Oleg Bakhmatyuk, the owner of the largest Ukrainian agricultural holding Ukrlandfarming, accuses the head of the President’s Office Andriy Bogdan of takeover his business. Bogdan also ordered the case against him in NABU, says Bakhmatyuk
Officials recently resumed the investigation of allegedly misuse of UAH 1.2 billion refinancing which VAB Bank received from the National Bank. VAB Bank is one of two banks (there was also the “Financial Initiative”) previously controlled by Bakhmatyuk. Law enforcement officials subsequently put out an APB on businessman in Ukraine. Meanwhile international lenders of Ukrlandfarming wrote a letter to the government asking for a meeting in order to prevent default of the company with the subsequent transfer of the company’s assets because of debts. Bakhmatyuk and his family, his sister Natalya Romanyuk, and Denis Maltsev are in Vienna now. Latifundist.com spoke with Oleg Bakhmatyuk in Vienna about NABU’s allegations, claims against Andriy Bogdan, further defend actions and a statement to Interpol.
— We’ve met after a year and a half break. Then you were in Ukraine, and more than a month has already passed since you are abroad. Have you received official suspicion from NABU during this time?
We haven’t received anything and further believe that nothing has been handed to us. And our attorneys (both Ukrainian and foreign) consider the same. We are only watch another series of events that show that NABU detectives consider themselves as the last resort in identifying the culprits. They violate the legislation of other states. They don’t provide me the opportunity to defend myself in the state, they appoint state gratis attorneys and don’t give me or my sister or Denis Maltsev the opportunity to access to the case file, which is an inalienable right in any state – to receive files without delay if you are a defendant. These people believed that they aren’t punishable by law. But, as we see, the credibility in them continue to fall. They even managed to violate Austrian law by sending summons despite the Convention signed by Austria and Ukraine. We have an official status here, they know about it, we informed them and the judges. Thus, they manipulate the minds of people, influence judges to make illegal decisions. We hope this won’t happen, and we are active in the legal aspect.
— You say you are innocent. NABU has its own vision. So what are you still accused of?
They indict me for conspiracy with the National Bank, with Mr. Alexander Pisaruk (the NBU head’s first deputy), who took UAH 1.2 billion to refinance VAB Bank, which disappeared. At the same time, we allegedly didn’t make the proper deposit. Each of charges are false, because there is an act of the Deposit Guarantee Fund, which clearly shows that all the funds spent on paying investors less than 200 thousand UAH. There is a statement of the National Bank, which, as you know, doesn’t apply to my friends, which indicates that everything was clearly happening under the auspices of a curator who monitored the spending of every penny on this loan that went to people. There are acts of examination of two institutions that confirm the accuracy of the collateral assessment for refinancing at that time. According to the statements of NABU, you need check all the refinancing issued by the National Bank under this approach and thus treat all assessment parameters. We wanted to save the bank as shareholders, therefore we signed the relevant protocols with the National Bank. Other law enforcement agencies have already closed this case for four times.
Interests of many people just aligned now: Artem Sytnyk is only interested in publicity, and Ruslan Ryaboshapka also interested only in publicity, because he started a fight with oligarchs. But I don’t belong to them. You know that an oligarch is a person who has both political and media influence. We have a big company, I am a high-powered businessman, but I’m not an oligarch. They are replacing these concepts now,
I think that Konstantin Zhevago and me are an “illustration” for Andriy Bogdan (chairman of the President’s Office) that’s a way of distracting from other important events, a demonstration of intensive work of fight with the so-called “oligarchs”. We understand full well, part of society – too, some – not yet, but they will be sure of that. These “schwonders” and “sharikovs” came to power. They exploit the marginality of society, bring them to the peak, do nothing, but don’t fill it with economic content. We officially stated about it. We were the only ones who made a constructive proposal that we were ready to pay UAH 8 billion (the debts of two banks – VAB Bank and the Financial Initiative). The Deposit Guarantee Fund chairman Svetlana Rekrut confirmed that. And we offered to bring on board advisers who have experience in evaluating. It’s normal constructive position in the US for example. The state would have received much more than fighting with the company in this case.
In addition, we are also economic agents in Ukraine. Absolutely no one wants to hear a company that has employed 27 thousand people, which pays about 3 billion hryvnias of taxes and wages which feels weird. We appeal to the President and we have no answer. We appeal to the Prime Minister and he knows about it. We believe that Ukrlandfarming has the right to be heard at least and receive a response. Unfortunately, we haven’t response right now. The NABU detectives obtained the main leverages. These people violate the law at every turn in fact, our rights despite the four letters they stuck to themselves what we fix both in Ukraine and abroad. Those who cover them up will eventually lose the power and they will be responsible. We understand that. And of course, they harm me personally, and our company, and the Ukrainian economy in general.
