Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pakistani Ukrainian Oligarch's Newspaper Led Opposition to Yanukovich

Oligarchs have shaped politics in post-Soviet Russia and other former Soviet republics including The Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. One such oligarch is Karachi-born Pakistani Ukrainian Mohammad Zahoor, a member of growing Pakistani diaspora which is already the world's 7th largest. He owns Kyiv Post newspaper which is widely believed to have led the campaign to topple pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Mohammad and Kamaliya Zahoor

In 1974, Zahoor left Karachi, Pakistan, for the Soviet Union to study metallurgy in Donetsk in the Ukraine. Though he moved back with his Russian wife to work at Pakistan Steel Mills plant in Karachi, Pakistan upon graduation but he didn’t stay there long.

“Having a Russian wife limited my career development there,” he told Newsweek. “The secret services were also very active during the ’80s, and I thought it better to leave.” He moved to Moscow to work for a Pakistani steel company in the late ’80s, and hasn’t looked back since

He learned Russian and metallurgy well. Then he eventually found a way to apply those skills in Ukraine, one of the world’s top 10 steel-exporting nations. Zahoor also displayed a talent for knowing when to get out of a business, as he did in 2008 by selling his Donetsk steel mill for a top-drawer price of $1 billion, according to Kyiv Post. He has since invested in media and real estate businesses.

Zahoor With Trophy Wife Kamaliya

Zahoor divorced his first wife to marry Kamaliya (born as Natalya Shmarenkova in 1977) in 2003. Kamaliya won Mrs. World title in 2008. She is involved in charitable work in both Ukraine and Pakistan. They live in a mansion designed to resemble Dubai’s hotel Burj al-Arab in the suburbs of Kyiv. The couple had twin daughters last year. Zahoor has two grown children, Arman and Tanya, from his previous marriage.

Zahoor and Kamaliya have starred in a Fox Entertainment reality show "Meet the Russians". Kamaliya has a singing career with hit singles like "Crazy In My Heart," "Rising Up," and "Butterflies," and she is also famous for singing duets with Russian pop star Philipp Kirkorov.

Here's a Kamaliya music and dance video:

Kamaliya - Butterflies (Fabinho DVJ & DJ Antoine vs. Mad Mark Remix) from Fabinho DVJ on Vimeo.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Ukraine's Muslim Billionaire Holds Balance of Power

Crimean Muslims Oppose Russian Take-over 

Pakistani Diaspora is World's 7th Largest

Putin Challenges US Exceptionalism

Syrian Crisis

Hui Muslims in China

Turkish Soaps in Pakistan

Muslims Demographics in West

Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

US Dollar is Global Currency


Faisal said...

Very interesting. I have met in Moscow in the mid 90s. There is another Pakistani Russian Tariq Chaudhry

Haroon said...

Riaz sahib!!!!! I know Dr zahoor since last 20 Years and facts stated are not right. He does Good business based in London and his status is exagerated. He sold Helicopters to Pakistan in 2005 also. Dr Tariq is much bigger in Finacial and Political strength But Dr zahoor always Concentrate More on Self propogation.

Saeed said...

When I was working in pak steel 1975 - 1981 Zahoor too working. He never worked but after joining steel mills immediately transferred himself to Moscow due to his family connection

Riaz Haq said...

Trouble in Ukraine was started by US by orchestrating the removal of President Yanukovych seen as pro-Moscow by the West. There were leaked taped phone conversations of a US State Dept official and US Ambassador to Ukraine which showed US picking a replacement while Yanukovych was still in charge. Putin is reacting to it in ways that the West did not expect. The West badly miscalculated Putin's strong reaction in spite of earlier warning signs seen when Georgian President made provocative moves in Abkhazia in 2008.

Riaz Haq said...

On September 19 next week, the Kyiv Post will complete 20 years of existence, 20 years in which this tenacious newsweekly with a print circulation of little more than 15,000 has consistently scrapped and punched above its weight.

This is in part because it publishes in English, making it the source of first resort for news on Ukraine for embassies in Kiev and chanceries around the world, as well as for any expat doing business in this country of simpatico citizens and venal officialdom.

