Like a banana republic, but without the bananas

By Greg Miskiw

The £500,000 black armour plated Mercedes limo purred as it slid away from the kerb carrying The Princess of Gas Yulia Tymoshenko away from her adoring fans.

As they chanted her name Yulia, leader of Ukraine’s Fatherland Party, settled back in the soft leather seat as her chauffeur guided the top-of-the-range 6-door Merc back to HQ.

It was the first anniversary of the protests on Independence Square which led to the flight of President Victor Yanukovych to Russia, leaving behind his treasure laden palace outside Kiev and a garage full of prestige cars including a Bentley, a Range Rover and an array of Mercedes worth millions of pounds.

He abandoned his presidency and Tzar lifestyle after seventy seven protestors were shot by riot police snipers. It was the final straw and Yanukovych ran for his life.

And, it led to the release of two-time Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia, from a 7 year prison sentence for embezzlement and abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia.

One careless owner

Now, one of those Mercedes, reported stolen, was being driven around Kyiv and the exaulted passenger was none other than Yulia.

Black is the new… black – just a small part of the Yanukovych car collection

The armour-plated S600 Mercedes Lang, German for long, was Yulia’s new chariot.

A bright spark spotted it but the registration number AA 2992KP did not match the deposed Yanukovych’s plate. But, it was still reported to the ‘new’ police as suspicious.

Recently some 200 officers were sworn in to replace corrupt cops. It is hoped they, like Eliot Ness and his team of incorruptable investigators, would be “untouchable”.

They duly ambushed the vehicle outside Yulia’s office and checked the chasis number WDD 2211761A395027. It was Yanukovych’s and had been reported stolen by Kiev Universal Services, one of the companies that that managed his country estate.

Only, now the car was being used to drive Yulia Tymoshenko around town.

So how come a future Presidental candidate is being driven around in a stolen car, now impounded. Embarrassed? Not at all. Yulia’s spokesperson said simply: “Bollocks,” when questioned by reporters.

The Merc had passed through several hands including one Mykola Lecyk, who deregistered the number plate then applied for a temporary one. Only the chasis number WDD2211761A395027 stayed the same. The new owners were a company called Cornfield, which is linked to Yulia.

Little boom, lots of bust

One commentator said: “Ukraine is like a banana republic, only we don’t have any bananas. Corruption is part of the fabric of this society.

“It’s a characteristic moulded by a history of very little boom and lots of bust. While the going is good you stuff your pockets so that when the bad times come –  and they will – you have the odd billion to fall back on.

“Politicians, police, prosecutors and judges think that their position entitles them to milk the people. They are nothing more than bandits,” he added.

The fragrant Yulia Tymoshenko captured the hearts of the Ukrainian nation during the Orange Revolution of 2004. It was a balloons and bouncy castle revolution. Not a drop of blood was spilt.

Her fiery rhetoric inspired the protesters as she called on them to wear orange as an act of defiance.

Yulia, her long blonde hair braided in the style of a Ukrainian peasant, cultivated the votes of simple country folk. She led the merry hopak dance all the way from Independence Square to the Prime Minister’s office.

The old order of corrupt politicians were ousted to be replaced by a new order of corrupt politicians, judges, police, prosecutors and government officials.

Yulia, a multi-millionairess, possibly billionairess, rode the roller coaster of the Ukrainian political circus. The high point came in 2005, when Forbes magazine named her the third most powerful woman in the world.

Bribery, corruption and excess runs through every level of Ukrainian society like the writing in the centre of a stick of Blackpool rock.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Church, had his photograph published on the church’s website. He was wearing a Breguet watch, value $50,000, on his wrist.

Kirill: look at his left hand, now look at the reflection

A flustered website designer noticed the extravagance and airbrushed the watch out of the photograph and republished it.

Kirill was sitting at a well-polished desk and the reflection of the offending watch was clearly still visible. Whoops!

A church spokesman said:”A 24 year old woman acted out an unjustifiable and unauthorised initiative in doctoring the image.”

At the time Kirill was preaching austerity and honest labour as a way out of Ukraine’s economic crisis.

In the historic town of Odessa, billionaire and former MP Vasily Khmelnytsky decided to ‘privatise’ the beach adjoining his seaside mansion. He built a wall on either side, only, the beach is public.

The newly appointed governor of the region, Mikhail Saakashvili, had been installed to sweep away corruption and the arrogance of the oligarchs. He ordered the walls demolished and gave Khmelnitsky a finger-wagging lecture on local statutes designating the beach as public.

Diamonds, a prosecutor’s best friend

Reformers have called on the judicial system to be completely overhauled, some demanding that all prosecutors and judges be replaced.

They found 65 diamonds, $400,000 in cash and Kalashnikov rifle – not bad on a salary of $450 a month.

Two prosecutors Olexandr Korniets and Volodymyr Shapakin had their homes raided by the SBU security police. They found 65 diamonds, $400,000 in cash and Kalashnikov rifle – not bad on a salary of $450 a month.

They have been accused of extorting money from a mining firm for the return of their digging equipment.

Korniets, who lives in a central Kiev apartment the size of one and a half tennis courts, is also being questioned about how he obtained a large apartment for his daughter in a fashionable area of the city.

He has argued that she has a right to it if the state believes a child needs better living conditions.

Investigators have discovered Shapakin has 40 bank accounts and that $711,000 has passed through them in five years.

They are both awaiting charges and a trial – if it ever happens.

Recently Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was asked by Stephen Sackur on BBC’s Hardtalk how many high profile officials have been prosecuted for corruption?

Answer: “None.”

Sackur:”What are you going to do about it?”

Answer:”What can I do?”

After all, you are only Prime Minister.

Former News of the World executive Greg Miskiw was born in England of Ukrainian parentage and has taken a keen interest in social and political developments in Ukraine. He has developed many contacts in Ukraine during his many trips to the region.