Serhiy Vitaliiovych Kurchenko (Ukrainian: Сергі́й Віта́лійович Ку́рченко; born 21 September 1985) is a Ukrainian businessman and founder/owner of the group of companies "Gas Ukraine", which controls 18% of the liquefied gas market in Ukraine and has an annual turnover of about 10 billion dollars. Kurchenko is also the owner and president of FC Metalist Kharkiv and the Ukrainian Media Holding group. Kurchenko left Ukraine in February 2014 and his current whereabouts are unknown. Since the following month Kurchenko has been on the international wanted list. Since then his property and other assets have been arrested.
Early life and education
Kurchenko was born 21 September 1985 into a low-income family in Kharkiv, Saltovka. From 1992-2002 he attended secondary school number 122. From 2002-2006 he attended National Technical University Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute studying Economics and Entrepreneurship. He graduated with a Bachelor in Accounting and Auditing, followed by studies in "Intellectual Property" from 2006-2008 resulting in a master's degree. From 2009-2011 he attended National University Yaroslav the Wise Law Academy of Ukraine graduating with a law degree.
Teachers and classmates described him as a closed and restrained person. Employees described him as communicable, but not striking.
Kurchenko started working as a courier for Naftogaz, Ukraine's national oil and gas company, when he was 16. Per his official biography he advanced to deputy commercial director, by reorganizing the wholesale of liquefied gas within two years. Implementation of his projects increased Ekspogaz's profits. Kurchenko left Ekspogaz and started his own business in 2005 at the age of 19 years.
His official biography on "Metalist" states "The experience and attracted financing allowed him to carry out a few successful investment projects in the primary market building and the land market in the Kharkiv region. From 2005 to 2008, prior to the 2008 financial crisis, prices on the real estate market in Ukraine rose more than 30% per year." The biography does not mention any projects or the name of his firm.
Gaz Ukraine 2009
In 2009, Kurchenko founded a group of companies named "Gas Ukraine 2009". The group includes 55 companies of diverse activities, and all are registered in Kharkiv region and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
The group's main activity is the sale of petroleum products, implementation of liquefied gas and public procurement. According to Yuri Sirotyuk, the deputy of Svoboda party, Gaz Ukraine monopolized the Ukrainian liquefied gas market and smuggled gasoline with interrupted transit and fake exports schemes in 2009.
In December 2012, Oleksandr Yaroslavsky sold the football club FC Metalist Kharkiv to Kurchenko. The sale appeared hurried and was realized against the background of the conflict between the government of Kharkiv and the former co-owner of the Metalist stadium. Per the FC Metalist press-office Kurchenko met with head coach Myron Markevich, General Director Sergei Volik and Sport Director Eugene Krasnikov on 30 December 2012, in the office of Gas Ukraine 2009 in Kiev.
Ivan Savvidis, the controlling shareholder of Greek FC PAOK, suggested that Kurchenko was not the owner of FC Metalist. When a journalist for The View newspaper asked about a game of chess with the owner of Metalist, Savvidis responded that he plays only with the real owners. He said, "Who is the true owner of Metalist? Come on, I know a little more than you think."
VETEK group of companies
On 22 February 2013, the press-service of the group of companies "Gas Ukraine 2009" announced the formation of a new group of companies "East European Energy Company."(VETEK)consisting of two major companies LLC "VETEK" and LLC "VETEK." and others, with Kurchenko controlling the development strategy of the new group.
On 26 February 2013, the VETEK group of companies bought 99.6% of the Odessa refinery's shares from Lukoil. Despite the plant's opening ceremony on 29 March 2013 it has not been operating.
On 21 June 2013, VETEK group announced the purchase of Ukrainian Media Holding (UMH group) which manages more than 50 media brands in Ukraine, including Forbes, Vogue, Reporter, Focus (Ukrainian magazine), Telenedelya (TV week), i.ua, bigmir.net (Ukrainian web portal), football.ua, Retro FM, radio, Europa Plus, AvtoRadio, Arguments and Facts, Komsomolskaya Pravda in Ukraine and others, with 4,000 employees in 42 offices in Russia and Ukraine at a 2011 revenue of $138 million. Although the founder of UMH, Boris Lozhkin, declared that the transaction was of a commercial nature, some commentators suggested that the information field for 2015 would be cleared for the benefit of the VETEK group. The chief editor of Forbes Ukraine, Vladimir Fedorin, suspected that the sale of Forbes Ukraine would end it in its current form and that the buyer intended to silence journalists before the presidential election, to whitewash his own reputation, or use the edition to resolve the issues that do not have anything to do with the media business.
On 23 August 2013, Kurchenko met with the editors of Ukrainian Media Holding and presented a new structure named VETEK Media. Kurchenko stated, "VETEK Media is one of the directions of our business. We will continue our development in Ukraine, Russia and Europe. Today the main asset of media direction is UMH."
On 17 July 2013, Kurchenko bought 80% of the shares Brockbusinessbank VETEK. The bank's Chief of its Board of Directors is Boris Timonkin, and Igor Franzkevich is Chairman of the Board. Brokbusinessbank conducts a significant amount of salary projects, particularly the accounts by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.
On 28 August 2013, Kurchenko bought the Metalist stadium. He paid 674 million 522 thousand UAH, which was 84 hryvnia more than the start price. The club stated, "The only participant of the contest was SK Metalist Stadium, which is part of the football club Metalist, owned by Serhiy Kurchenko."
Forbes Media revoked the local publication license to Forbes Ukraine in August 2015.
Media have described Kurchenko as the "wizard of gaz", the "gas king of Ukraine" and "business sensation of Ukraine 2012". He gives no interviews, no live comments, and makes no appearances on open business forums, releasing only prepared press releases.
According to investigative journalists, Kurchenko's achievements in the trade of liquefied natural gas, oil products and products for the oil and gas industry resulted from his connections to high-ranking officials in the government of Ukraine, namely Artem Pshonka, the son of former Prosecutor General of Ukraine and Party of regions MP Viktor Pshonka and Oleksandr Yanukovych, the eldest son of former President Viktor Yanukovych. Further connections are Serhiy Arbuzov, first Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Alexander Klimenko, Ministry of Finance (Ukraine). Kurchenko has denied these connections. Dmitry Firtash's companies allegedly provided cheap gas for Kurchenko to sell.
Following the 22 February 2014 impeachment of former President Viktor Yanukovych, Kurchenko and 17 other individuals like relatives, prominent businessmen and former senior officials considered close to Yanukovich became subject of a European Union asset freeze effective 6 March 2014. Kurchenko had left Ukraine the previous month and moved to an unknown location; his press spokesman released a statement to the Financial Times saying, "I am an honest Ukrainian businessman, I am ready to provide all the necessary documents and to give any assistance to the EU inspection bodies in order to prove my innocence." A warrant for his arrest was issued in Ukraine on 20 March 2014. Since the same month Kurchenko has been on the international wanted list. Since then his property and other assets have been arrested.
According to Ukraine's general prosecutor, Kurchenko is under investigation for failing to pay $130 million in tax and the theft of $180 million from bank investors. He is also accusesed of bying liquefied gas at specialized auctions at ab understated price (allegedly to provide for the needs of the public). According to Ukrainian procecutors this liquefied gas was then sold to Kurchenko-controlled business entities at market prices.