The other element of its success has been its consistent, and cussed, independence. The paper tells it arrow-straight in a part of the world where much of the media twists the news to suit the interests of oligarch owners and corrupt politicians.

By contrast, the record shows that the Kyiv Post gets the story right most of the time; and apart from a few instances of turbulence between owner and editors, the quality of its journalism is not inferior to any reputable publication in the West. Staid it may be on occasion, but it’s never dodgy or unreliable.

* * *

I am in Koncha-Zaspa, a zippy 30-minute drive south of Kiev in a daredevil local journalist’s car. This is a wooded suburb of the capital, dotted with mansions of questionable taste, some grotesque.

By the standards of the zip code, Mohammad Zahoor’s pile is restrained, though it could hardly be called understated. The security is relaxed — one man at the gate who waves us through, another who ushers us to a parking spot; and as we descend from our car, a tall Pakistani man, about 6-foot-2, approaches us. It’s Zahoor, Ukraine’s richest expat, a “minigarch” worth about $1 billion (some say), and the owner of the Kyiv Post.

Zahoor is 60 years old, though his jet-black hair isn’t a day older than 30. His physique suggests regular trips to the gym. He is a virile chap, with two little toddlers to prove it. They’re twins — Arabella and Mirabella — his daughters with his wife Kamaliya, a bombshell blonde who was Mrs. World in 2008, and is today a singer of some repute not just in Ukraine but in those parts of Europe where the pop culture is unfussy.

We banter with Zahoor’s twins for a while before they’re whisked off by a posse of nannies (I count four). A housekeeper brings us chai made in the way of the Indian subcontinent, strong brick-red tea with lots of milk and sugar. After a few sips — the tea is hot, and we slurp noisily — Zahoor starts to reminisce. His speech is languid, his accent a mix of Pakistan and Britain. “You want to know my story?” he asks.

Men of steel

The owner of the Kyiv Post arrived in Moscow in 1974 on an engineering scholarship. He’d been at college in Karachi, and when he learned of his selection by the Soviet education ministry his parents were on a pilgrimage to Mecca, so he left without telling them. He was one of 42 students flown in from Pakistan: 14 stayed in Moscow, 14 went to St. Petersburg, and 14 unlucky ones — among them Zahoor — were put on a train to Donetsk, a shabby, polluted industrial backwater in then-eastern Soviet Ukraine. Showing early acumen, he changed $40 on the black market before embarking on the 32-hour journey. “I’m from Pakistan. I wouldn’t sell my dollars at the official rate!”

Zahoor studied engineering and steel-making at Donetsk, turning in a thesis on the rolling plant at the Donetsk Steel Mill in 1980. “Sixteen years later I bought that mill,” he says, with obvious — but not off-putting — satisfaction. He returned to Pakistan shortly after with a Russian wife, and worked for Pakistan Steel. “I was a safety engineer. We translated Russian safety manuals into English.”

Riaz Haq said...

Journalist Explains How Panama Papers Opened Up The World's Illicit Money Networks


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Before Donald Trump was elected president, some of his business partners on Trump-branded hotels and condos and the Miss Universe pageant were oligarchs from Russia and former Soviet bloc countries who kept a lot of their money hidden in the secret world of shell companies. Those business partnerships are the subject of the final chapter of my guest, Jake Bernstein's new book, "Secrecy World."


GROSS: Well - and as you point out in your book about the Panama Papers, it became hard - it became difficult for Donald Trump to get funding from U.S. banks because of his bankruptcies or near bankruptcies and because of all the money he spent in civil suits. So he looked to other places. And I guess Russia was one of those places. The oligarchs were among those people he turned to.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, he absolutely, you know, hungered for that money. And he was doing business with people who were very much in that orbit, you know, people like Tevfik Arif who is - had a company called Bayrock and worked with Trump on the Trump SoHo, which Trump gave naming rights to and did other stuff for you. And Tevfik Arif is a guy who made - his family made their initial fortune the fall of the Soviet Union. They ended up with a bunch of chemical factories that had been privatized.

GROSS: So another investor in Trump SoHo through Bayrock was Alexander Mashkevich, a Ukrainian billionaire. Who's he?

