Ex-Ukraine central bank chief's home burnt down in attack

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Gontareva had accused a prominent oligarch of embezzling a bank

Gontareva had accused a prominent oligarch of embezzling a bank (AFP Photo/SERGEI SUPINSKY)

Kiev (AFP) - Ukrainian police on Tuesday investigated a fire that destroyed the house of a reformist former central bank chief, who along with the bank called it an act of "terror".

Valeria Gontareva said her country home in a village north of Kiev burnt to the ground after being struck with a Molotov cocktail on Tuesday morning.

"The terror continues," Gontareva told Interfax Ukraine from London, where she now lives.

Gontareva, who headed the National Bank of Ukraine for three years until 2017 when she resigned, was struck by a car in Britain last month and had to undergo surgery.

In early September, her daughter-in-law's car was burnt in Kiev.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack a "brutal crime, the quick investigation of which must be a priority for law enforcement".

"This is no longer a series of incidents, it is TERROR," the National Bank of Ukraine said in a statement, demanding police action.

"This is a direct and undisguised threat to democracy and the reforms that Ukraine's future and the well-being of its people depend on," it said.

Police said they had found an "incendiary rocket" at the scene. Footage from surveillance cameras suggested there was a break-in, regional police chief Mykola Zhykovych told Ukrainian media.

The US Embassy called for an "urgent and thorough investigation" while a joint statement by the European and American business associations warned that "such situations are sending the wrong message".

Gontareva, an investment banker, was appointed to the central bank post in 2014, shortly after war broke out in eastern Ukraine following the declaration of independence by pro-Russian separatists in the region.

Respected in the West for her reforms in Ukraine's murky financial sector, Gontareva resigned in 2017 after coming under intense pressure from tycoons and lawmakers who wanted to throw her in jail for devaluating the national currency.

Ukrainian investigators conducted searches last week in Gontareva's flat in Kiev as part of a criminal case into abuse of power.

Gontareva came into conflict with Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, whom she accused of siphoning $5.5 billion from the country's largest bank PrivatBank, which was nationalised in 2016.

Kolomoisky, who returned to Ukraine this year after living abroad, has links to former comedian President Zelensky.

The oligarch's channel broadcasts Zelensky's shows, and Zelensky has employed several people who formerly worked for Kolomoisky.

Zelensky earlier this month met Kolomoisky, who is looking to invalidate PrivatBank's nationalisation.

The tycoon denied the two discussed a deal on PrivatBank, but said he saw a "good window of opportunity" for a "settlement".