Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ukraine officials declare jaw-dropping riches

SAVOCHENKO KIEV — A luxury watch collection, millions of dollars in cash and a Picasso painting are just several items listed on Ukraine officials’ income and asset declarations, shocking a country vowing to curb corruption.
Officials are required under a new law to declare their assets and income online, a requirement for the disbursement of a $1-billion (920-million-euro) loan that Ukraine received in September from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after a delay of more than a year.
The move comes as the ex-Soviet republic, where the minimum monthly salary stands at $56, attempts to shed its reputation as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries.
More than 100,000 Ukrainian bureaucrats have complied, including President Petro Poroshenko who appears to be one of the nation’s richest officials.
Prior to being elected in May 2014 in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Poroshenko headed the Roshen sweets empire.
In his declaration, Poroshenko said he owned more than 100 firms in different countries, including Russia, and had more than $26 million in various bank accounts.
According to Novoye Vremya magazine, Poroshenko’s wealth amounts to some $949 million (860 million euros), which would make him Ukraine’s fourth richest man after oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov, Viktor Pinchuk and Igor Kolomoisky.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman meanwhile declared more than $1 million in cash as well as a watch collection that includes two Rolexes.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov declared three apartments, one measuring 657 sq. metres (7,100 square foot), as well as a cellar stocked with 750 bottles of wine. He also listed antiques and art pieces including a Picasso painting.
$15 million in cash
Even lesser-known officials have declared jaw-dropping riches and possessions.
Independent lawmaker Vyacheslav Konstantinovsky declared $15 million in cash, despite having officially made $2,825 as a parliamentarian last year. Like many other officials, Konstantinovsky says he made his money before being elected to public office.
Anders Aslund of the US-based Atlantic Council, who studies the Ukrainian economy, said the large sums of money held in cash demonstrates their lack of trust in the system.
“They do not trust banks, euro or hryvnia, nor rubles,” Aslund wrote on Twitter.
Among other oddities in the declarations were ownership of a church and of a 13th-century relic.
Some declarations brought back memories of the shocking lavishness of the Mezhyhirya mansion of former president Viktor Yanukovych, which was opened to the public following his February 2014 ouster.
Public anger
“Every time I see these declarations, I remember how shocked we were by Mezhyhirya,” Olga Reshetylova, a volunteer helping the Ukrainian army fight a pro-Russian insurgency in the country’s east, wrote on her Facebook page.
“All this anger, then what? They keep collecting watches and icons that are worth millions.”
Ukraine has suffered deep economic decline after two years of war, with its GDP contracting 9.9 per cent last year.
The country is trying to claw its way back from crises that include a 30-month-long pro-Russian separatist insurgency in its industrial east and a devastating two-year recession that only ended at the start of the year.
But Western allies who supported Kiev’s February 2014 revolution want Ukraine to take on more responsibility for tackling corruption raging through all levels of government.
And extravagant declarations might just land the country in more trouble.
“Negotiations with foreign lenders will now be more difficult. They now know that we have money,” Ukrainian economist Valeriy Pekar wrote on his blog.Transparency International puts Ukraine in 130th place out of 168countries and territories in a list that ranks countries from the least to most corrupt.—AFP


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