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Ferrexpo under continuous pressure in Ukraine

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Ukrainian entrepreneurs and anti-corruption advocates have criticized the Prosecutor General’s Office audit report, which states that pressure on domestic business has been lessened, and 19% of cases against Ukrainian companies by law enforcement agencies have been dropped. Entrepreneurs point out that not a single high-profile case has been resolved. Multinational companies, such as the medical company Sinevo and the metallurgical group Ferrexpo, are also struggling.  Ukraine’s Business Ombudsman notes that shoving business around in Ukraine has resumed just six months since the war’s start.

Dmytro Tuzov, one of Ukraine’s leading journalists, raises this topic in his Ukrainska Pravda blog.

The reporter cites the opinion of “Manifest 42”, a coalition of entrepreneurs that stand united to fight the government pressure on the business community. This movement’s reps believe the crackdown on business endures, while the most high-profile cases, like that of the investment banker Ihor Mazepa’s, remain unrevised, and the legislative amendments suggested by the business associations are completely ignored. As a result, “Manifest 42” views the government’s actions as travesty, and says the entrepreneurs turn to consolidated resistance against the law enforcement pressure under false pretenses.

Also, Dmytro Tuzov cited Vitalii Shabunin, Head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, who said the majority of closed cases are small-scale, and of those investigated by the Economic Security Bureau of Ukraine, only two have been closed.

“Mr. Shabunin points out that no legislative changes were required to close the cases, what did it was the public focus; it means the cases were opened not to investigate the crimes, but to “milk” the wayward business owners. Once the public eye turns elsewhere, the said cases will be re-opened in no time”, said Dmytro Tuzov.

The journalist also stressed that foreign investors are harassed in Ukraine, medical company Sinevo and international mining company Ferrexpo among them.

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He addressed the fact that Ferrexpo’s 2023 yearly report claims $85m in losses as a direct result of $131m reserved for legal battles in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the metallurgical group is one of Ukraine’s largest investors: in 2023 alone, this group invested over $100m in Ukrainian operations.

Dmytro Tuzov adds the company is currently under pressure from several directions. First, criminal cases under fabricated pretences. For example, “illegal mining” is one such “reason”, although it is in fact about the gravel siftings, a side product of mining ore. Second, arrests of top managers, seizure of assets, and lawsuits by unknown creditors. Third, media attacks.

“The synchronized nature of these actions has led to Wolfram Kuoni, one of Ferrexpo’s bosses, laying it down bluntly: Ukrainian authorities keep the company hostage because of the cases against Konstantin Zhevago, one of the company’s shareholders”, says Dmytro Tuzov.

In his blog, Mr. Tuzov highlights the opinion of Roman Vashchuk, Ukraine’s Business Ombudsman, who said the government eased up on pushing the business only in the first few months of the war but resumed the pressure after about six months.

“Back then, it was the perfect point in time for domestic entrepreneurs and state authorities to come to a transparent social agreement, built on mutual respect for each other and the rule of law. Sadly, it never came to be”, Dmytro Tuzov cites Mr. Vashchuk.

The journalist himself hopes the new social agreement between the state and business does happen, for “the survival of the business is the survival of the state”.

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