Maybe one day we can toast greater openness in Ukraine

From Mr Alexander Lebedev.

Sir, It was interesting to read your report about two International Monetary Fund economists comparing wine prices with crude oil prices as an investment (“Fine wine investors receive a crude awakening over risk”, January 11). To some extent I wish I had bought at least several dozens of cellars of wine (1850-1975) rather than investing $350m in the Ukraine economy.

Of course, one does not wish to be accused of sour grapes if one points out that the IMF might also spend its time better looking at its investment in Ukraine, now under the closest scrutiny by its own inspectors. IMF officials are seeking compliance assurances about additional loans of more than $10bn granted to President Viktor Yanukovich’s government. While naturally it is claimed that these meet every budgetary and foreign investment regulation and law, there are widespread allegations in Ukraine that top officials have a hidden interest in natural gas dealings and abuse their powers as officials for personal gain in dealings that incur damages to state coffers.

Alas, my personal experience of investing in Ukraine has lacked the purported sweetness of an investment in fine wine, and is certainly less pleasurable than tasting it. Local thugs for years tried to confiscate a hotel in Kiev in which I had bought a 50 per cent share. Having built the biggest new hotel spa chain in the Crimea with 1,500 jobs, I helplessly witness it being raided by corrupt police.

I would like IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn to remember that upholding law and order is key to investor confidence in any country, and that what is not acceptable is tolerating corruption, which so far has been noted and addressed only by local government and only in the case of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Can I propose that we all may one day raise a glass of wine to toast more and better transparency law and openness in Ukraine’s business climate? Can I, as a taxpayer in a small way contributing to the IMF’s funding, hope to be heard?

Alexander Lebedev,

London W1, UK

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