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25 Tales Of Corruption From Documents Found At The Abandoned Palace Of Ukraine's Ousted President
Documents show Viktor Yanukovych spent millions of dollars on furniture, hundreds of thousands of dollars on fresh flowers, and had a bodyguard who kept tabs on the opposition.
Remember Viktor Yanukovych? Just six weeks ago, he was the president of Ukraine.
He lived in this big house on Mezhyhirya, a palatial 340-acre estate outside Kiev.
In November 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets against him.
Yanukovych fled the estate for Russia on Feb. 22 and still claims to be Ukraine's legitimate president. Hundreds of stunned Ukrainians descended upon Mezhyhirya later that day.
Yanukovych's aides managed to burn some documents before they fled.
They threw most of the documents into a river, but since they were in plastic folders they just floated on the surface. Divers recovered the rest.
A group of Ukrainian investigative journalists then spent a week onsite sorting through, drying, and scanning the documents, which they're calling YanukovychLeaks.
Many of the documents deal with the day-to-day finances of Mezhyhirya itself, where Yanukovych had been living since 2002.
Here are some of the key revelations from the documents so far.
1.Between 2006 and 2009, Yanukovych spent nearly $30 million on renovating the complex.
2.In June 2008, Yanukovych spent 700,000 euros ($965,000) on wooden furniture and doors bought through a Spanish offshore company. It actually says "bought through a Spanish offshore company" in the documents.
3.Yanukovych spent 1.7 million euros ($2.3 million) on German wooden furniture just for the dining room and “tea room,” and a further 1 million euros ($1.39 million) for his office, bedroom, and the connecting corridor.
4.This is Yanukovych's "Knight's Hall." Decorations for it cost close to $2 million.
5.Yanukovych also had his own personal mini-church at the estate. The ornaments cost 2.5 million rubles (about $80,000) from a firm near Moscow.
6.Yanukovych spent sums on flowers that would make Elton John blush.
7.The greenhouse complex, which Yanukovych built in 2011, cost nearly 510,000 euros (about $700,000).
8.Yanukovych also had a floating dining hall in the shape of a pirate ship.
9.Furniture for the toilet by Yanukovych’s birdhouse cost 281,175 hryvnia (about $35,000).
10.There was a lot of cash lying around the house. This is a receipt for $74,584.
This one's for $12 million.
Here's one for 3 million hryvnias ($375,000). It doesn't even say who received the cash. How's that for petty cash?
This one looks like a real receipt printed out from a computer and everything. It says Tantalit's director, Pavel Litovchenko, gave someone called Andrei $561,700. Good for Andrei!
Some documents detail the finances of Yanukovych's hunting grounds at Sukholuchya, a state-owned reserve used exclusively by the president and his friends.
11.Its members paid about $40,000 each in dues in 2011 and about 600,000 hryvnias ($75,000) the following year, according to documents. That gave them access to and influence on Yanukovych.
12.Vast sums were spent on alcohol for Yanukovych's monthly hunting parties.
13.Senior staff on the reserve were paid vast salaries.
14.Toktamysh, the general director of the hunting lodge, was less generous with his own employees. This document asks Litovchenko, director of the company that owned Mezhyhirya, to give a woodsman 1000 hryvnias (about $125) after he had a child.
Five female employees were given the same amount to mark International Women's Day.
Woodsmen who killed two wolves were given 500 hryvnias ($60) for each wolf.
15.Toktamysh was more generous toward the club's members. In one document, he asks Litovchenko for 500,000 hryvnias ($62,500) to spend on presents for them.
16.Other documents show that Yanukovych's family secretly controlled Ukraine's largest government coal trader, despite repeated denials.
Yanukovych also had a secret real estate empire apparently used to reward associates and move money in secret.
Among the properties: apartment 18 at 10 Mazepa Street in downtown Kiev, which Yanukovych claimed to have sold to Sergei Kluyev in 2008 for 33 million hryvnias ($4.1 million) in order to buy one of the houses at Mezhyhirya from the state.
17.Yanukovych was also spending $1.25 million to rebuild a house for Viacheslav Ovcharenko, chief justice of Ukraine's constitutional court.
18.Tantalit also turned out to be the real owner of a helicopter pad built in a sleepy part of Kiev, much to the irritation of local residents.
It's hard to build a vast palatial estate worth far in excess of your officially declared income without attracting attention. As word of Yanukovych's opulent lifestyle spread, Ukraine's top investigative journalists worked to expose it.
19.They didn't know that Yanukovych's agents were investigating them too. This is from a dossier Yanukovych's chief bodyguard, Konstantin Kobzar, kept on Stop Censorship, a movement that includes several of Ukraine's top reporters.
One of them, Tetyana Chornovol, was brutally attacked in the dead of night, just hours after publishing an article on Dec. 25 about a luxury home allegedly owned by Yanukovych's interior minister.
20.Bodyguard Kobzar's diary, which activists found in his house on the estate and turned over to the YanukovychLeaks journalists, contained a detailed account of the attack.
21.At other times, media monitoring seems to have simply been an excuse to funnel money out of the company.
22.Yanukovych was worried about activists too. This is from Kobzar's dossier on FEMEN, a feminist group infamous for their topless protests.
When the anti-government protests broke out in late 2013, Mezhyhirya quickly became the focus for many Ukrainians upset about government corruption. On Dec. 29, 2,080 cars from the Automaidan group descended upon Mezhyhirya for a rally.
23.Kobzar compiled a detailed report on the event from the accounts of secret agents who infiltrated it.
The report includes dozens of activists' personal data, including their home address, mobile numbers, and car registrations.
During the next few weeks, 129 activists' cars were mysteriously torched in the middle of the night or destroyed by riot police — including at least 13 from Kobzar's list.
In early February, one of the group's leaders, Dmitry Bulatov, stumbled out of a forest near Kiev looking like this. He said he was kidnapped by men who subjected him to brutal torture for a week, including "crucifying" him to a door.
24.But how clued in was Yanukovych? One set of documents found at the residence shows that he was briefed on crime statistics for 2013 using data that had simply been copied from the previous year's table — the last one available online.
25.This list covers about 10 percent of the more than 30,000 documents in the YanukovychLeaks trove.
Teams of reporters and activists are reassembling other shredded documents left outside the offices of Yanukovych-linked oligarch Sergei Kurchenko.
Prosecutors and investigators are studying the documents and building criminal cases against Yanukovych.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71