Remember Viktor Yanukovych? Just six weeks ago, he was the president of Ukraine.
He lived in this big house on Mezhyhirya, a palatial 340-acre estate outside Kiev.
Yanukovych murkily privatized the residence in 2007 through a mysterious Ukrainian firm, Tantalit, whose paper trail stretches through Austrian and British front companies to an offshore entity in Lichtenstein. Little is known about Tantalit’s director, Pavel Litovchenko, other than that he used to work for Yanukovych’s eldest son, Alexander, and then served as the family’s lawyer. Lawmaker Sergei Kluyev, whose brother Andrei was Yanukovych’s right-hand man, took over the estate in August 2013. Activists now want the state to turn it into the world’s first museum of corruption.
In November 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets against him.
The protests began over Yanukovych’s U-turn from the European Union toward Russia, but soon turned into a full-fledged revolutionary movement demanding his ouster. Though remarkably peaceful most of the time, they eventually spiraled into violent clashes with the police Feb. 19 to 21. More than 100 people died, many of them from sniper fire.
Yanukovych fled the estate for Russia on Feb. 22 and still claims to be Ukraine’s legitimate president. Hundreds of stunned Ukrainians descended upon Mezhyhirya later that day.
Many of the documents deal with the day-to-day finances of Mezhyhirya itself, where Yanukovych had been living since 2002.
Surrounded by a 5-meter fence, the estate included a yacht pier, a zoo, a helicopter pad, a tennis court, and a fleet of vintage luxury cars, as well as various offices, guest houses, and gazebos. Ukrainians found treasures there including a golden loaf of bread and what is believed to be the first book printed in Ukraine, The Apostle by Ivan Fyodorov, in 1574.
Here are some of the key revelations from the documents so far.
1. Between 2006 and 2009, Yanukovych spent nearly $30 million on renovating the complex.
Documents show that 153,660,883 Ukrainian hryvnias (about $19 million), 1,043,190 euros, and $8,618,814 were spent on various renovation and construction projects from 2006 through 2008. That included spending about $1 million (8,493,809 hryvnias) on renovating the bath house at the hunting lodge and just under $700,000 on installing air conditioners in Yanukovych’s house.
2. In June 2008, Yanukovych spent 700,000 euros ($965,000) on wooden furniture and doors bought through a Spanish offshore company. It actually says “bought through a Spanish offshore company” in the documents.
The same document also shows Yanukovych spent 16 million hryvnias (nearly $2 million) on a complex called “Ukrainian Renaissance” and 9,340,000 hryvnias ($1.1 million) on assorted construction on his house, hunting lodge, and Kiev apartment. That takes his spending for June 2008 to at least $4 million.
3. Yanukovych spent 1.7 million euros ($2.3 million) on German wooden furniture just for the dining room and “tea room,” and a further 1 million euros ($1.39 million) for his office, bedroom, and the connecting corridor.
Wooden decor for Yanukovych’s home theater cost 2,124,000 hryvnias (over $250,000). Other documents list “arch-urgent” payments of tens and hundreds of thousands of euros to Ukrainian and Italian firms for work on the estate’s office quarters.
4. This is Yanukovych’s “Knight’s Hall.” Decorations for it cost close to $2 million.
Documents show Yanukovych paid 228,000 euros ($315,000) for curtains, 272,000 euros ($375,000) for drapes, and 22,270,000 rubles (over $700,000) for candelabras and chandeliers in 2010. No word on how much the suit of armor cost.
6. Yanukovych spent sums on flowers that would make Elton John blush.
One receipt from 2010 found in the document trove comes to 5.6 million hryvnias (over $700,000); another from a few months later is worth 246,000 euros ($349,000)
8. Yanukovych also had a floating dining hall in the shape of a pirate ship.
The interior, complete with marble floors, cost about 30 million hrynvias (about $4.25 million). Silverware alone cost more than 900,000 hryvnias (about $170,000), including four 6,000 hryvnia ($750) teapots and two 5,300 hryvnia (about $670) gravy dishes.
