Mohammad Zahoor – An Oligarch amidst us

In 1974 with high hopes and ambitions to rival the greatest achievers, a young man ventured out from Karachi, Pakistan to make a new home. This young man was Mohammad Zahoor, and he could be counted as one of the most influential wealthiest businessmen in Ukraine. But before we start off with what Zahoor does as one of Ukraine’s most successful industrialist and media-Mogul. Let us venture back to humble beginnings.

Mohammad Zahoor
Mohammad Zahoor & Kamaliya

Before jetting off to a foreign land Zahoor made a firm decision. He would not conform to going to the West where most people around him were settling. Instead he ventured East, specifically to Donetsk in Soviet Ukraine, where he enrolled in a university to study metallurgy. For those of you less informed like myself, Google defines it as “the branch of science and technology concerned with the properties of metals and their production.” With steely determination complimenting this very unorthodox field of study, Zahoor moved back to Pakistan after graduating. He built a foundation and quickly journeyed back into Russia, specifically Moscow.

Success came in the fall of the U.S.S.R. The state was in disarray and not many steel mills knew how to export their product. Enter Zahoor and a jolly Thai partner. Their trading company, Metals Russia, took charge and started exporting worldwide. “It was a crazy time, and so many people had to be paid separately for one deal to go through,” he says. “But the margins were very high, and it was possible to make a killing.” If he thought fortune played him a bad hand in 1993

when Thailand imposed an anti-dumping ban on Russian rolled metal, he was surely mistaken. For this particular ban was the start of something greater.

The 90’s bred several oligarchs and tycoons in the former Soviet Union. There were a handful of foreign investors who flourished and were helped by a rather abstracted rule of law. In 1996 Zahoor along with his Thai partner bought the Donetsk Metallurgical Steel Mill in Ukraine and set about modernizing it. Heavy in debt and with massive capital required to reboot the plant, his job wasn’t made any simpler being caught in the crossfire of local groups jousting for control of it. He faced plenty of verbal intimidation but wouldn’t budge.

His first experience for the value of an independent media came through such hurdles. Zahoor took his problems public after acquiring a British passport and lobbied the British embassy and Western chamber of commerce to support his cause. Influencing the Ukrainian government like this did bear fruit and after losing one mill in 2000 he retained a smaller one sold and it eight years later for $500 million. You see, he foresaw China bulking up on steel for the Beijing Olympics and decided it was a good time to sell. The Russian investors who bought the mill experienced, six months later, the price of steel drop two-fold. Zahoor is nothing if not perceptive.

After roughhousing with steel mills and Ukrainian threats, Zahoor took a route of high-profile real estate deals and investment media. His current wife Kamaliya (former Olya), a Miss World winner and current pop star, is very popular in Europe and he has reportedly wished her to become the ‘Lady Gaga of Europe’.

In he real-estate his company bought the pre-revolutionary Leipzig Hotel, an art deco gem, for $35 million and opened it as a Marriot Renaissance Hotel not three years ago.

Zahoor is human as well; he’s made losses, almost of up to $60 million in a failed attempt to introduce a satellite television network in Ukraine. But while he surely is looking at television as his next big fortune, his baby will always be the Kiev Post. Probably borne out of his past experiences I mentioned before, Zahoor looks at this newspaper as a sense of community service. The Kiev Post is an English language weekly that is largely seen as an opposition newspaper. It is a symbol of free press in the Ukraine and any attempts by administrations to gag it would cause public outcry and damage an already fragile relationship with the West. He bought this paper for a million dollars in 2009 and has used it to cement his social standing along with a state-of-the-art television facility, ISTIL Studios, in which he creates cultured shows for the local market.

Like other oligarchs and men with pouring money he has lavish homes in Dubai and the posh Hampton neighbourhood of London. His office in Ukraine floats above a Maserati dealership and one would expect he could easily go in and drive out a new car at his desire. He certainly has class and looks more suave than other buckle-belt oligarchs. Although 57, he is very young at heart, and jets off to Barcelona or Berlin at a moment’s notice on his wife’s touring schedule. He even bought an eighty foot yacht for her out of sheer boredom once! But like all Pakistanis who have left their homeland, his taste for spicy korma and cricket is still as fresh as ever.