Tuesday

3rd May 2016

Two more Ukrainians try to get off EU blacklist

  • The so-called Coest group in the EU Council is handing the complaints (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

Two more Ukrainians under an EU asset freeze - the former president’s son, Oleksandr Yanukovych, and businessman Serhiy Kurchenko - have filed objections with the EU Council in Brussels.

Diplomatic contacts said the council’s “Coest” working group is considering their appeals, but predicted they will have to fight the decision at the EU court in Luxembourg.

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“This kind of complaint is normally the first step before launching legal proceedings,” one source said.

The EU asset freeze was imposed on 5 March, two weeks after the regime fell. It cites 18 people, including the former president himself and his other son, Viktor, for looting state money or for human rights violations.

It describes Kurchenko and Oleksandr Yanukovych as “businessmen” who are “subject to investigation in Ukraine for involvement in crimes in connection with the embezzlement of Ukrainian state funds and their illegal transfer outside Ukraine.”

The two men join former Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov and his son, Oleksii, who filed similar EU complaints last month.

The Azarovs are using a German law firm, Alber & Geiger. It is unclear who is representing Kurchenko and Oleksandr Yanukovych, but Alber & Geiger told EUobserver it is not involved.

Ukraine’s caretaker government estimates that $70 billion was stolen from the treasury during the former regime’s four years in power, gutting vital institutions, including the Ukrainian military.

It is being assisted by EU officials and by the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation to repatriate funds.

Kurchenko, a 28-year-old banking, gas, and media tycoon with close links to the former ruling clan, said in a statement published by his company, Vetek Group, on 6 March: “I am an honest Ukrainian businessman … I am ready to provide all the necessary documents and to give any assistance to the EU inspection bodies in order to prove my innocence.”

But Ukrainian prosecutors have issued a warrant for his arrest on charges he stole $100 million from a state gas firm. They also say he hired “titushki” - plain clothes thugs - to beat up protesters.

Meanwhile, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a Washington-based group of journalists, has obtained documents showing that Kurchenko-linked offshore firms, including three in Cyprus, funelled huge sums via Latvia’s ABLV bank.

Oleksandr Yanukovych, 40, is a dentist by training.

He also became one of Ukraine’s richest men after gaining control of a bank on his father’s watch and is said by Forbes magazine to be worth $510 million.

The current whereabouts of the Azarovs, Kurchenko, and of Oleksandr Yanukovych are unknown.

Mykola Azarov was last reported to have fled to Austria, where his family has business and real estate interests.

The EU blacklist does not include a visa ban alongside the asset freeze, as in the case of EU sanctions on Russian officials.

An EU diplomat added that, under EU sanctions rules, member states can authorise the release of frozen funds to pay for “reasonable” legal fees to fight the measures in the EU system.

“From experience I know that many persons under asset freeze use lawyers in Europe,” the contact said.

Correction: The original story said the sanctions on 18 Ukrainians also include an EU visa ban. They do not. Apologies

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