Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine Crisis: Investigative Reporters Move Into Yanukovych Estate to Probe Corruption

In the wake of the Ukrainian revolution, the country's long-besieged investigative journalists have turned one of the most secretive locations in eastern Europe into a haven for transparency and accountability.

Deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's lavish 350-acre estate outside Kyiv -- which included an ostrich farm and a private lake complete with a full-size moored pirate galleon -- has been taken over by a team of Ukraine's investigative journalists.

They're using it as a base to study tends of thousands of documents found at the residence that are helping reveal the tale of the staggering corruption of Yanukovych's regime.

Their work may help Ukraine track down billions that were apparently looted from state coffers during Yanukovych's four years in office.

President's Son Won 50% of State Contacts

In a country where the average person makes $500 a month, Ukraine's new government says $37 billion went missing under Yanukovych, while another $70 billion flowed into offshore accounts -- though it's not clear how much of the latter amount was illegitimate. The government says its coffers are now virtually empty.

As an example of the corruption, the ousted president's son -- a 41-year-old dentist -- accumulated vast wealth during his father's short time in office and was reportedly worth $500 million in Nov. 2013. His various holding companies are reported to have won 50 percent of all state contracts in Jan. 2014.

The newfound freedom of Ukraine's investigative journalists is in sharp contrast with the country's recent record as one of the world's worst places for press freedom. In 2010, after Yanukovych came to power, the country fell from 90th place to 131st place in the annual press freedom ranking of the group Reporters Without Borders -- winding up behind Iraq and Zimbabwe.

The Ukrainian journalists have created the YanukovychLeaks website to publish their findings. Read more background here.

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