Watches, cars, piles of cash: Ukraine’s officials reveal their annual declarations

Ukraine’s public officials filed their 2019 asset declarations by June 1. Head of President’s Office Andriy Yermak (L) declared little income but substantial savings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov (C) once again boasted a collection of luxury items, while Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal filed an un-remarkable declaration.Photo by Kyiv PostPopular
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Every spring, the time comes for Ukrainians to be astonished by the wealth of those who govern them. 

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian officials of all ranks filed their 2019 declarations of assets and income by June 1. The usual deadline of April 1 was pushed back for two months due to the nationwide quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The declarations offer a fascinating look into the lifestyles of Ukrainian officials, garnished with $30,000 watches, luxurious real estate and enviable wine collections. Officials notoriously favor cash over bank deposits, often declaring hundreds of thousands dollars stored in bills. 

In the previous years, declarations have often revealed strange, even comical possessions. A former lawmaker once declared owning holy bodily relics of saints, while his colleague declared ownership of an entire church

To justify their lavish lifestyles, top officials have often declared large sums of money that they supposedly received as gifts from their relatives — sometimes, their unemployed parents — or claimed that they won a lottery

This is what some of the top Ukrainian officials and politicians say they owned and earned in 2019.

Volodymyr Zelensky: Royalties pay well

President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska declared Hr 28.6 million, or a little over $1 million in income in 2019. 

The family’s earnings doubled compared to 2018. But Zelensky’s new job as Ukraine’s president didn’t contribute to the family budget — his presidential salary for May-December 2019 amounted to a total of Hr 208,787 ($7,770). 

Most of the couple’s earnings came from Zelensky’s entertainment empire, including royalties for a number of trademarks. 

A part of the income came from Zelensky selling his corporate rights in 12 companies he owned to his business partner Serhiy Shefir, who also serves as the president’s aide. Shefir said in an interview in May 2019 that he agreed with Zelensky that his share of the entertainment business will return to him in five years, when Zelensky’s presidential term ends. Zelensky recently said that he is considering running for a second term.  

Read more about Zelensky’s asset declaration here.

Andriy Yermak: Cash is his thing

Andriy Yermak, who has been the head of the President’s Office since February and served as an aide to Zelensky before that, declared a meagre income of Hr 256,000 ($9,500) in 2019, mainly from his law firm. 

But Yermak won’t need to tighten his belt any time soon: His modest income is overshadowed by an impressive stash of cash he declared. 

The head of Zelensky’s office declared owning $347,000 and €50,000 in cash. Yermak isn’t a big believer in banks: He has just about $1,000 in two bank accounts combined. 

He also declared that one of his own companies owed him Hr 9.6 million ($360,000).  

Yermak declared that he has a 100-square-meter apartment in Kyiv. As of 2019, he didn’t own a car and drove a Toyota Camry owned by a man named Andriy Yeroshov. 

That has since changed: In March, Yermak bought an S-class Mercedes-Benz for nearly Hr 3 million ($112,000). 

Explaining the purchase, Yermak said that he sold his old Toyota and bought the Mercedes — meaning that he really owned the car that he declared as Yeroshov’s. Some car owners in Ukraine don’t change the car’s registration when they purchase a pre-used car in order to avoid paying registration fees that can amount to 10% of the car’s price. 

Yermak listed that he is a member of three non-governmental organizations, including one that focuses on the treatment of mental health issues. 

Read also: Security officials’ declassified declarations reveal major violations

Denys Shmyhal: Un-remarkable

Nothing stands out in the declaration of Denys Shmyhal, who served as the governor of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast for several months and has been the prime minister since March.

Shmyhal, who worked as a top manager for DTEK energy company before joining the public service in August, declared that DTEK paid him some $118,000 in the first eight months of 2019 — a formidable salary in Ukraine, where the average monthly wage stands just below $400. 

His job as the governor paid much less — he made just about $8,500 in the five months in office.

Shmyhal was accused many times of favoring his former employer when making energy policy decisions, but always denied the accusations. 

Shmyhal and his wife own a house and land in the city of Lviv and Lviv Oblast. The family has one car: a 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport that belongs to his wife.

Like many top officials, Shmyhal appears to favor cash savings over storing money in the bank. He and his wife store $235,000 in cash, and have only Hr 91,000 ($3,400) in the bank.

Vitali Klitschko: Secretive about savings

Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv since 2014 with a good chance of being re-elected in 2020, has been rich since before he entered public service. Western media estimated that he made at least $65 million throughout his career as a heavyweight boxer, from which he retired in 2013. 

His salary as the mayor of Kyiv cannot compare to boxing prizes. Klitschko made roughly Hr 1 million (around $37,000) in 2019, and only Hr 318,000 ($11,800) came from his post as the head of the capital. 

The remaining Hr 697,000 ($26,000) came from Deutsche Bank and is listed as “income from managing financial assets.” The declaration says that he has an account with the bank but doesn’t mention the amount of money Klitschko has there.

He declared the same 250-square-meter apartment in central Kyiv that he has owned since 2005 and a 780-square-meter country house in Kyiv Oblast.

His savings are unknown. Klitschko didn’t disclose the contents of his two bank accounts, and only listed $13,200 and €24,200 in cash, as well as €8.2 million he listed as borrowed by his brother Wladimir Klitschko, also a former heavyweight boxing champion.

With his brother, the mayor co-owns the rights to the brand “Klitschko” in Ukrainian, English, and German.

Klitschko is the founder of two charity organizations: the Klitschko Foundation and Maybutny Kyiv (Future Kyiv).

Klitschko doesn’t own a car. His wife Natalia Yegorova owns two cars, a Land Rover Discovery and a Toyota Sequoia, while Klitschko himself only has a Fine Custom Puncher motorcycle and a trailer for it.

