Dubai Unlocked: How Yanukovych-Era Ukrainian Officials Poured Millions Into Secretive U.A.E. Real Estate – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

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Ukrainian officials who served during the reign of Kremlin-aligned President Viktor Yanukovych poured millions of dollars into Dubai real estate, including public servants who failed to report these assets or have faced charges of corruption, abuse of office, or treason, a new report by Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, reveals.

The Schemes investigation is part of cross-border collaboration by more than 70 media outlets across the globe based on a trove of leaked data that provides a detailed overview of thousands of properties in Dubai and information about their ownership or usage, largely from 2020 and 2022.

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Among the former Ukrainian officials reporters found in the records are Yanukovych’s environment minister and several lawmakers with the Party of Regions headed by the former president, whose decision to flee Ukraine amid mass street protests in 2014 was among the triggers that led to Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and, ultimately, its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

While Ukrainian laws do not prevent citizens — including state officials — from acquiring real estate in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), anti-corruption watchdogs have long noted that the Persian Gulf kingdom has been a magnet for illicit wealth.

Dubai Unlocked: Where The Data Comes From

The Dubai Unlocked data was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a nonprofit organization based in Washington that researches international crime and conflict. It was then shared with Norwegian financial outlet E24 and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

The property data at the heart of the project comes from a series of leaks of more than 100 datasets. Most of the data comes from the Dubai Land Department, as well as publicly owned utility companies.

Journalists spent months verifying the identities of the people who appeared in the leaked data, as well as confirming their ownership status, using official records, open-source research, and other leaked datasets.

Dubai Unlocked is a collaboration involving more than 70 media outlets from around the world. OCCRP and E24 coordinated the investigative project.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Finance and Security at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based defense and security think tank, told Schemes that the U.A.E. has been a place where one’s “money is safe and the questions are few.”

“So if you’re anybody who has money that you want to move it beyond scrutiny in your own country, then the U.A.E. has historically been a great place to do that,” Keatinge said.

‘Bags Of Cash’

Among the most prominent names revealed in the Dubai Unlocked leak is that of Mykola Zlochevskiy, who served as Yanukovych’s environment minister and founded Burisma Group, Ukraine’s largest privately owned natural gas producer. Burisma became enmeshed in U.S. domestic political battles over one of its board members, Hunter Biden, the son of U.S. President Joe Biden.

In July 2019, Zlochevskiy bought two apartments at the W Residences Dubai — The Palm, an elite residential complex on the shores of the Persian Gulf — purchases totaling nearly $11 million.

While Zlochevskiy was no longer a public servant at the time of these real estate acquisitions, he was later put on a wanted list by Ukrainian authorities on suspicion of embezzlement and charged with trying to bribe law enforcement officers with more than $5 million. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charge. Under his plea agreement with investigators, Zlochevskiy donated more than $15 million to the Ukrainian military for the purchase of drones and other assistance.

Ownership of the two Dubai apartments was transferred to Zlochevskiy’s daughter, Anna, in 2022, and real estate records show the former minister’s family used Cypriot passports to acquire the properties.

Neither Zlochevskiy nor his daughter responded to a request for comment sent to several of their family’s companies.

Mykola Zlochevskiy (right) together with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2011.

Mykola Zlochevskiy (right) together with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2011.

Journalists from Swedish public broadcaster SVT managed to get a property tour from a leading Dubai real estate development firm, Damac, during which the undercover reporters were told they could buy the apartment with “bags of cash” or cryptocurrency and face “zero question[s]” about the source of the funds.

“In properties you are not going to be questioned from any department…especially the developer himself,” the salesman said. “Anyone who wants to buy can buy.”

He also explained how buying real estate with cash helps customers avoid bank inquiries about the origins of their money.

“If you sell the property and then you transfer all the amount in the bank account, then there is no problem, you will not be questioned from where you bring the cash to buy the property and then to put it in the bank,” the salesman said.

A Damac representative later said the firm vets its clients and that it is not the company’s policy to recommend that clients purchase real estate with cash.

“Had your undercover reporter proceeded further through the sales process beyond the mere first encounter with a salesperson, they would have witnessed the scrutiny and the heightened measures we apply to transactions that trigger red flags,” Damac said, adding that the company would investigate the salesman’s statements.

The opacity of the Dubai real estate market makes it difficult for governments to ensure that its citizens who own property there are paying the required taxes.

“If a Ukrainian owns real estate in Dubai and sells it or rents it out, he must pay income tax and the military levy,” Ukrainian economist Vyacheslav Cherkashin told Schemes.

“Of course, no one will be in a hurry to pay such taxes,” Cherkashin added.

Posh Properties And Party Of Regions

Multiple former lawmakers with Yanukovych’s now-banned Russian-friendly Party of Regions are also among the erstwhile Ukrainian officials whose names surfaced in the Dubai Unlocked data, including Vyacheslav Bohuslayev, a former parliament member for the southern Zaporizhzhya region.