— There is yours and their position. They say that UAH 380 million out of 1.2 billion refinancing were withdrawn out. In addition, the collateral did not match the value of the application. Could you say is that all or are there more accusations?
— They are actually mixing up concepts. If you remember, they constantly have such a leak using the Anti-Corruption Action Center. There was an $45 million transaction, the information about UAH 340 million. And these all transactions you talk about are completely unrelated to a refinancing loan of UAH 1.2 billion. Look at the statement of the National Bank. It clearly says that the curator of the National Bank followed every penny. The money they took at the National Bank was paid to the penny to people, and the National Bank representative personally supervised that. It’s true. The Deposit Guarantee Fund audited VAB Bank. Every penny is recorded in the audit certificate. And NABU knows full well, they just are engaged in manipulations … They took files from the NBU and gave only a part to the experts, manipulating the expert assessment in fact.
We appeal to the GBR to initiate proceedings against the expert himself and against the detectives who do these things. What’s happening? They take transactions for different periods, in different time frames, mix all this – and make a PR-campaign. If it becomes real, then we see that this happened in one place, and this in another. How do you explain it? Why you forge links between these events? And they begin to forge links between them empirically. In fact, the case is based on the collusion of Bakhmatyuk with Pisaruk.
— Have you been in collusion with Pisaruk?
— We cannot be in collusion either theoretically or practically. We were at a meeting with acting chairman of the National Bank and with the directors of all departments, where I was present as a shareholder, where my sister Natalya Romanyuk, the chairman of the supervisory board, was present, where was the former chairman of the board of VAB Bank Denis Maltsev. And what they get is that you registered at the check-in, because you are going to a meeting with acting chairman of the NBU, as well as other owners of banks. We understand this case will be crushed, because everything is groundless. They add psychological pressure on people, as in 1937, they appoint state attorneys. The state attorneys who recorded executions or something else were appointed only under Stalin. The NABU detectives, who make the so-called suspicion, do the same. We don’t accept it. There is no suspicion. They haven’t given my attorneys access to the case for almost a month. And they appointed gratis people whom we can’t find. These people legalize their actions in the courts in fact while carrying out some procedural actions against me. I know, they did it with Yanukovych (another organization), now this method is used on me. When we show the Austrian and British attorneys, they don’t believe that It’s possible indeed. These things are a practice of impunity, because people believed in their chosenness for some reason, the right to choose the culprits, make decisions by which they choose a person and begin to persecute him without evidences, and then they replace everything with PR things. This case was closed four times. It was reopened by Ryaboshapka and Vitaliy Kasko (Prosecutor General Deputy) for opportunistic reasons. The prospector in this case organized everything and “put” Pisaruk there. I have any friendly relations with Pisaruk honestly, because they (NBU) removed my two banks from the market …
— Have you still communicated with Pisaruk or not?
— I met Pisaruk in the NBU when we tried to save the bank.
— Are you friends with him?
— We are not friends either Pisaruk or Gontareva and we cannot be a priori. And there cannot be any collusion. They are understand full well they can’t prove anything in this direction.
— Can you give-up on state-appointed attorneys?
— We wrote to the Center of Free Legal Aid about three weeks ago and we still haven’t received any response. They unsubscribe to our attorneys, demanding confirmation of credentials. They confirm it. But they don’t provide access to files. There is a game which makes realization of our right to legal defense to be impossible in fact. Why aren’t we coming back to Ukraine? Political manipulation and PR, the appointment of culprits exceed our ability to defend ourselves. We follow the legal procedure, which is determined by the International Convention. We have official status in Austria. NABU detectives have already violated this convention: they sent a summons to my home address, and this is a gross violation of the sovereignty of the state where I stay in. There is a convention signed by Ukraine and Austria, and there are our attorneys’ appeals to the Austrian Ministry of Justice, there is an explanation that this is a flagrant violation of sovereignty – conducting investigative actions in another state without observing the convention. An investigator from Ukraine has no right to carry out investigative actions in Austria. I think we also appeal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. These people just do everything without a thought, they only understand how to destroy and how to get the PR-component.
— Have they sent summons to your Kyiv address?
— They sent it to an Austrian address. We reported where we are. We aren’t wanted men. We informed Ukrainian law enforcement officers and the investigator about our whereabouts. It’s a normal procedure throughout the world. There are legal mechanisms that are used by all lawyers, law enforcement agencies in normal states. NABU believes that it is beyond these concepts.
On the wanted ad and statement to Interpol regarding political persecution
— On December 22, the information appeared that you had been put on the wanted list. So, are you wanted or not now?
