* Acting prosecutor says Yanukovich, aides stole billions
* His rule was built on "total corruption"
* Austria lawyer ready to assist investigation
By Stephen Grey
KIEV, Feb 26 Ukraine will urgently contact
international organisations with an official request to help
trace bank accounts and assets controlled by ousted President
Viktor Yanukovich and his allies, the acting prosecutor general
said on Wednesday.
Accusing Yanukovich and his aides of stealing "not millions
but billions" of dollars, Oleh Makhnytsky said he had ordered
police and intelligence agencies to draw up a list of foreign
accounts held by Yanukovich's aides and their connections.
"We are preparing today the requests to international
organisations to find the accounts," he told Reuters in an
Officials who he said were under investigation included
former prime minister Mykola Azarov and Yanukovich's chief of
staff Andriy Klyuev.
The prosecutor-general's announcement came as European Union
officials prepared sanctions against leading figures in the
U.S. authorities warned banks on Tuesday to be on the
look-out for potentially suspicious transfers of financial
assets by members of Yanukovich's circle.
Makhnytsky also said that every economic deal concluded in
the four years of Yanukovich's presidency would be carefully
re-examined for possible graft.
"We are doing these checks because all the activity of the
former regime was built on total corruption," he said.
After the discovery of a lavish presidential retreat at
Mezhyhirya outside Kiev - complete with private golf course and
pet zoo - and other luxury homes around the country, there is a
widening anger and suspicion in Ukraine that Yanukovich and his
associates may have taken a substantial slice from major public
According to evidence gathered by Ukrainian journalists and
anti-corruption watchdogs, behind these properties are a series
of holding companies, including in Austria, Liechtenstein,
Britain, and offshore jurisdictions.
The retreat at Mezhyhirya, for example, is owned by a
holding company controlled by Andriy Klyuev's brother Sergei, a
wealthy businessman and lawmaker.
A spokesman for Sergei Klyuev, who asked not to be
identified, said the estate was bought as a private investment:
"He is a wealthy individual who saw this whole project as a good
Other assets used by the president and his aides were set up
and managed by an Austrian-based lawyer, Reinhard Proksch,
according to Kiev's Anti-corruption Action Centre, a research
Contacted by Reuters, Proksch confirmed he had helped set up
companies that now appeared to have been used by Ukrainian
leaders and their associates, although he had never met them.
Proksch said he was already providing information to
Liechtenstein authorities, but was also happy to help any other
authority including Ukraine. "All they can do is freeze
everything," he said.
But, for assets to be frozen, proof will be needed they were
acquired with money earned by criminal means.
Nina Bussek, a spokeswoman for Vienna prosecutors, said an
earlier investigation into allegations of money-laundering from
Ukraine had been dropped because "there needs to be
determination of a so-called preceding act, which means the
money comes from criminal activity and that could not be
determined. That is why the money laundering case was dropped."
Daniel Thelesklaf, chief of the Financial Intelligence Unit
in Liechtenstein, told Reuters his agency was monitoring
developments. But he added: "So far we have not received
requests from Ukraine. We await the decisions by the EU on
A spokesman at the Swiss federal prosecutor's office,
Jeannette Balmer, told Reuters they had not opened any
investigations nor received any requests for judicial assistance
from Ukrainian authorities.
But another law-enforcement official in Switzerland
indicated that inquiries were expected be launched soon, once
such requests arrived.
Speaking on Austrian television on Tuesday, Foreign Minister
Sebastian Kurz confirmed there was a draft EU sanctions list.
He said: "We know only the first draft of this list, which
contains very prominent and well known names. We of course sent
this draft to the Financial Market Authority and the Interior
Ministry so that no time window opens for these people until the
final decision by the European Union."
Underlying the unstable political situation in Ukraine,
Makhnytsky's official office in Kiev appeared unguarded except
for militia armed with baseball bats when visited by Reuters.
The revolutionary air hanging over the city was underscored
by a sole protester smashing his way through glass doors at the
building's reception area. He was removed by the militia.
In the interview, Makhnytsky said the Yanukovich government
had close ties to leading figures in business so prosecutors
would examine "very intensively" items in the state budget,
tenders by the state, and the fuel and gas sector.
With searches under way in all the former residences of the
ex-president, Makhnytsky said national authorities would look
for all traces of international bank accounts or companies
associated with figures from the former leadership.
Asked whose assets he was seeking abroad, the prosecutor
said Ukraine was looking to find the assets of Azarov, Klyuev,
ex-interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and members of
He also named one prominent businessman, Serhiy Kurchenko,
who he said was closely tied to Yanukovich. Investigators had
already found 685 million hryvnia (about $60 million) of
suspicious transactions in his accounts, he said.
Kurchenko could not immediately be reached for comment and
is believed to have left the country.
Asked about major commercial deals signed by Yanukovich's
government - including production-sharing agreements for shale
gas exploitation with oil giants Chevron and Shell
- he said:
"We will check everything: all the schemes of the
ex-regime." Without pre-judging the investigation, if illegal
deals were found then they would be reversed, he said.