Exclusive: Ukraine's Yanukovich says assets seizure is attempt to hide Kiev's failings

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich said on Friday Kiev’s new government was trying to obscure its failings by pushing through a law to confiscate his alleged offshore assets.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich makes a statement during a news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Yanukovich has been living in exile in Russia since he was ousted by mass street protests in Kiev in 2014. His departure lit the fuse for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and a separatist uprising in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s parliament provisionally approved on Thursday a law allowing the government to seize what it says are offshore assets of the Kremlin-backed former president without a court order. Yanukovich has largely stayed out of public view since his ouster.

“The conversations about the ‘mythical billions’ of Yanukovich are nothing more than an attempt by the present political losers to distract Ukrainians from the fact they have brought the country to collapse. Politically and economically,” Yanukovich said in written comments to Reuters.

Ukrainians have grown increasingly impatient with Kiev’s new leaders for not doing enough to tackle endemic corruption.

Cosy ties between politicians and business flourished under Yanukovich and the former president is widely reviled in Ukraine - both by those who opposed him in the street protests and his former supporters in the east of the country who say he abandoned them by fleeing to Russia.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk’s party said the law would allow the government to seize as much as 50 billion hryvnia ($1.9 billion) worth of government bonds and use the money for social and defense spending.

Yanukovich bought the bonds with money plundered from the Ukrainian state, according to lawmakers, and owns them through a intricate network of offshore companies spread across Cyprus, the Seychelles, Britain, Panama and Belize.

But Yanukovich said his assets in Ukraine consisted of one private house and bank accounts with less than 29 million hryvnia ($1.09 million), which have already been confiscated by state authorities.

A letter from Ukraine’s general prosecutor, a copy of which was provided to Reuters, confirmed that he had no bank accounts abroad, the former president added.

Yanukovich said the law was being promoted by corrupt officials known for illegally seizing private assets, a practice known as “raiding”.

“If the law is accepted, top officials will be able to confiscate anything they want from any Ukrainian, without proof of guilt or a court order,” he said.

($1 = 26.5000 hryvnia)

Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Mark Heinrich