* Reformist central bank governor resigns
* Subject of hate campaign
* Warns of resistance to change
* Graphic of Ukraine's politics and economy bit.ly/2optThb
(Adds president's office statement)
By Natalia Zinets
KIEV, April 10 Ukraine's central bank governor,
Valeria Gontareva, resigned on Monday, depriving the country of
a tough reformer capable of taking on vested interests at a time
when the economy is just recovering from a steep recession.
She warned at a news conference that resistance to change
would now increase.
The resignation -- effective on May 10 -- comes a week after
the International Monetary Fund, which supports Ukraine with a
$17.5 billion bailout package, said domestic politics could
derail crucial reforms such as raising the pension age and
lifting a ban on land sales.
Praised by investors and the IMF, Gontareva's tough
anti-crisis measures saw her vilified by some lawmakers and
local businessmen. A hate campaign against her included a
protester leaving a coffin at her door.
The former investment banker and business partner of
President Petro Poroshenko took charge nearly three years ago
after Russia's annexation of Crimea and with Ukraine in the
throes of a pro-Russian separatist uprising.
Gontareva stressed on Monday that her departure would not
change central bank policy or the make up of its board in the
near future, and she emphasised the importance of continued
cooperation with the IMF to guarantee stability and keep the
But she left with a final warning shot, calling for the
central bank to stay independent and told reporters: "I believe
that resistance to changes and reforms will grow stronger now."
Her departure as head of the National Bank of Ukraine leaves
Poroshenko with one fewer ally in power at a time when lenders
already question his 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.
Other reformers who quit or were pushed out include Economy
Minister Aivaras Abromavicius and the head of the national
The IMF's representative to Ukraine praised Gontareva's
clean-up of the banking system and her track record of bringing
down inflation and rebuilding reserves.
"It will be critical to select a new governor of high
professional quality and independence who can continue on the
good road on which Ms. Gontareva has placed the (central bank),"
Jerome Vacher said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
Poroshenko's office said the president would submit his
nomination for the next chief to parliament when an appropriate
candidate had been agreed on.
DIFFICULT YEARS AHEAD
Gontareva introduced sweeping reforms, including shutting
down half Ukraine's lenders and switching to a flexible exchange
rate. Economic growth is expected to be 2 percent this year,
according to the IMF's forecast.
As if to underline the kind of conflicts in store for her
successor, around 100 protesters gathered at the Kiev
headquarters of the Russian-owned Sberbank on Monday,
demanding the bank be shut down, a Reuters witness said.
Accused of being a Russian stooge, Gontareva had called for
the protesters to end a campaign to vandalise and obstruct the
work of Kremlin-owned lenders, warning of the threat to
One of her biggest reforms was nationalising PrivatBank, an
oligarch-owned lender of systemic importance which she said lent
all its corporate loans to parties related to its owners.
On Monday, she alleged that 16 billion hryvnias ($594
million) had been withdrawn from PrivatBank the night before it
was taken over by the state, and the bank therefore now needs
Glib Vyshlinsky, executive director of the Center for
Economic Strategy, said Ukraine faces a difficult future as it
has to service nearly $13 billion of external debt.
"If Gontareva leaves and her post will be taken by someone
weaker and more controlled by different interest groups, this
will mean that the ability to finance these payments without
default and without threats to financial stability will
decrease," he said.
"This will be quite a serious risk for Poroshenko's
re-election in 2019 as well as for gaining control in the
The hryvnia currency was steady on Monday.
"She has been guiding the Ukrainian economy fairly well over
these extremely challenging times, so I think this would be read
negatively by the market. Of course we have to see who will be
the replacement," said Jakob Christensen, head of emerging
markets research, Danske Bank.
Gontareva had signalled in March that she would quit after
the IMF dispersed its latest tranche of aid.
"Yesterday there was a coffin with my head in it at the main
entrance of the central bank," she told journalists on March 2.
"If the whole country sees that as normal, then that's that."
($1 = 26.9300 hryvnias)
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Gleb Garanich and
Matthias Williams in KIEV, Sujata Rao and Claire Milhench in
LONDON; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)