BERNSTEIN: Alexander Mashkevich is - now sort of claims - even though he was on investor handouts for Trump SoHo, he claims that he never actually invested in it. So that's sort of an open question. But Mashkevich is part of a group of folks who are - do heavy - were heavy into mining in Africa and other places. There was quite a bit of controversy about their activities there. And they were sort of sketchy enough that even Mossack Fonseca had some red flags about their activities and had second thoughts about taking on companies from them. And Mashkevich, ironically, was on the same boat in Turkey with Tevfik Arif during this prostitution sting. Now, both men claim that it was not prostitution. They were just on this boat with a lot of young women. And it was completely, you know, above board, so to speak.


BERNSTEIN: So the company behind this was called Bayrock. And the person behind Bayrock was Tevfik Arif who is a - originally a Russian guy - Eastern bloc guy who comes to America and starts doing real estate deals. And he had extensive business with Trump. He had - his office is actually in Trump Tower, you know, right below Trump's office in Trump Tower at the very top of the building. And Tevfik Arif is a guy who has some questionable moments in his past, including he was ensnared in a prostitution sting in Turkey that ultimately goes nowhere because none of the young girls would testify. And Arif also received money from a shady Icelandic conglomerate with questionable revenue sources funneled through the secrecy world.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan's Mohammad Zahoor, the former publisher of Kyiv Post -- an English newspaper -- was once Ukraine's richest expat. His newspaper had a print circulation of little more than 15,000 and was reputed for being independent and straight.

He is now the owner and chairman of ISTIL Group. In 2021, in an interview with Kyiv Post, he shared his views about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said, "I have seen that the International Monetary Fund isn’t lending the money. I see the debt is increasing. Basically, I think we are still stuck with the legal system, the corruption in the legal system... Instead of having all these G7 meetings, etc., the government and parliament should pay more attention to passing laws not the slippery laws to fool the West that we are doing something. The cold shoulder that Zelensky was given during the American visit is a sign that not everybody is buying what they’re being told."

"If you look at the words of Zelensky, he’s not happy. Before, he was pro-West. Now he’s complaining. Now it’s 'we have to do it ourselves. The West is not going to help us.' If you do good things, they will help you. But just because you’re being haunted by the Russians, you expect everyone to do everything for you, but you are not going to do anything else except play 'a victimized country',” he said.

Sixty-six-year-old Mohammad Zahoor arrived in Moscow in 1974 on an engineering scholarship. He attended college in Pakistan's Karachi and was later selected by the Soviet education ministry, following which he left home without telling his parents -- who were on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

However, he was one of the 14 unlucky students out of the 42 who were flown in from Pakistan to be sent to Donetsk -- now one of the rebel Ukrainian regions recognised as independent by Russian President Vladimir Putin, ahead of the war on Ukraine.

He studied engineering and steel-making at Donetsk and wrote a thesis on the rolling plant at the Donetsk Steel Mill in 1980 - which he bought after 16 years.

Later, he returned to Pakistan with his Russian wife and worked for Pakistan Steel. “I was a safety engineer. We translated Russian safety manuals into English,” he said.

His return to Pakistan was at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which raised doubts about his Russian wife. He was questioned about letters from Russia at his Pakistan residence. And soon it was made clear that his professional prospects were bleak if he had to stay married to his wife.

He left for Moscow in 1987 and started working for a Pakistani trading company and helped his employers buy Russian steel at $100 a ton to sell it abroad for $250. “We bought 10,000 tons in all — $1.5 million in profit,” he said.

About three years later, in the 1990s, he started his own business in partnership with a Thai steelmaker, making a profit of $40-50 million per annum. In 1996, he bought the Donetsk mill where he studied as a student. He turned the ``shambolic post-Soviet plant into a state-of-the-art steel mill'.

“It was President [Leonid] Kuchma’s time. Dinosaurs could just roll up and take your business away,” he said, talking about the lawless days back then. One of those he named was Rinat Akhmetov, who tried that but Zahoor fought back, a case that the Kyiv Post took up. However, Zahoor made a deal with another oligarch, Viktor Nusenkis, to keep Akhmetov at bay, but ceded 90 per cent of the plant.

