General Oleh Makhnitsky, chief prosecutor in Ukraine, was in London on Tuesday to discuss the state of unrest in the Eastern European nation. Makhnitsky accused disgraced former president, Viktor Yanukovych, of laundering as much as $100 billion from the Ukrainian budget. The prosecutor also claimed Yanukovych was the head of a “mafia structure” when addressing the needs of returning the stolen funds.
British officials have estimated the missing $100 billion equals half of Ukraine’s 2013 budget. Makhnitsky stated it was too early to give an exact number on the fraud committed, but claims to have proof linking at least $350 million to have been stolen by Yanukovych and his two sons. Makhnitsky also said that Ukraine’s ousted president took $32 billion in cash with him when he fled to Russia; which he believes is being used to fund pro-Russian separatists in the hotly contested regions in the east of Ukraine.
The rest of the assets stolen from the Ukrainian people have inexplicably gone to various nations in Europe and Russia. Makhnitsky has asked for help from Western powers to help locate the stolen funds, return them to Ukraine and hold the parties responsible for theft accountable. The United States has pledged its support of this cause by providing $2.5 million to Ukraine. Officials from Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland have agreed to return assets from their respective nations that Yanukovych’s administration placed there illegally.
Yanukovych is presumed to be somewhere in Russia, he has apparently shelled out $52 million for a mansion in suburban Moscow. Russian president Vladimir Putin has refused to give Yanukovych up for extradition because he is “still the legitimate president of Ukraine” and “does not recognize Ukraine’s acting government.”
The crisis in Ukraine has reinvigorated the Cold War drama between Russia and the West. With pledged support from the allies of Ukraine’s new government, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before much of the stolen assets are recovered. Until then, the EU and United States continue to exchange sanctions with the Russian government as the Ukrainian citizens are stuck in the crossfire of this political stalemate.