9. Furniture for the toilet by Yanukovych’s birdhouse cost 281,175 hryvnia (about $35,000).
Some documents detail the finances of Yanukovych’s hunting grounds at Sukholuchya, a state-owned reserve used exclusively by the president and his friends.
11. Its members paid about $40,000 each in dues in 2011 and about 600,000 hryvnias ($75,000) the following year, according to documents. That gave them access to and influence on Yanukovych.
Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, (left) and second president, Leonid Kuchma, (right) were among the members.
12. Vast sums were spent on alcohol for Yanukovych’s monthly hunting parties.
One hunting party in August 2011 saw 176,770 hryvnias (about $22,000) spent on wine, Champagne, and tequila alone (though they did also buy 24 bottles of Crimean wine at $8.50 a pop).
13. Senior staff on the reserve were paid vast salaries.
Documents show the hunting club’s director, Ivan Toktamysh, was paid 110,000 hryvnias (about $13,000) in August 2009. Anatoly Kobilinsky, the reserve’s head of security, was paid 207,000 hryvnias (about $26,000) in September 2011. The average monthly salary in Ukraine is about $410, according to official statistics.
14. Toktamysh, the general director of the hunting lodge, was less generous with his own employees. This document asks Litovchenko, director of the company that owned Mezhyhirya, to give a woodsman 1000 hryvnias (about $125) after he had a child.
Five female employees were given the same amount to mark International Women’s Day.
Woodsmen who killed two wolves were given 500 hryvnias ($60) for each wolf.
15. Toktamysh was more generous toward the club’s members. In one document, he asks Litovchenko for 500,000 hryvnias ($62,500) to spend on presents for them.
It’s not clear what those presents were, but they appear to have included DVDs with this music video. Vyacheslav Medyanik, a Russian crooner of the sort illegal taxi drivers like, performs a 1960s ex-con anthem over footage of wolves being shot in the snow.
16. Other documents show that Yanukovych’s family secretly controlled Ukraine’s largest government coal trader, despite repeated denials.
Documents found in Mezhyhirya show that Yanukovych’s eldest son Oleksandr owned DRFTs, a coal trading company set up by a Yanukovych family associate in the 1990s and controlled by an offshore firm in the British Virgin Islands. Letters from Oleksandr Yanukovych’s MAKO Holdings in 2010 instruct Tantalit, the company operating Mezhyhirya, to help transfer five coal enrichment plants to DRFTs. Two years later, Viktor Yanukovych made a change in state property law that allowed DRFTs to legally own for free the state share in the assets that it already effectively owned.
Yanukovych also had a secret real estate empire apparently used to reward associates and move money in secret.
According to documents found in Tantalit’s archives, the company also owned several luxury residences in and around Kiev. Many of them were registered under the names of members of Yanukovych’s “family” of close associates; none of them was publicly associated with him. This was particularly significant given Yanukovych’s frequent claims to have sold all his assets to fund his lifestyle at Mezhyhirya.
Among the properties: apartment 18 at 10 Mazepa Street in downtown Kiev, which Yanukovych claimed to have sold to Sergei Kluyev in 2008 for 33 million hryvnias ($4.1 million) in order to buy one of the houses at Mezhyhirya from the state.
It turns out that Yanukovych never actually sold the apartment, according to documents reviewed by Ukrainian journalists Lesya Ivanova and Kateryna Kaplyuk. The apparently fictitious sale — which raised eyebrows for numerous glaring irregularities in Yanukovych’s declaration forms at the time — appears to have been a conduit for something else.
17. Yanukovych was also spending $1.25 million to rebuild a house for Viacheslav Ovcharenko, chief justice of Ukraine’s constitutional court.
Ovcharenko worked at the same coal company as Yanukovych in the 1980s when he was a young lawyer. After he became the chief justice of Yanukovych’s hometown of Yenakievo in 2002, documents from Yanukovych’s Soviet-era criminal record for two racketeering convictions mysteriously vanished. Ovcharenko became a Constitutional Court justice in 2006, shortly after Yanukovych became prime minister, and was appointed head of the court in 2013.
