Ukraine central bank post in political limbo as Gontareva leaves

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian Central Bank Governor Valeria Gontareva will leave her job on Thursday, leaving her deputy in charge, the central bank said, setting the stage for potentially protracted negotiations between president and parliament on her replacement.

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Praised by the International Monetary Fund and some investors for her reforms of the banking system, Gontareva, a former investment banker and business partner of President Petro Poroshenko, tendered her resignation a month ago after a sustained campaign against her from protesters and lawmakers.

But Poroshenko has not yet accepted her resignation or nominated a candidate to replace her. Some names have been doing the rounds and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has backed Volodymyr Lavrenchuk, head of Raiffeisen's RBIV.VI Ukrainian unit, for the job.

Deputy Governor Yakiv Smoliy will take charge until a new governor is found, the central bank said in its statement.

“Valeria Gontareva is ceasing all official business at the central bank and going on compulsory leave until (parliament) ... approves her resignation,” it said.

“... Yakiv Smoliy will act as chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine until the appointment of a new chairman.”

Parliament is in recess from April until mid-May, meaning Poroshenko has not consulted lawmakers about Gontareva’s replacement, Iryna Lutsenko, a lawmaker and the president’s representative in parliament, told 112 TV on Tuesday.

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“The president will determine his nominee after political consultations with parliament,” she said.

Gontareva tendered her resignation on April 10 and, in a parting shot, warned that the political pressure on her position would increase after her departure.

She took charge of the central bank nearly three years ago, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and with Ukraine in the throes of a pro-Russian separatist uprising.

Her departure leaves Poroshenko with one fewer ally in power at a time when lenders are already questioning Ukraine’s ability to follow through on promised reforms.

It nearly completes an exodus of reformers who were appointed after Poroshenko’s pro-Western administration took charge following the Maidan street protests in 2013-2014.

The IMF, which is supporting Ukraine with a $17.5 billion bailout program that began in 2015, has urged Kiev to appoint a governor with the kind of independence that will allow him or her to build on Gontareva’s reforms.

These include shutting down half Ukraine’s lenders and switching to a flexible exchange rate. She also nationalized PrivatBank, an oligarch-owned lender of systemic importance, which she said lent all its corporate loans to parties related to its owners.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey