Fished From The Water, Soggy Docs Reveal Ukrainian Corruption
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
When Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine, he abandoned a sprawling, opulent estate on the outskirts of Kiev. And before he left, he or his associates dumped tens of thousands of documents into a reservoir, documents that paint a stunning picture of government excess and corruption. Journalists have retrieved those soggy papers. They're drying them out and posting them online. Oleg Khomenok runs an investigative journalism project in Ukraine called Scoop. He's been at the presidential compound, helping to go through all those papers.
OLEG KHOMENOK: We discovered huge sums that were paid to some marketing companies for strange services, like marketing analysis of the real estate market in Ukraine, which cost dozens million hryvnia. We found that Ukrainian Business Bank - this is the bank which also was under control of the family of the president - brought in one case 4 million hryvnia, which is almost half a million dollars in cash. One of the suspects that came to our mind was, that might be the hidden bribing for the loyalty to the companies from the side of the government.
BLOCK: Interesting that if it was bribes, that this was documented, that there was some kind of receipt given.
KHOMENOK: We probably got not only the accounting reporting but also general information about where the money came from and where the money came to.
BLOCK: I've heard that there are a number of receipts for extravagant purchases for the Yanukovych estate, everything from curtains to plants to sculptures, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth.
KHOMENOK: Yeah, yeah. We discovered - there were purchased 24 TV sets for $4,000 per TV, which is, to my mind sounds really strange.
BLOCK: It's a big TV.
KHOMENOK: Yeah, just a TV for his palace.
BLOCK: Now, apart from the documents showing receipts and financial transactions and bribes and things like that, there are also documents that show crackdown on the opposition, a blacklist of people in the press, things like that.
KHOMENOK: Yeah. We also found nice color pictures of well-known reporters of Ukrainian media who were criticizing president and the government of Yanukovych. We found the list of the participants of the opposition parties that were criticizing or demanding the transparency of the government. And that was also astonishing because, to my mind, this is violation of the law about the protection of the personal data.
BLOCK: Is it a bizarre feeling to look around and realize that the guesthouse where you're working at the former president's palace, that that's become your workspace, that's your office now?
KHOMENOK: Yeah. That was funny to sit in this guesthouse. It was amazing that we were using the sauna for drying documents that probably some high-rank officials from different countries spent in proper way.
BLOCK: I see. You were drying documents in the sauna, imagining the political figures that had actually taken a sauna there.
KHOMENOK: Yeah, yeah. That was to some extent funny, to work there and to understand that six months ago, the people who were spending time in this residence would never even imagine that this is, to some extent, strange. And I have some mixed feeling because I feel myself responsible for the future of my country. And I feel myself powerful to do stories together with my colleagues that will change the country or that will actually move the country toward the transparency of the government.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Khomenok, it's good to talk to you. Thank you so much.
KHOMENOK: Yeah. You're welcome, Melissa.
BLOCK: That's Ukrainian journalist Oleg Khomenok, speaking with us from Kiev.