— A detective brought the three of us into the Ukrainian wanted list. We consider the NABU detective’s decision to be illegal because we had informed him about our whereabouts in Vienna. We are not hiding from the law. Accordingly, he broke the law. But we already know dozens of cases when NABU detectives violate the law. They are confident in their impunity. I advise them to look at Mr. Portnov’s affairs, who 5 years ago had similar problems, and now he is competently legally proving his innocence regarding the unlawful actions of people who brought criminal cases against him. Sooner or later, these detectives themselves will be held responsible for their actions. They think they can do anything, harming me, my family, and my company. But this situation will pass, and we do not ask for any concessions. We only demand equal rights, as in normal people. Ukraine has signed a convention on the observance of human rights.
— Did they ask Interpol to get you?
— They cannot appeal to Interpol for us, because to do it, they have to file an application for my arrest. And there is no reason: I am not hiding from the investigators and have reported my whereabouts in Vienna. We are sure Interpol will refuse the application. For our part, we reported to Ukrainian Interpol that we will now inform the Lyon office of the politically motivated initiating proceedings against me … I think that they (NABU detectives – ed.) will move on in several ways. We are ready for any development.
— When are you expecting the Interpol’s Central Office answer?
— We’ve turned to them, we’ve given the documents, now we’re waiting. There are no clear deadlines. We think we’ll be heard at least. Our counsellors are sure that they’ve provided a substantial argument base, which normal people will not abuse…
— Have you been involved in the legal proceedings on NABU’s allegations against you?
— No. I did not talk to them, I was not interviewed, they did not call me… These people invented the case in two weeks. This case had been closed, all procedural deadlines passed, Kasko’s violated all possible procedural moments, but he is now the first deputy prosecutor general, so they consider themselves unpunishable. We’ve filed complaints, though don’t hope the case will be investigated any time soon. Don’t you know how motivated are in their actions all those officials and all law enforcement agencies who should monitor such things? But we are not going to give up and will fight in the legal field. I give names of people who allowed illegal actions against me, sooner or later, those actors get their fairing. We will definitely go to the end, although this is not our path.
We are businessmen, we want to build. Unfortunately, we’ve been forced to do other things. Surprisingly, this actually happened when we were already at the stage of signing the agreement with the guarantee that we could pay money in calm and provide the budget of Ukraine with a billion hryvnias annually. This can be confirmed by both Rekrut and Markarov. The company says it is escrowing and hiring international advisers, what’s wrong with that? They saw that I was approaching the conditional completion, working out a contract with the Cargill company.
Cargill confirmed it in a conversation with the Deposit Guarantee Fund and the Ministry of Finance. And on Sunday night Sytnik makes a decision (knowing about these arrangements) to hand in a suspicion, realizing that Cargill will not sign the deal after that. These people were clearly interested in nothing happening. For them, the show itself was of the highest importance… They all are covering up by the state, but they do not want to do anything for this state.
— How did you explain the political motivation behind the charges against you to the Interpol central office? Who, in your opinion, ordered you?
— I believe that Andrei Bogdan, the head of the Presidential Office, ordered me. He orchestrated these processes regarding Kasko and Sytnik. I met him in person. I heard the rhetoric itself… We tried to find a construct. I described it in an interview with Strana.ua.
Bogdan is the mastermind and operator of the lawsuit against me. The press sources that we see confirm that these things are taking place not only regarding me, but everywhere… I clearly understand that this is a politically motivated process. With the consequences. You see, the fall of Ukrlandfarming, to put it mildly, will be a small nuclear bomb. All analysts (both political and economic) agree that this is a big problem. Any agreement is better than these actions, but the people have other goals. Among others, I don’t exclude there are raider moments, because the company is large. We understand that in an unstable situation, leasing agreements will be threatened, assets pledged to external lenders will lose their value.
You understand perfectly well that the cost of an elevator without land is 10 times less, and this applies to any other asset. We don’t exclude that this is also one of the motives behind decisions against our company. I’d prefer not to have to get sure I’m right on this one and show who’s done it. We consider it a means of attracting attention, a manifestation of populism. You see that the prosecutor general says that he will put people behind the bars according to the results of so-called sociological studies – this is nonsense.
— Please specify: did you mention the name of Bohdan in your appeal to the Interpol central office?
— Of course, all the names sounded there … We clearly demonstrated the political motivation of the process. Our lawyers and experts, whom we hired in Ukraine, agree with our opinion. They are familiar with the political environment in Ukraine and understand the internal processes.
— Do I understand correctly that the case against you was organized by Andrei Bogdan’s order?
— What is Bogdan’s practical interest?
