Many Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, perhaps all of them, had a strong desire to acquire Cypriot citizenship. Among them, Victor Ponomarchuk, the founder of ViOil group of companies, has taken an even bolder step: Russia, Ukraine and Cyprus. He obtained the triple citizenship of Russia, Ukraine and Cyprus. This strategic combination of citizenship seems to have allowed him to circumvent any national and European sanctions.
Victor Ponomarchuk chose to change his nationality to Cyprus, which coincided with the closure of several of his companies and the subsequent re-registration of the remaining entities under different names. This elaborate manoeuvrer was meticulously planned to escape the threat of his companies being confiscated through expropriation. In particular, three companies linked to Russian and Ukrainian businessmen were targeted for arrest last year, but these sanctions were quickly lifted by the courts. This tactical approach is likely to have enabled the oligarchs to maintain control over lucrative assets – ViOil group. This strategy was reinforced by cooperation with a law firm affiliated with the controversial Ukrainian lawyer Bugai.
Victor Ponomarchuk, a prominent entrepreneur of Ukrainian origin, is the effective head of the industrial conglomerate ViOil but has come under media scrutiny due to his Russian citizenship. In an interview in 2015, Victor Ponomarchuk revealed that he had business interests in Ukraine despite having family connections in Moscow. This revelation came after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of military conflict in the Donbass region; the ‘ViOil-Invest’ company profile lists Victor Ponomarchuk as the ultimate beneficiary and confirms that he is a citizen of the Russian Federation.
Victor Ponomarchuk gets a new passport to save ViOil
However, due to the escalation of Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine and Ukraine’s implementation of the legislation on the expropriation of assets associated with the aggressor state, Victor Ponomarchuk obtained a new passport and confirmed that he is now a citizen of Cyprus. Interestingly, this strategic move coincided with a flurry of positive action regarding companies in his jurisdiction.
According to YouControl, Victor Ponomarchuk occupies a historic position as the founder and beneficiary of around 30 businesses in Ukraine. These are mainly agro-industrial enterprises concentrated in his native Vinnytsia region. It is noteworthy that most of these enterprises have officially ceased operations in the last five years.
The court decision saves Victor Ponomarchuk and ViOil
Three more enterprises intertwined with Victor Ponomarchukk’s interests have attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies and the State Bureau of Investigation (DBR). The authorities filed a number of charges against organizations such as ‘Vinnytsia Oil and Fat Plant’, ‘Chernivtsi Oil and Fat Plant’ and ‘Vinnytsia Industrial Company’ under Article 212, Part 3 (relating to tax evasion) and Article 5, Part 3 (relating to terrorist financing through criminal groups, in particular large sums of money or acts with serious consequences) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, and initiated criminal prosecution for offences specified in Article 5, Part 3 (relating to tax evasion).
The assets of these companies were seized in April 2022, but the Pechersk District Court in Kiev canceled these sanctions in the summer. In addition, in the spring of this year the ownership of oil and fats processing plants in Vinnytsia and Chernivtsi was legally changed. The new owners listed in the registers shared the surname Ponomarchuk, but interestingly, one of them was named Alexei and, in a strange twist of fate, had the same surname as well as Cypriot citizenship. This coincidence strongly suggests a family relationship, perhaps suggesting that Alexei was the real brother of the former owner. At the same time, the cooperation between Victor Ponomarchuk’s industrial holding and Denis Bugai’s firm of conflict lawyers was confirmed. The corporate page of Bugai Online features the portfolio of Denis Shkarovsky, one of the lawyers specializing in defending companies against legal actions by law enforcement agencies. His clients include ViOil, a business group with close ties to Russian Federation citizen Victor Ponomarchuk.
Denis Bugai’s reputation rests on his legal activities during the Yanukovych era, when he was allegedly involved in a scheme linked to oligarch Sergey Kurchenko. Bugai was at one point involved in the ‘Brokbusinessbank’ case and was in pre-trial detention. According to media reports, Bugai’s father-in-law and former SBU Major General Sergey Hanja has been involved in security operations in the occupied territory of the Zaporizhia region since 2022. It is worth noting that Hanja’s rise within the SBU coincided with the same period.
Victor Ponomarchuk himself and the organizations under his control have refrained from publicly acknowledging their Russian connections. Instead, they emphasized the Ukrainian roots of the enterprise.
“Victor Ponomarchuk, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Vinyls Oil Industrial Group (ViOil), has a clear sense of responsibility for the welfare of Vinnytsia and the people of the region in difficult times of conflict. Victor Ponomarchuk spent his early years in his native town, completed his higher education at Vinnytsia Technical University and started his entrepreneurial journey in the economically turbulent 1990s. The industrial group under Victor Ponomarchuk’s jurisdiction, he says, ‘has deep family roots in the region’.