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Ukrainian Parliament Chairman Defends 'Anti-Oligarch' Law, Says It Has Made Impact Before Implementation

Ruslan Stefanchuk is the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament.
Ruslan Stefanchuk is the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament.

The chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, has defended the country's "anti-oligarch" law but said that Kyiv has agreed to defer its implementation in keeping with the recommendations of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission.

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Stefanchuk told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in an exclusive interview on September 22 that he did not believe the law, passed in 2021, was perfect. But he said that the effectiveness of the legislation would be shown once implemented, adding that it had already had a positive impact.

The law essentially gives tycoons the choice of refraining from politics or selling their media assets and lists people who meet certain criteria, such as having significant economic or political weight, to be registered as oligarchs.

Stefanchuk pointed to the sale of properties by "a lot" of oligarchs as evidence of the law's effectiveness.

However, the law -- part of a broader "de-oligarchization" campaign by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- has been criticized at home and abroad as a "populist" measure that could be abused to target political opponents or their backers.

The law was subjected to a review by the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, which concluded in June that the legislation took a "personalized approach" that could not be considered a democratic response to the problem of oligarchization.

In order for the Ukrainian authorities to "fight oligarchic influence," the commission offered a number of recommendations, including that the implementation of the anti-oligarch law be deferred, media pluralism be reinforced and ownership made more transparent, and the independence and effectiveness of key regulatory authorities strengthened.

"We agreed with the European Commission that the implementation of the law will be suspended until the end of the war," Stefanchuk said, referring to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine launched 19 months ago. "And the implementation of the law includes the creation of a register of oligarchs."

Stefanchuk added that even without the implementation of the law, the Ukrainian parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, had already created new legislation that would "comprehensively protect Ukraine from oligarchs."

"We already passed a new law on changes to the Antimonopoly Committee, which clearly addressed all the requirements that the Venice Commission recommended," he said. "We passed a corresponding law on changes to the reporting of political parties, which also addressed all these things. We are now at the stage of registering a law on lobbying, in which all things related to [the Venice Commission's recommendations] will also be clearly stipulated."

Ukraine's anti-graft efforts have attracted attention with a series of high-profile arrests over the past year as President Zelenskiy tries to portray himself as an anti-corruption crusader.

Ukrainian leaders have for decades promised to tackle corruption, but the issue has grown in urgency since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the prospect of Kyiv joining the European Union and NATO have gained traction.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian authorities arrested former Zelenskiy ally Ihor Kolomoyskiy, a tycoon and media mogul who was once Ukraine's third richest man.

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