Who is Rinat Akhmetov? Ukraine’s richest oligarch accused of plotting coup with Russia
Rinat Akhmetov has the distinction of being Ukraine’s richest oligarch, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky believes Akhmetov has other aspirations: specifically, orchestrating a Russian-backed coup to overthrow the government.
Akhmetov called Zelensky’s claims an “absolute lie”.
“I am outraged by the spread of this lie, regardless of the president’s motives,” he said in a recent statement. “I will continue to defend a free Ukraine, a free economy, democracy and free speech.”
At a press conference on Friday, Zelensky claimed he had tapes of Akhmetov officials discussing a coup with Russian sources at a cost of $ 1 billion.
“I think it is a montage targeting businessman Rinat Akhmetov. I think it is an operation. He is drawn into the war against the Ukrainian state,” he said. Zelensky said. “I think he started. I think it will be a big mistake for him, because you cannot fight against your people, against the president who was elected by the Ukrainian people.”
Prior to these recent allegations, many people familiar with Akhmetov’s name associated him with business and / or the media. Much of his wealth comes from being the founder and chairman of System Capital Management (SCM), a hugely successful financial and industrial holding company.
Before leaving on his own, Akhmetov, 55, was the assistant to another notorious oligarch, Akhat Bragin. Along with this association came allegations that Akhmetov was involved in organized crime, an accusation that has been leveled against him repeatedly over the years.
Even though some Ukrainian and European publications withdrew statements alleging illegal activity, the crime boss’s etiquette continued to harass the billionaire. An official report by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry in 1999 identified Akhmetov as the head of an organized crime syndicate, and some communications published by Wikileaks referred to Akhmetov as a crime lord. One of those leaked cables included US Ambassador John Herbst calling the businessman the “godfather” of a criminal family.
Akhmetov has never been formally charged with a crime, but he once fled to Monaco following the 2005 Orange Revolution protests in Ukraine against political corruption when an investigation was opened on him for murder charges. These charges were dropped in 2006, and he returned from his exile.
While in Monaco, Akhmetov contracted the political consultancy firm of Paul Manafort, the campaign chair of former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy. Akhmetov and Manafort are said to have developed a close friendship, and he was linked to Manafort in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections due to their common bond with translator / consultant Konstantin Kilimnik.
Akhmetov also made the news in the United States in August 2020 when an independent government watchdog discovered that companies owned by the Ukrainian billionaire had received a total of $ 21 million in small business loans from the US government.
Akhmetov also owns telecommunications and media companies, including a popular TV channel. In the 2019 presidential election, his media backed one of Zelensky’s opponents, and the dispute between Akhmetov and the current president is said to be based in part on the fact that the government did not reimburse him for the green energy purchased by state-owned enterprises.
What is not in dispute is Akhmetov’s wealth. In June 2021, Forbes placed Akhmetov the 327th richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $ 7.5 billion. Bloomberg, meanwhile, estimated his fortune at over $ 10 billion. His wealth led him to buy Ukrainian football club Shakhtar Donetsk, and he often makes public appearances as team president.