— Distraction from other cases in this market and spin-doctoring. Here they are united with Ryaboshapka in fighting the so-called “oligarchs.” I am not an oligarch. A classic oligarch is a person who has influence on the political system. Tell me, what is my influence on the political system or on the media? What channel do I own? So, it is a substitution of concepts.
— Do you think that Bogdan wants to take your business?
— I don’t exclude it.
— Has Interpol responded yet?
— They don’t respond that quickly. Will wait.
— Let us return to the meeting in the Office with the President, with his assistant Sergey Shefir and Andrey Bogdan. Was there a reaction to your proposal to change the negotiator?
— There was no reaction to my statement. There is no feedback. Which is strange enough. After all, the company is rather big, and a large number of people and the agricultural sector as a whole will feel the consequences. Oddly enough, there was no reaction. As I understand it, this is because of reluctance and the fear of making any decisions.
— Do you feel that you are going to be extradited?
— I’m sure that we’ll break this case in the courts, both Ukrainian and foreign. I am sure that people involved in this issue will be kept responsible for what they are doing. But I don’t have any joy, because it will take time: a year, a year and a half… Ukrlandfarming can’t live in a state of war for such a long period, we have very strict conditions for working with suppliers, no one gives us goods without prepayment, actually the company is being put in such conditions that it should work harder than competitors, while the market conditions are far cry from the best. Of course, it is an element of threat. We are not afraid of the law. Also, we don’t exclude illegal actions that the law dealers (ARMA – it sounded in the Ukrainian analytical environment) can afford. It is impossible to take my company away, it is possible to destroy it. It’s like a blast furnace – you can only stop it. These people do not know how to manage anything.
The cost of Ukrlandfarming is now beyond zero. Until the conflict subsides, no one will enter it.
— How much has the cost of Ukrlandfarming decreased?
— I consider the question rhetorical. There is no company value now. It is possible either to save the company or not to save it with consequences for the economic environment, the sector, and for me personally as a shareholder.
— What was the contract with Cargill about?
— A 10-year contract to supply a million tons of grain annually, providing a part of (the money earned) would be used to pay off debt. A billion hryvnias of income from this contract was to be annually transferred to the Deposit Guarantee Fund. If the contract is $ 150-200 million (depending on the pricing environment), approximately 25% should be taken to pay off debt to the NBU. And this is normal for both the seller, and the buyer.
One of the bids to me was: how can you guarantee that you will comply? Well, I’d started talking to a brand like Cargill saying I wanted to sign a contract with them. Is it profitable for them to sign a contract with me? Yes. Because they benefit from a constant millions-worth flow of grain. They sign a contract and act as a guarantor of transfers. It would not be so painful for us to pay off 25% per year. And so I wanted to direct my efforts towards the constructive things. For 4 years we’d been fighting in the courts with everyone. We thought it was all over …
— Regarding the situation with Cargill, were there additional conditions for the Cabinet in the proposed mechanism for reanimating the company and paying off the debt?
— The logic is simple, actually – for 4 years we’ve been doing all kinds of stupid things, criminal cases. I believe that it was possible to direct our efforts towards the constructive things. I’ve got my own vision of this banking crisis, an approach to it. We have a good background in Asia, particularly in China. Our company received permission to supply corn to China, I spent a lot of time there, we have good relations with many state and non-state market participants. Good relations in the Middle East … And at that meeting with the President, I proposed to join efforts to develop cooperation in this direction, because I had good experience in China and Asia as a whole … I came to the President, brought demonstration materials and said that the sum of, say, $ 10 billion for such a forward contract to supply agricultural products could be transferred not from my company, but through state mechanisms. We would move in the market in parallel directions. Although, say, in China it is all one. It would not be unwanted for the country.
And in this way we would restore our reputation capabilities … In fact, this the interest was: we would be some kind of volunteer to enter the Chinese market, and I would restore my background and be able to get an investor in Ukrlandfarming, which is also good for the state. The Cargill contract could be separate from or within this process. There’s no contradiction…
— That is, there were no additional conditions regarding the Cabinet?
— No, there were no additional conditions. At the beginning of the conversation, the President got interested, then there was a small skirmish with Bogdan, not constructive, with no reason. I said: “Don’t want it – your choice.” I understand that it was the first stone thrown at me, which catalyzed interest, including that of Bogdan himself. Looking at the economic decisions made, I see that the Head of State is lacking economic advisers to respond in a timely manner. As in the time of Byzantium, people close to the ruler always try to protect them from everything. It’s stupid. And then everything shifted to a different plane, I’m turning again to the meeting we’ve been talking about.
— Did you communicate with Bogdan after that?
— No, I had two conversations with Bogdan: with the President, and then at his meeting.