“I continued in steel until 2008, buying mills in the US, the UK, and Serbia, and building a mill in Dubai. We had two piers in Odessa port,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Editor’s Note: The following is a Q&A with Mohammad Zahoor, owner of the ISTIL Group of companies and publisher of the Kyiv Post from 2009- 2018. He is a British citizen who is a native of Pakistan. He is married to singer-actress Kamaliya and has four children, including twin eight-year-old daughters. Zahoor spoke to Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner on Sept. 15, 2021, in his Kyiv office.

Kyiv Post: How do you spend your time?

Mohammad Zahoor: I’m semi-retired and just come to the office to have some meetings. I’m mostly looking after my two kids, who just turned eight. I’m enjoying happy family life. During this period of 1.5 years (during the coronavirus pandemic), the business was not flourishing, of course, so at least we’ve found some harmony at home.

KP: When was the last time you were in Pakistan?

MZ: I was in Pakistan in February after the death of my sister-in-law, my brother’s wife, who died of COVID-19.

KP: What’s the potential for growth in Ukraine-Pakistan trade?

MZ: Ukraine has a lot to deliver to Pakistan, including agricultural products, besides the defense industry stuff. There’s a lot of potential for Ukraine to import, the textile, the leather goods, the surgery instruments, the sports goods and the fruits, mangoes, especially…from the Pakistani side, I don’t think it will go into billions.

KP: When can I check into your unopened hotel on Zoloti Vorota?

MZ: I’m still looking for a partner to invest with me in the hotel and a casino.

KP: What are the prospects for the newly legalized gambling in Ukraine?

MZ: Ukraine doesn’t have these high rollers (big gamblers).

KP: Why don’t you just spend down your net worth to get the hotel finished?

MZ: I don’t want any more headaches.

KP: What’s happening with the Kinopanorama building in the center of Kyiv?

MZ: The day before yesterday, we got this new ‘present’ that the Kinopanorama is a ‘cultural heritage’ so we cannot reconstruct it. So we have to keep it in the same way, which is miserable, this is a 1958 building, which is the Communist era. Now, there’s a cinema that is closed. It’s empty. We wanted to make it a place for people because the city has a shortage of event halls. We ourselves, when we want to do an event, all the places are gone.

KP: So, you own two of the best properties in town that are empty?

MZ: Yes.

KP: Did you get any compensation for your stolen assets in the Kremlin-occupied Donbas?

MZ: No.

KP: Do you expect any?

MZ: No.

KP: YUNA, the annual music awards program you sponsor, got back on track this year after a year off from the coronavirus. All good?

MZ: What we expected this year when we were allowed to bring only 50% of the people to the venue, the government would give us a 50% discount on the rent of the Palace of Ukraine. We were never compensated.

KP: Did you buy any businesses or property in the last year?

MZ: No

KP: Did you sell anything?

MZ: No.

KP: Are you still optimistic about President Volodymyr Zelensky?

MZ: I have seen that the International Monetary Fund isn’t lending the money. I see the debt is increasing. Basically, I think we are still stuck with the legal system, the corruption in the legal system…Instead of having all these G7 meetings, etc., the government and parliament should pay more attention to passing laws – not the slippery laws – to fool the West that we are doing something. The cold shoulder that Zelensky was given during the American visit is a sign that not everybody is buying what they’re being told. The rhetoric has changed. If you look at the words of Zelensky, he’s not happy. Before, he was pro-West. Now he’s complaining. Now it’s “we have to do it ourselves. The West is not going to help us.” If you do good things, they will help you. But just because you’re being haunted by the Russians, you expect everyone to do everything for you, but you are not going to do anything else except play “a victimized country.”

Muzaffar Ahmed Khan said...

How did a boy from Karachi become the billionaire prince of Kyiv, Ukraine?
At that time Ukraine was part of the USSR...Pakistani-born billionaire Muhammad Zahoor, also known as the 'Prince of Kyiv'. The world knows him as the 'Steel King' and a major figure in Ukraine's entertainment industry. Mohammad Zahoor mentions his close ties with the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine.
Muhammad Zahoor was born in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan. His father Khushal Khan hails from Hasnaina village in the Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
"When I arrived in Moscow in the late 80s, I started supplying spare parts to a company," he said. At the same time, I told my company that moving steel from here could be a lucrative deal. Almost everyone in the steel mills knew me." In this business, his company started sending steel to Pakistan but in return for this sale, the payment from Pakistan was in the form of clothes instead of cash. He said that the profit in this work was immense i.e. many times more than the prevailing profit in the market.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistani billionaire from Kyiv urges world to support Ukraine

As international sanctions followed Russia’s invasion, aiming to cut Moscow off from the world’s financial arteries, Zahoor said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called for the world’s intervention before the violence broke out.