18. Tantalit also turned out to be the real owner of a helicopter pad built in a sleepy part of Kiev, much to the irritation of local residents.
Documents from Mezhyhirya show a link between Amadeus, the British-owned company that built the helicopter pad, and Tantalit, according to an investigation by YanukovychLeaks journalists Lesya Ivanova and Kateryna Kaplyuk. Oleksandr Khomyak, Amadeus’ chair, worked for both Tantalit and Mezhyhirya contractor AVK, often visiting their offices and asking for travel expenses. Litovchenko, Tantalit’s director, approved several construction payments, and gave his deputy 300,000 hryvnias in cash ($37,500) as startup capital for Amadeus.
It’s hard to build a vast palatial estate worth far in excess of your officially declared income without attracting attention. As word of Yanukovych’s opulent lifestyle spread, Ukraine’s top investigative journalists worked to expose it.
Conditions for Ukraine’s lively independent press steadily worsened over Yanukovych’s presidency. Journalists faced censorship, intimidation — and sometimes even physical attacks.
19. They didn’t know that Yanukovych’s agents were investigating them too. This is from a dossier Yanukovych’s chief bodyguard, Konstantin Kobzar, kept on Stop Censorship, a movement that includes several of Ukraine’s top reporters.
One of them, Tetyana Chornovol, was brutally attacked in the dead of night, just hours after publishing an article on Dec. 25 about a luxury home allegedly owned by Yanukovych’s interior minister.
Chornovil survived the attack. She now heads an anti-corruption bureau created by Ukraine’s new government.
20. Bodyguard Kobzar’s diary, which activists found in his house on the estate and turned over to the YanukovychLeaks journalists, contained a detailed account of the attack.
The date and time match the attack: “Chornovol went to Maidan. 23:10 turned off her phone. 23:50 turned it on at Khreshchatyk street. 23:50 cleanup operation started. 01:00 done (clean).”
21. At other times, media monitoring seems to have simply been an excuse to funnel money out of the company.
AVK, the lead contractor on building Mezhyhirya, spent over a billion hryvnia ($125 million) on minor line items like “media monitoring” (56 million), “analyzing the Ukrainian social housing market” (68 million), and “analyzing the medical equipment market of Ukraine” (95 million) in October to December 2010, according to documents found at the estate. All the firms that performed these services were linked to each other and used the same bank, Ukrbiznesbank, believed to be linked to Alexander Yanukovych. After receiving the payments, they all mysteriously closed.
22. Yanukovych was worried about activists too. This is from Kobzar’s dossier on FEMEN, a feminist group infamous for their topless protests.
When the anti-government protests broke out in late 2013, Mezhyhirya quickly became the focus for many Ukrainians upset about government corruption. On Dec. 29, 2,080 cars from the Automaidan group descended upon Mezhyhirya for a rally.
23. Kobzar compiled a detailed report on the event from the accounts of secret agents who infiltrated it.
The report includes dozens of activists’ personal data, including their home address, mobile numbers, and car registrations.
Names of lawmakers who participated had lines drawn under them and ticks next to them. Over the following six weeks, several Automaidan activists were attacked by unknown assailants. More than a thousand of them had their drivers’ licenses taken away by a court. Sixty-seven of the 130 names in the court database match Kobzar’s list.
In early February, one of the group’s leaders, Dmitry Bulatov, stumbled out of a forest near Kiev looking like this. He said he was kidnapped by men who subjected him to brutal torture for a week, including “crucifying” him to a door.
Bulatov is now minister for youth affairs and sports in the new Ukrainian government.
Prosecutors and investigators are studying the documents and building criminal cases against Yanukovych.
Already wanted for mass murder over the protesters’ deaths before his flight, Yanukovych is believed to be living in a gated community near Moscow.
To be continued…
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