— Let’s get back to Ukrlandfarming. Now there is an appeal from international creditors to the government with a proposal to meet with them and to discuss debts of $ 1.65 billion. What are the results of this appeal? Is the Cabinet ready for dialogue?
— We do cooperate with our creditors. At least we try. This is not an easy task, so the question is rather not for me, but for them. We have a common interest – to save Ukrlandfarming. Today I’m more a manager of creditors, and they understand this. Destruction of Ukrlandfarming will result in significant losses to lenders. Apparently, people who are willing to do 100% illegal things do not understand the consequences. € 750 million Eurobonds, a syndicate of 300-400 million, export-import agencies of the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, Switzerland – this about $ 2 billion of claims. If the state representatives across the border, then Ukraine will face legal action for this debt. After all, this will be a violation of investor rights by Ukraine.
Imagine tomorrow the creditor will consider not the case of Bakhmatyuk, but the case in principle. He will see that he gave $ 100 million for the construction of the elevator, and then, it turns out, we have such an ARMA (Asset recovery and management agency) that can take this asset, and the creditor is left with nothing. These cases are not unique, and they want and will use these methods. This will be a huge scandal. These people do not even understand what they are doing. Their problem is ignorance and lack of experience. They are dangerous because they have no fear. And the creditors, as I understand it, turned to them and said: “Do not do this, please, we want to be heard and want to be protected. If you cross this border, then the matter of discussion will not be Bakhmatyuk, but the general approach to the rights of creditors in Ukraine”. Someone in power may have heard this signal, others – not, we will see by further actions. At least we hope so. I repeat once again: they can’t take anything – this is not real estate in the center of Kyiv. This is a huge complex: 27 thousand people, two thousandth management, 640 objects of economic activity with different functions. This is a huge complex mechanism, which provides about 60% of export deliveries, with complex logistics. They cannot stop it. If this is done, it will break down, people will be left without work, the state without a stream of taxes and wages. And they will run away and say that they did not know what they were doing. I understand that this is a preliminary vision of the process.
— You did not reach an agreement concerning restructuring plans in the version that you presented during a conversation in the Presidential Office. What are the other options for restructuring today?
— The company is now working, preparing for the sowing season. Major purchases will be done in January. We hope that we will work and sow. Concerning debt restructuring – the ball is now on the side of the authorities. The situation is complicated and turns to be more complicated over time, but we are ready for negotiations. It turns out that we are punished for the initiative. We did not talk about 1.2 billion UAH. We were talking about a much larger scale than we can see. This does not interest anyone; it turns out that the question is 1.2 billion. They would have received this billion in the first year. Doesn’t it surprise you? You tell people: “Billion UAH in the first year, here’s a guarantee for you – an international company, 500 million hryvnias for escrow during the week.” And they refuse it. What is the conclusion? They don’t need this money, they don’t need this 1.2 billion UAH. We need a reason to explain the consequences that we see. What is the logic of the process?
Let’s move away from the case of Bakhmatyuk. Bakhmatyuk suggested, the head of the Fund, who is not biased on me, will also say this, this can be confirmed by the Minister of Finance Markarova, this can be confirmed by a number of persons participating in the process. Why is it worth UAH 1.2 billion, if Bakhmatyuk offered a billion in the first year, transfer UAH 500 million to the account, involve international advisers…
— Do you have another restructuring option?
— No. The state is a system structure. The people who represent the state in negotiations with me have left any reason completely. Until they return to it, there can be no agreement, because I am based only on logic. We are open to communications. Somewhere I understand that my initiative hurt me. Because I had to sit and offer nothing: starting from helping the state in foreign markets, ending with the financial proposals. In case I sit still I would not have been in this position. But because I was actively promoting my proposals they decided to fight back on me. And now we see the consequences. Therefore, criminal proceedings are underway, despite the fact that the case was closed 4 times and then reopened again. We are sure that we will win it. It is a matter of time. During this time we will try to save the company. If these people break the law, we will not be able to fight lawlessness. So, we will attract international legal mechanisms, but this will not improve the company and may lead to the problems we are talking about. About another restructuring – it simply does not exist. There is an open proposal, but the Deposit Guarantee Fund says: “We do not know how to move on.” If they say: “We are ready to talk with you,” I will say: “I am ready to speak.” I have never changed my constructive position over the past three to four years. Now I’m waiting for a reaction from them. We will not take any initiatives. There is a situation that we are doing with. There is a criminal case, I am sure we will win it, it takes time, effort, huge resources, and this poses a threat to the company, its existence as a whole. They understand everything and, perhaps, do it consciously for various reasons, which we are talking about.
I am waiting for an offer from that side. You can not constantly knock on the door if they do not open. I already knocked, shouted, they noticed me, they gave me a hit in the head for my initiative … I am ready for the negotiation process. How it will go – let them determine if my option does not fit them.
