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In Ukraine, Protesters Declare Corruption The Problem


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

And we begin the hour with the volatile political situation in Ukraine. Today, President Viktor Yanukovych added a new concession to the list he has already offered to the opposition. He agreed to scrub anti-protest legislation that recently sparked another wave of unrest against his government. But also today, Ukraine's justice minister threatened to call for a state of emergency after protesters temporarily occupied her office building.

As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, that ministry is central to the protesters' wider complaints about the Ukrainian government.


COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: About 50 activists from one of the more radical opposition factions broke into the Justice Ministry last night. Protest leader Vitali Klitschko tried to talk them into leaving, but they refused to go. At one point, it appeared that the authorities might declare a state of emergency, a move that would give them broad powers to quell the protests. Late in the day, the activists finally withdrew from the building but continued to picket outside. Many in the opposition see the Justice Ministry as part of the problem: law enforcement and the judiciary controlled by a president whom they accuse of massive corruption.

Daria Kaleniuk is executive director of an independent watchdog group called the Anti-Corruption Action Center. She says federal prosecutors have refused to investigate obvious questions of corruption surrounding Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, including his palatial home.

DARIA KALENIUK: Many of us have seen the luxury mansion where Yanukovych resides. And when you have golden toilets and chandeliers for $80,000, helicopter pad and all this luxury, the question is very obvious, where is it coming from? And the answer is, of course, corruption and abuse of office.

FLINTOFF: Yanukovych says he only rents the home, which is valued at more than $75 million dollars. Daria Kaleniuk says the real ownership of the home is obscured by layers of shell companies in Austria and Britain. Critics like to point out that Yanukovych, who served two prison terms for criminal offenses as a young man, has never officially earned more than about $2,000 a month in his life, yet seems to have enormous unexplained wealth.

Andrei Marusov is the chairman of the board of Transparency International Ukraine. Last month, the organization ranked Ukraine as the most corrupt country in Europe. Marusov points to one case that's become a joke among the president's critics, the claim that his earnings come from authoring books.

ANDREI MARUSOV: Recently, he earned $5 million by selling his books. So for any Ukrainian writer, it would be just a fortune. And then there were a series of investigations. And people just didn't find these books on sale in bookshops or even in libraries, and so everybody is kind of, OK, what is going on?


MARUSOV: But none of these cases brought attention of the general prosecutor's office.

FLINTOFF: The anti-corruption groups also question the business activities of the president's son, Alexander Yanukovych. They say a bank owned by him increased its business by 10 times after his father became president. That's because government ministries shifted their business from a state-owned bank to the one owned by Alexander. Andrei Marusov says the president's immunity from official investigations will only last so long as he remains in power.

MARUSOV: He understands pretty well that if he would fail now or in the coming presidential elections, then there will be prosecution.

FLINTOFF: That perception, that Yanukovych will cling to power at any cost to protect himself from prosecution, underlines a lot of the opposition's mistrust of any concessions that he may offer. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.