a plan to solve a crime, but a plan to feed society through their expectations. But even here they can't succeed. The result will only be a decaying company and zero receipts for the state.
It may be worth looking at this from the perspective of interests of those who would like to acquire Ukrlandpharming's assets ten times cheaper if the company falls. But I also don't want to think about such a scenario and I won't just look at it. This is not real estate in the center of Kyiv – it is an organism in 600,000 settlements, it's 260 legal entities, factories, pigs, and cows...
Tell us more about your conflict with NABU Director Artem Sytnyk, which we discussed at the beginning of our conversation. What is it about and what do you think led to this situation?
The conflict is very simple. There is an adviser to my sister, Natalia Vasyliuk, who is also a suspect in this case, which is senseless, but this is another topic. It's Mykola Nadeiko. He's a fine, smart guy. I met him in Sytnyk's office. Nadeiko is the key witness in the Sytnyk corruption case. On Friday, the appellate court examined it, and thus, Sytnyk sent me a greeting by putting me on wanted list. See, there were no grounds for that, no summons was given, no one reached out to us. Therefore, we believe that this is a direct conflict of interest, which is known to both Riaboshapka and his first deputy Kasko, so this investigation must be transferred to another body. That's because it is impossible to do lead the case with a direct conflict of interest. Just as the judge can withdraw, so should the body. Moreover, the case is worth nothing, they just need to get out of this game. They no longer know what to do with Pysaruk. If they take away Pysaruk, there will be no case. Even the National Bank, which does not like me very much, admits that everything is trumped up. Thus, the attention of society is being aggressively diverted from the main things. It is my opinion.
What are your next steps in the current situation?
We are building an international position because we see that we cannot do without international courts.
Second, we are building a Ukrainian position. We want to hear the guarantees. Perhaps we will contact the specialized anti-corruption prosecutor's office, we will have a dialogue with them so that they give us the opportunity to defend our rights. I also want to go back to Ukraine, because running such a company as Ukrlandfarming in such circumstances is extremely difficult, especially when we have to confront the system.
All the lawyers who are now reviewing our case say that it is purely political, human rights violations, procedural rules are violated. But I don't want to go to courts – that's not my function. I have been doing this for the last four years already. Only those who sell weapons benefit from the war. I hope that a company that employs 27,000 people will be heard, not destroyed, and then at the end they will say, "Well, things just happened." People in power think that they are all immortal and that they will be around for a hundred years, thus repeating the same mistake their predecessors made.
But still, the courts cannot be avoided. What is the future in the VAB Bank case?
I think, if the court is objective, the case will completely fall apart. We have our examinations done, it is a confirmation of the legitimacy of the issue of funds. Probably, it will take about six months, maybe eight months, but they have yet to complete the investigation.
If your lawyers are not able to resolve the situation quickly, will you seek political asylum?
I haven't thought about it yet. To be honest, I really wouldn't want that. All my assets are in Ukraine. And now my opponents are destroying what they cannot take away, but only break down – something we have been trying to preserve in recent years. That's all they do – they can only destroy, not build.
You said that you plan to return to Ukraine in the near future. When are you planning to do this?
I hope, as soon as possible. I have been on the road all my life, but I have absolutely no desire to live somewhere other than Ukraine. But I don't really want to just be "executed". I want to have the right to defense, especially since there is a huge structure behind me. Hopefully this will happen in the next two to three weeks. We will look forward to a dialogue with the prosecutor's office, because with NABU we have zero dialogue. Nobody wants to question us, see, it's a lie.
In your opinion, how does this situation affect the investment image of our country?
I have always been in active dialogue for the last five years. We have borrowed more than two billion dollars, built everything in Ukraine, spent something in the east: in Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea, we suffered serious losses due to hyperinflation. But we kept our assets alive. We cooperated with external creditors, export-import agencies, took European syndicated loans.
And all our international partners are now, to say the least, surprised. Bankruptcy of Mriya will seem like a light case after the fall of Ukrlandpharming.
I even know that there is a letter from investors in which they warn that if their rights are violated, they will file an international claim vs Ukraine. Therefore, the people who create such situations do it unconsciously, and I do not know for what purpose. Anyway, I knock on the doors and I hope someone hears me out.
I am always in the public field and ready for any discussion – even with the worst enemy, but I ask for equal rights, security, and opportunities. But it's hard to talk to someone who is hitting you in the head with a stick, which is his argument. My IQ will hardly help me deal with this.