About debts to NBU
— Let’s get back to your debts to the NBU – the amount of claims is 29 billion UAH …
— There are no shareholders’ debts. This is a complete lie and manipulation. There are debts to Oshchadbank of a number of companies. These debts have been restructured. There are debts to Ukreximbank, and they are also in the process of restructuring. There are debts of two banks (VAB Bank and Financial Initiative), but these are not debts of the shareholder. In addition to the shareholder, VAB Bank had a lot of borrowers. The “Financial Initiative” was illegally withdrawn from the market because government bonds worth UAH 2 billion were discounted. The whole financial market knows that this was a demonstration of complete nihilism towards the bank – the bank had no problems. Talking about shareholders’ debts is incorrect.
— But still, how much do you owe to the NBU?
— I do not owe anything to the National Bank. It was my voluntary initiative as a responsible shareholder. I do not want that Ukrlandfarming follows the path of Mriya. Because endless war leads to defeat regardless of tactical victories. Therefore, I said that UAH 8 billion is something that the company can certainly pull. And you take advisers from Ernst & Young, the Rothschilds. And they will say it is true or not. It was an invitation to the discussion, which was heard in a different way. What will happen if the National Bank receives UAH 200 million after all this debt rhetoric? Imagine that our rhetoric ended. A year passes, we are meeting, and the National Bank, the Guarantee Fund for all the so-called “not debts of Bakhmatyuk”, but the debts of VAB Bank and the “Financial Initiative”, received 200-400 million hryvnias, and destroyed the company Ukrlandfarming in process. Tell me, how we can call people who were offered UAH 8 billion to save the company, save a significant part of the GDP, receive budget revenues … who are they after that? Not criminals? They took away from the state 8 billion UAH, hiding behind populist slogans. Because it’s easier to talk a lot and wave the state flag, and you go and do it. If they cite the US as an example, then see how they solve the issue there. In the first place – how much you can return, how it affects the economy. There are main factors.
— When the Doomsday will come in this situation?
— The company Ukrlandfarming in a difficult economic and political situation. Clearly, there are problems. And I’m not just a shareholder. I am a managing shareholder. This clearly connected with everything: management, board, relations with partners … This is understandable. All the people who work with us switch to “hard mode”. In addition, there is a threat of external nature – I mean the state, its unpredictable and illegal actions. Of course, this all affects. I believe that Doomsday will not come. But, if it comes, we will definitely fight to the end. This is the position that I can talk about. I hope that logic, common sense will win. If not, we will talk about the consequences. What will be the consequences? They are already visible. Bakhmatyuk does not cite incomprehensible things as an example. What was the price of all other major banks that have been sold? Usually, something around 2%. Great victory! Take 2% of the 20 billion VAB Bank, how much comes out? 400 million UAH. Well, explain to me the logic. And in some cases, there is 0.8 – 1 percent. That is, it is good if they receive UAH 400-500 million at the end, but they could receive a billion hryvnias in the first year. Do these people protect the state, because they wanted 30 billion UAH? Wanted to destroy? It’s like a child who loves a cat very much and wants to see what is inside him. They have the same interest, based on ignorance…
— What is the fate of international creditors? How do you communicate with them? What is their reaction to suspicion?
— The reaction was negative. I have no love with creditors. They simply believe that they will receive more with me and this is the guarantee of our love. Today their position is simple – they want to keep the company. If earlier I had some fuses in negotiations with them, now I took everything off and said: “I am your manager at this stage and I want to save the company.” We have an agreement concerning the issue of preserving the company, they also understand this. Understand the consequences if possible illegal actions. Therefore, serious processes began. People who read messages from creditors simply do not understand their seriousness. I am sure that those who have a legal understanding are aware of what the consequences may be and that they will not appear in a single day.
— How the creditors should act?
— I think they will try to negotiate with the state to the last. That is their position. I will help them with this. Creditors will try to keep the company functioning. Because a company shutdown will significantly depreciate their assets. If there is no progress, I think they will go to international courts.
— What is a compromise option for lenders in this situation?
— There are protected creditors, and there are unsecured. So far, they are united by the fact that they do not want to allow any illegal actions, any legal border crossing. And then we shall see how the situation will develop. In this case, the lenders want to keep Ukrlandfarming functioning, realizing that all these events affect the cost of their loan. I try to reach out to the authorities, as well as to manage the company in the current circumstances. They also understand this very well. What consequences will be, only time will show.
— What should be done so that Ukrlandfarming does not turn into Mriya?
— It is necessary that the state takes a constructive position in the negotiations.
— How is Ukrlandfarming getting ready for sowing?