The couple also owns a few luxuries, including jewelry by Tiffany & Co. and Bvlgari and watches by Van Cleef & Arpels, Hublot and Mont Blanc. They have a Yamaha piano and a 19th century French mantel clock.  

Arsen Avakov: Luxury hoarding

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov boasts not only the longest term in office but also one of the longest declarations

Avakov is a collector. According to his declaration, he collects paintings, coins, and vintage wines. While other officials often prefer to be discreet and opt for generic descriptions like “an antique object,” Avakov’s declaration is boastful with details.

He declared three separate collections of coins, including one collection of “2,656 copper, bronze, silver and golden coins” including Roman Empire coins, with the oldest ones in the collection dating back to the 2nd century BC. He appeared to have sold or given away five coins since the previous year, when he declared he had 2,661 coins.

There are also collections of paintings, mostly by Ukrainian artists, with one lithograph by Pablo Picasso; two collections of stamps; a collection of sculptures; a collection of arms and a collection of wines numbering 730 bottles — 11 bottles less than he had the year before. He also collects wine labels of Mouton-Rothchild wine.

As if to boast, Avakov separately declared several of what appear to be the priciest bottles in his collection — including a 1945 bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, which Christie’s auction house estimates to cost between $8,000 and $12,000. 

His wife Inna Avakova declared some luxuries, too, including jewelry; handbags by Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes; and four fur coats. She also has a black diamond, with a number “4.85” next to it in the declaration, apparently referring to carats. 

But despite boasting all these luxuries, Avakov insists he lives modestly in a room of the Kyiv Hotel, a state-owned hotel for lawmakers and ministers. The minister declared no real estate in Kyiv, and his collections are presumably stored in the three apartments that he owns in his home town of Kharkiv.

In 2018, Ukrainian journalists discovered that Avakov owns a villa in Italy through his Italian-registered company Avitalia S.R.L. He claimed it was a hotel that his wife ran as a business, not a private residence. 

Avakov’s wife is also the owner of solar energy company Pidstepne Sontse. Ukraine has been trying to negotiate a decrease in feed-in tariffs with renewable energy producers. Ukraine’s feed-in tariffs are among the highest in Europe and a heavy burden on the budget. 

His job as interior minister paid him Hr 1.1 million ($38,000) in 2019. He added some $8,000 in interest from his bank deposits. His wife made Hr 4.4 million ($164,000) in interest and payments from her businesses. 

Avakov and his wife have some €1.7 million, $600,000 and Hr 2 million in the banks, and around $150,000 in cash in a variety of currencies — including Australian dollars, British pounds and Japanese Yen. 

Petro Poroshenko: $63 million in cash

Lawmaker and former President Petro Poroshenko made about $30 million in 2019, mostly in dividends from his businesses. It is twice less than he made in 2018. 

Forbes recently estimated that Poroshenko was worth $1.4 billion, restoring the billionaire status that he lost in 2015. 

Poroshenko declared making about $4 million from a sale of Ukrainian government bonds. He also declared receiving about $65,000 in damages from the BBC for their report that he paid $400,000 for a meeting with the U.S. President Donald Trump, which BBC admitted was incorrect. 

Poroshenko’s biggest expenditure of the year was his re-election campaign: He transferred some Hr 500 million to his campaign fund in early 2019, according to the declaration. 

In terms of property, the declaration bore no surprises: Poroshenko and his wife declared their apartment in Kyiv and a palatial mansion in Kozyn, a village of the rich outside Kyiv. They own several cars and a number of luxury goods, including designer handbags, watches and paintings of Ukrainian and European artists. Every year, Poroshenko declares that he owns a “black leather coat.”

Poroshenko and his wife declared ownership of 28 companies.

The ex-president, who owns a bank in Ukraine, prefers to store savings in cash. He declared that he has a whopping $63 million in cash — of it, some $15 million is in hryvnia and the rest is in U.S. dollars. He has only some $3.2 million in the bank, according to the declaration.

Viktor Medvedchuk: He loves Russia and old books 

The asset declaration of lawmaker and political veteran Viktor Medvedchuk was the most newsworthy in Ukraine.

A personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an unofficial representative of Russia in Ukraine, Medvedchuk declared two impressive collections — of companies and antiques.

Medvedchuk’s wife, celebrity TV host Oksana Marchenko, is the main holder of the family’s assets. She owns 97 companies, according to the declaration. She declared earning over Hr 250 million ($9.3 million) in dividends, while Medvedchuk declared Hr 60 million ($2.24 million). 

But the biggest surprise was found in the family’s collection of antiquarian books. Medvedchuk declared that he owns “a fragment of the Gutenberg Bible dated 1455” — one of the first-ever printed books. 

A German historian told Deutsche Welle that he hoped Medvedchuk would publish “at least one photo” of the fragment he owns for historians to study. According to him, only 49 Gutenberg Bibles are known to exist today, and the last time one was sold at a public auction was “over 20 years ago” for “tens of millions of dollars.”

Apart from the Gutenberg Bible, Medvedchuk owns dozens of other antiquarian books from the 15-17th centuries, including a 15th-century gospel manuscript. He also declared “a collection of 1,040 books of the 18th century” and many first editions of Ukrainian and Russian classics of the 19th century, including Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. 

He and his wife also declared owning several hundred icons and paintings by Ukrainian, Russian and European artists, without specifying their names. Medvedchuk declared 23 watches by luxury brands, while his wife declared 22 watches. 

The couple has no apartments, but owns five houses, including four in Kyiv and one in Yalta, Crimea. They own 19 cars, including a Bentley, a Maybach and several BMWs and Mercedes.

(c)KYIV POST 2020

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