Originally posted here.
It appears that Ukrainian authorities haven’t used the full extent of the law to take control of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s lavish Mezhyhirya estate.
Prosecutors allege that the disgraced former head of state had, via a series of sham property swaps using proxies, got hold of Mezhyhirya in the village of Novi Petrivtsi 20 kilometers outside Kyiv.
The international arrest warrant issued by Interpol on Yanukovych specifically states he is wanted on charges of “misappropriation, embezzlement or conversion of property by malversation.”
Yet on June 30, Oleksandr Pryimak showed up at gates of the 140-hectare (360 acres) residence and attempted to throw out the EuroMaidan activists who are managing the estate.
A lawyer by profession, Pryimak is the owner of Tantalit, which in turns has ownership rights over the property. Tantalit had spent $30 million renovating the development in 2006-2009.
“Priymak came to us and said to hand over all the keys and to get out from the territory,” said Denis Tarakhkotelyk who heads National Park Mezhyhirya, a non-profit group consisting of EuroMaidan activists that de facto runs the estate. “We reminded him, that the land of Mezhyhirya is already state property according to a court decision and referred him to General Prosecutor’s Office.”
The sprawling estate came to symbolize the corrupt excess of Yanukovych’s regime, who authorities accuse of stealing at least $40 billion from state coffers. It had a gigantic club house with an adjoining spa and sports complex, a guest house, a residential home, three housekeeping buildings, a Spanish galleon, caged ostriches and pheasants, a car park with Rolls Royces, and a cavernous hangar with boats, a hovercraft and a 20-meter recreational vehicle still wrapped in plastic. It also has a vast golf course, tennis court and dog houses bigger in size than most apartments in which Kyivans live.
Now, it turns out Priymak has a legitimate claim to the domain because authorities have only reclaimed the land, not the estate’s property, since Yanukovych fled power in February 2014.
Immediately after Yanukovych fled, parliament on Feb. 23 passed a measure to nationalize Mezhyhirya, but it is hasn’t been given legal gravitas with requisite resolutions by the Cabinet of Ministers.
Although the asset has been frozen, meaning it can’t be bought or sold, prosecutors have thus far failed to appoint a custodian to run the property and ban Tantalit from gaining access to it.
Instead, activists have managed it in the absence of official action.
“They (prosecutors) have been doing some actions from time to time. It is a very long process to inventory the property. They had taken photos of the laboratory, made a list of stuff, and that is all for now,” Tarakhkotelyk told the Kyiv Post.
As a result, Tantalit remains not only the owner, but also the trustee of Mezhihirya.
“But why hasn’t the Prosecutor General not opened any criminal proceedings against the company (Tantalit), which paid for all that presidential luxury, I do not know,” said Darya Kalenyuk, head of the Anticorruption Action Center, a Kyiv-based watchdog that specializes in asset recovery.
The KyivPost was unable to obtain comments from Tantalit either by calling its officially listed phone number or by visiting the office address it used for registration.
In 2011 Forbes magazine named Tantalit the most successful company in Ukraine, citing the company’s revenue skyrocketing by 19,000 percent on a yearly basis: from Hr 9 million to Hr1.7 billion.
In 2013 Serhiy Klyuyev, the younger brother of Andriy Klyuyev, who at the time was chief of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council under Yanukovych, bought it for Hr 146 million.
On July 6, acting Prosecutor General of Ukraine Volodymyr Huzyr told the KyivPost that he was very unhappy with the delays of the Mezhyhirya investigation.
“I do not know all the details of that case, but I know prosecutors will renew the investigation into Mezhyhirya and will study the activities of the company in connection with a criminal case of its previous owner Serhiy Klyuyev,” said Huzyr.
Serhiy Klyuyev, a member of parliament who until late 2014 owned Tantalit, is currently wanted by police on charges of abuse of power and large-scale embezzlement. If convicted, he could face up to six years of jail. He is currently a fugitive and wanted by Ukrainian authorities.