— Getting ready as always. We conduct tenders. The company, in general, is ready. We have been working, gathering, sowing in various situations, in various weather conditions for several years. We are now working in a perfect storm: both psychological and financial. Everyone understands that the whole management – and this is about a hundred people – is focused on shareholders,. Of course, there is a psychological factor. I believe I managed to stabilize. The team is ready to work. Although they were not hired to live in such conditions, the state put us in such a situation. I think that if Ukrlandfarming is ready in terms of personnel, we’ll work for the technology and work, involving finance. Management of the standard financial mechanisms that we used earlier turned to be much more complicated. But I hope that it will be possible to establish all this and find the necessary financial recourses. I’m also working on this now. The company is ready to work.
We have some questions concerning “Vanguard”: it improved the revenues by exporting 50% of its production. And then the government made such a gift to all exporters – depreciated the dollar by thirty percent. We deliver to Hong Kong, Singapore. Now we are starting to deliver to Indonesia. We simply did not expect such a competent export policy. I don’t know why these people made such decisions. In fact, the flagships of the development of the export economy are China, Japan, the EU. In general, if you notice, the United States very often protests and accuses China of manipulating the exchange rate for maximization of the level of its export positions in the international market. If Donald Trump fined Chinese goods with 20% fine, and this was a disaster, now all Ukrainian export goods are taxed at 20%. And this is underfunding of the budget, a decline in export-oriented industries, which generate more than half of exports and foreign currency. With such a policy, imports to the country are growing. I can’t understand such a policy. This is nonsense for me. Therefore, “Vanguard” will significantly reduce exports. Despite the fact that there are a number of markets where we made our way for a year or two, and now, because of such a government policy, they have become unprofitable. We will correct something in a couple of months, we will watch how to move on.
— Will there be any changes in the strategy of other units of the Ukrlandfarming company, except for “Vanguard”?
— Concerning the Ukrlandfarming, the strategy is unchanged. No cuts are planned.
Land market and its consequences
— About the earth. In the current model of land reform, Ukrlandfarming and other public companies are effectively prohibited from buying agricultural land. How do you feel about this?
— The purchase of land right now does not bother us. In general, I have always been a supporter of the land market and I think that sooner or later it will be created. I believe that restrictions concerning the purchase of land reduce its price and attractiveness. I am a supporter of complete deregulation. The state should regulate complexes, lines of action – this is called a strategy. And when you set up artificial barriers, you generate elements of dependence and abuse. In this case, as I understand it, this is all a political struggle – these are the limitations that we are talking about. And it’s not going to end by something good. The law will be adopted in a semi-functional or otherwise strange state. The absence of a land market is an unrealized right of people. It must be created. Plus it’s a capital market, raising funds in the total investment flow in the country…
— If companies with foreign capital or its share will not be allowed to buy land, will there be an outflow of lease agreements? Are you expecting this?
— The outflow is possible. But let’s wait for the law. You will remember how the law began and how it looks right now. So it is not impossible that they come to a limit of 1000 hectares in one hand. And they say that only people from the oblast they live in can buy land there.
— Now they offer 10 thousand hectares in one hand – is this OK?
— I believe that this will significantly affect the price. The price will be low. The one who sells will lose. I can’t say how much the price will fall. I think the price will be less than $ 1 thousand per hectare.
— Now the trust management mechanism has been approved, in fact, it launches the land market for banks and agricultural companies. What do you think about this?
– Trust management is a hidden land market. And what is its effectiveness? Market efficiency is based on service. It is like a house when it is rented and owned. The cost of land will be quite different. Therefore, without companies such as ours and others, the land has a significantly lower cost. Banks are unlikely to become effective managers for large masses of land. It will be some shreds that need to be held together … These are risky things. Unless they plan to accumulate big land banks. But if so, then, in fact, it will be a substitution of concepts.
These two laws will go in parallel, it is unlikely that one will be accepted without the other. I think that the law about the land market will be adopted.
— The discussion continues on two principal points: restriction about land for one owner and the admission of foreigners. What can be the influence of foreigners for the economy, owners and the market?
— If Ukrainians are the owners of shares and they want to sell for a higher price, it is in their interests that the market is as open as possible. A lot of people live in cities, abroad, many landowners are elderly people who can no longer work efficiently on land. The substitution of concepts must not be allowed. This can be a regulated introduction of the market, in stages, with maximum respect for the interests of people, the state and national companies. If we talk about the country and money – you need to sell with minimal restrictions, if you to maximize the possible profit. It is necessary to support small and medium producers. After all, it is difficult for them to compete with international companies. But here we are talking about the real goal: if it is a social project, then you need to cut the fields, become attached to shares. This is the way back.