Bohuslayev was the president of the aerospace company Motor Sich, which the Ukrainian government nationalized in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

From 2009 to 2018, Bohuslayev and his son, Oleksandr, purchased at least 19 apartments and office premises in Dubai for a total cost of some $15 million. One of the apartments was registered to Bohuslayev, while the rest were owned in the name of his son, who served as deputy chairman of Motor Sich’s supervisory board.

Their connection to these properties has never before been revealed to the public.

Ukrainian prosecutors told RFE/RL’s Schemes that they are taking measures to “identify and seize” foreign assets owned by Vyacheslav Bohuslayev (left) and his son, Oleksandr.

Only five of the 19 properties remain in the Bohuslayevs’ ownership. Beginning in 2019, the year Bohuslayev ceased being a parliament deputy, the family began selling off their Dubai real estate assets.

Bohuslayev was detained by Ukrainian law enforcement in 2022 following Russia’s invasion earlier that year on charges of treason, financing of terrorism, and opposition to the armed forces of Ukraine — allegations he denies. He is currently in custody until at least June 10.

Earlier investigations by Schemes revealed Bohuslayev’s links to representatives of state-owned Iranian military companies, including the manufacturers of Shahed drones that the Russian military has deployed in its war on Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office told Schemes that it had yet to receive “reliable information and documents” about the Bohuslayev family’s U.A.E. assets but said that “measures are being taken to identify and seize” foreign property owned by Bohuslayev and his son.

Questions sent to Bohuslayev through his lawyer about his Dubai real estate holdings went unanswered.

Another former lawmaker with the Party of Regions, former State Migration Service deputy head Vasyl Hrytsak, and his family purchased two Dubai apartments for a total of more than $700,000. In 2019, ownership of one of the apartments was transferred to Hrytsak’s son, Ihor. Hrytsak’s wife and another son are co-owners of the other. Both apartments have been rented out, yielding income of more than $370,000, according to the Dubai Unlocked data.

Reached for comment by Schemes, Hrytsak claimed he was “hearing from you for the first time” that he owns Dubai real estate.

Prosecutors And Judges

Former state servants in Ukraine’s justice system also acquired multiple Dubai properties, the Dubai Unlocked data show.

These include Oleh Kornilov, the former deputy prosecutor in the southern Odesa region, who bought a $90,000 apartment in the upscale Jumeirah Bay X1 Tower — which features access to artificial lakes and nearby beaches — in the winter of 2011-12, when he had already been named deputy prosecutor in Odesa.

Kornilov later became deputy head of the investigative department of the regional prosecutor’s office and then a unit head. Following his dismissal in 2014 in the wake of Yanukovych’s flight to Russia, Kornilov became locked in a protracted battle to keep his job.

He also kept buying real estate in Dubai, records show, snapping up a hotel apartment in an elite part of the emirate for $210,000 in 2016.

None of these properties — two of which have since been sold — were listed in Kornilov’s declarations, nor were they mentioned in the declaration of his wife, who as of 2013 was also a prosecutor in the Odesa regional prosecutor’s office. She filed a 2018 declaration as a candidate for a senior regional position under the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner.

Reached by telephone, Kornilov denied having any apartments in Dubai. When told that his ownership was reflected in official U.A.E. property data, he hung up and did not respond to further calls and messages.

The wife of Artur Yemelyanov, an influential judge of the Yanukovych era, was also listed as the owner of three apartments in the elite Dubai Marina area of Dubai that cost a total of $1.8 million, the Dubai Unlocked data show.

Svitlana Yemelyanova served as a deputy in the city council for the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk until 2014. In December of that year, she bought the first of these three apartments for $650,000, the Dubai records show.

Svitlana Yemelyanova (left), ex-wife of Artur Yemelyanov (right), an influential judge of the Yanukovych era, is a former Party of Regions city council deputy who purchased more than $1 million in Dubai real estate.

Svitlana Yemelyanova (left), ex-wife of Artur Yemelyanov (right), an influential judge of the Yanukovych era, is a former Party of Regions city council deputy who purchased more than $1 million in Dubai real estate.

Yemelyanova and her husband, who had faced allegations that he may have interfered in the automated distribution of cases among Ukrainian judges, divorced in the fall of 2014, and the judge’s ex-wife purchased the other two apartments in 2017 and 2018 for $620,000 and $560,000, respectively.

Previous investigations by Schemes found evidence that Yemelyanov and his ex-wife continued to vacation and spend time together in Vienna, where she lived with their children.

Yemelyanov declined to discuss the Dubai properties when reached by Schemes, saying it was his ex-wife who purchased the real estate. “Svitlana and I continue to communicate. We are civilized people, and divorce is not a factor preventing further communication,” he said.

Speaking to Schemes, Yemelyanov said that neither he nor his ex-wife were implicated in the criminal case, which he called a “baseless” attempt to “spread falsehoods about me.” He said, however, that the authorities had conducted searches on premises owned both by him and his ex-wife, albeit in connection with a separate legal matter.

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) told Schemes that as of May 2024, neither Yemelyanov nor his wife had been notified of any suspicions facing them in the criminal case.

Svitlana Yemelyanova did not respond to a request for comment on the Dubai properties.

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