“I think Europe has done much (less) than they should have done. Not only EU, but America and UK as well. They have supported all the way, first by words, then by sending those stinger or javelin missiles and that’s it,” he added.

Now, as sanctions are underway, the damage has reportedly already been done to the whole region.

Zahoor said the war may have consequences for Russia similar to the fallout from the Soviet-Afghan war from 1979 to 1989, which drastically weakened the Russian military and economy. That defeat in Afghanistan was one of the major reasons for the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

“Ukraine is going to be the next Afghanistan for Russia,” he said. “I don’t know how many years they are going to be in Ukraine, but once they are out, they will be broken into pieces.”

Riaz Haq said...

Why Is Ukraine's Foreign Minister Visiting Pakistan?

Ukraine Arms Likely on Agenda
Pakistan, like many non-Western countries, says it’s adopted a neutral position in the Russia-Ukraine war. But, compared to other countries in the Global South, it’s an outlier in one big way: it’s been providing Ukraine with weapons. Nothing fancy — mainly artillery shells — but Kyiv is burning through massive amounts of firepower and will take ammunition from wherever it can get it. (The U.S. decision to provide Ukraine with cluster bombs makes the coalition’s desperation clear.)

Kuleba — who may be joined by Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov — could ask for more arms during his visit, though that won’t be mentioned in any readout or local press reports.

The reason? Pakistan has yet to publicly acknowledge that it’s been providing Ukraine with arms. The weapons transfers have been covert, taking place indirectly through other European partners. The behind-the-scenes relationship was, however, acknowledged months ago by a European Union (EU) official in a television interview.

India AWOL on Ukraine
It does not appear that Kuleba will stop by New Delhi on this trip. Strikingly, Ukraine’s diplomatic engagement with India is taking place at a lower level. Emine Dzhaparova, the Ukrainian first deputy foreign minister, visited New Delhi in April. And last week, a mid-level Indian diplomat paid a visit to Ukraine.

India, whose leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made recent state visits to France and the United States — continues to remain an ally of Russia and has emerged as a major importer of Russian oil.

India is using its leadership of the G-20 this year to pronounce its rise as a global power. But it’s been absent when it comes to the biggest war Europe has seen since World War Two, seeing it as a sideshow. Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has been dismissive of the Ukraine war, calling it one of “Europe’s problems.”

For his part, Kuleba has harshly criticized New Delhi for its import of Russian oil. He said last August, “Every barrel of Russian crude oil delivered to India has a good portion of Ukrainian blood in it.” Months later, he said India was “benefit[ting] from our suffering,” and called on New Delhi to play a more diplomatic role in the war.

Insurance for the Pakistan Army
Though Kuleba’s visit to Islamabad was requested by Kyiv, it is important for Pakistan — especially its powerful army, which is behind the secret provision of arms to Ukraine. The Pakistan Army has been given a cold shoulder by Washington in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. By arming Ukraine, Pakistan is sending a message to Western powers courting India: we can still be useful to you.

The Pakistan Army is also under criticism domestically and internationally for its crackdown on the party of ex-cricketer Imran Khan.

Pakistani intelligence services have been forcing defections from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party after violence targeting military installations that followed the violent arrest of the ex-cricketer by paramilitary forces on May 9.

This month, EU Ambassador to Pakistan Riina Kionka said that “the crackdown on PTI and supporters in the aftermath of May 9th is certainly something that we’re paying a lot of attention to.” Khan and others who remain with PTI could be tried under military courts.


Dr. Riina Kionka, European Union's ambassador to Pakistan, in an interview with local media in Pakistan on 21 February 2023 said that Pakistan has been helping Ukraine in its protracted conflict with Russia by sending military and humanitarian aid.[24]