— Or give financial support, like for example in Poland.
— But look, what is the level of grant support in Poland: the state allocates € 200 of subsidy per hectare, simply because it is being processed.
— How to make sure that the opening of the market does not end with a change of labels from “Ukrainian company” to “international”? And who is the loser then, because without access to credit it will be so?
— Start of the market without access to financial recourses for those who process the land is complete nonsense. But a comparison with Poland is also incorrect. Otherwise, you need to allocate € 200 per hectare in the budget, or € 250. Take € 5 billion, allocate on grants. But this is completely impossible. It is incorrect to compare our situation with the European one. After all, in Europe, it is a socio-economic project of employment. The land law had to be adopted a long time ago, everything would have stabilized until now. The issue of restrictions has now gone too far, go into the political plane. And so it will be very difficult to make a decision. Even trust management is yet another substitute for a civilized land market with the surrogate one.
I support an idea of the civilized land market and the rules that will ensure the rights of all participants. Then the ball will be on the side of the players, let them play.
— What are your feelings today, what will happen with Ukrlandfarming?
— Ukrlandfarming will win. We will defeat all enemies, close the criminal case, these people who made illegal things with our company will be responsible for that. I will return to Ukraine, I will cooperate with the government. And we will jointly implement projects in foreign markets and continue to work. Any event in life is the result of previous actions. And the event, whatever it may be, is preparing you for something new. Perhaps it was my mission, to show what some people really are. And those who do not believe in victory is not worthy and will not receive it. The truth is behind us, and we understand that. We do not idealize ourselves, but we have been building this company for 25 years. The people who destroy it did not build and did not create anything in all their life, except for problems to others. Just look at their biography. And now they are destroying everything, hiding behind the state flag. Sooner or later, society will understand this. And common sense will triumph. I hope we reach the President of Ukraine. When I spoke with him, the impression was that he wants to change both the economic situation and everything else. At least we hope, and what will happen next – we’ll see. I hope that I will be heard by the President, and a constructive person will appear next to him with the same approach to everyone, with a basic understanding of contemporary processes.
— Now you have the chance to speak a few words to the President and Bogdan – we will pass them on publicly.
— I can add to the appeal that my position has not changed. I would like to be heard, waiting for an answer to our previous appeals. I do not speculate on the number of people employed in the company, but this is a huge team that generates a visible percentage of GDP and pays huge taxes. These people receive about 3 billion hryvnia of salary. Ukrlandfarming is a sensitive mechanism, I would not want it to be broken or destroyed. I am sure that the same is the feeling of al adequate executive officials because this is not in their interests. I hope that I use my knowledge and skills to create, and not to fight with detectives and any other offspring that attack the company. You can hammer nails with a computer, or you can design a spaceship. Now we are performing the first action, the damage already can be significant. I hope that I will be heard by the President, and a constructive person will appear next to him with the same approach to everyone, with a basic understanding of contemporary processes.
I am sure a positive case will be created that will be projected on adequate people who want to do something in this state. Take foreign examples, take same America, ask any experts – the result of the war is ruin. Constructive dialogue is the optimal strategy for both sides.
— Did you communicate with Prime Minister Olexiy Goncharuk?
— I talked with Goncharuk before he became prime minister. We tried to make some agreements, but, unfortunately, he did not find the time.
— Your sister Natalya Romanyuk is together with you in Vienna? What is her legal status?
— Yes, my sister is also in Vienna. Her status is the same as mine … The investigator put all three of us to the base of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and put us on the Ukrainian wanted list. The investigator considers this is his procedural right. We appeal this decision in court since we believe that our procedural law has been violated. But I cannot appeal this decision because my state attorneys do not dispute the action. I wrote letters refusing their services and asked to appoint others (I indicated specific people), but decisions about this make the same detective.
— Have you made a decision for yourself: to stay in Vienna or another country or return to Ukraine?
— We would like to return to Ukraine, but we understand that with such approaches and with such enemies and trends that we have now, we will not be able to return. We are trying to contact the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, but they operate with some fictitious losses. They came up with an article #191of Criminal codex, allegedly about 100% of state losses. If I had the opportunity to return to Ukraine on an adequate bail, I would have done it tomorrow. It would be much easier for me to defend myself and fight with this gang. All their arguments will be broken, like a crock, in court, but this takes time. Now they are organizing a show: first, they carry out investigative actions, then they will transfer materials to the court. And this process will continue for at least a year. Now they are unlawfully preventing me and my lawyers from reading the case files and this is delaying the procedure. They want to wear me and company down. It is felt. We are forced to develop a defense strategy outside our state, where we are confident that there are some legal opportunities.
— Your and company accounts can be frozen?
— No, they do not have such rights.