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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Sifting the sodden evidence of Ukraine’s corruption | beyondbrics

Sifting the sodden evidence of Ukraine’s corruption | beyondbrics:

In the sauna where guests of Viktor Yanukovich may once have spent their downtime relaxing, documents allegedly laying bare his corrupt dealings are drying after a foiled attempt at destroying them by throwing them in a reservoir.

Ukrainian investigative journalists and activists have begun publishing a cache of documents incriminating Yanukovich, Ukraine’s disgraced president, after rescuing them from the Kiev Sea near his lavish presidential compound outside Kiev.

Shortly after Yanukovich fled the country it emerged that documents had – literally – surfaced from the reservoir, which is next to the president’s mansion, also known as Mezhyhiria. 

Volunteer divers rescued 200 folders from their intended watery grave. Archivists have been drafted to help preserve them, while journalists and volunteers are scanning and publishing them online – nearly 1,300 had been posted at publication time.

Among the early discoveries are documents that show receipts for millions of dollars in cash and lavish expenditure on zoo animals, luxury goods and decoration for the mansion. They also shed light on the complex ownership of Mezhyhiria itself, a former state asset that had been privatised and wasowned by a mysterious company called Tantalit.

“During this government transition it’s a critical moment to save everything for future investigation by official law enforcement agencies. We want to make sure that nothing disappears or is destroyed,” says Natalia Sedletska of Radio Liberty, who is participating in the efforts.

The Ukranian parliament has voted to have Yanuchvich face charges before the International Criminal Court when he is arrested. The documents found could serve to prove claims of corruption by the regime and could be used at a separate corruption trial, the journalists believe.

Under a deal struck with Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office, the journalists have several days to scan and review the documents before passing them on to the authorities.

The tale of the rescue of the documents is one full of ironies. Yanukovich’s guest house, also nicknamed “Putin’s house” because it was rumoured to have hosted Russian president Vladimir Putin, has been turned into a headquarters for the journalists, with reporters pouring over documents, seeking answers to questions about government corruption they had long been probing.

“I would never believe that his kind of thing could happen. We are sitting for days in Mezhyhiria – which has previously featured in our investigations – copying documents that prove corruption,” says Sedletska.

A list of reporters and activists drafted for security guards at Mezhyhiria – dubbed the ‘persona non-grata list’ – was found among the documents. Some of the reporters who feature on the list are now among those investigating the documents.

Since the weekend, the journalists have found further documents – believed to be in the tens of thousands – at an archive within the compound.

“They tried to drown the most sensitive ones, as there are empty spaces on the shelves in the archive.” says Vlad Lavrov, a long time investigative journalist who was one of the first on the scene. Additional documents since found are about Suholucchya, a hunting club frequented by the Ukrainian elite, high level officials and oligarchs.

“We hope we have enough documentation to ensure that these crimes are prosecuted to the fullest, which will also mean that the new government will be reminded of the need to be transparent and accountable to the public,” says Lavrov of the first crack into the murky depths of Yanukovich’s secrets. The full extent of the revelations will likely take months. “It’s a bit overwhelming”, says Lavrov.

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