Following the Ukrainian president's money trail

A man holds a golf club with the name of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on a golf course at the Ukrainian President Yanukovych's countryside residence. Photo / AP
A man holds a golf club with the name of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on a golf course at the Ukrainian President Yanukovych's countryside residence. Photo / AP

Lamp fittings worth tens of millions of euros, money transfers for vast sums, lists of critical journalists: more evidence of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's pampered lifestyle and paranoia emerged on Sunday.

As parliament voted to handover his lavish private estate - including a golf course, private zoo and car collections - to the state, journalists sifted through a trove of documents found hastily discarded when protesters seized the property Saturday after Yanukovych fled.

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Thousands of Ukrainians continued to flock to the gargantuan residence, some 15 kilometres from Kiev, to wonder at the 140-hectare grounds, take in the gaudy mansions dripping in gold and marble, and marvel at the antelopes in the menagerie.

While opposition activists kept a close guard over the property to safeguard against looting, a team of Ukrainian journalists worked non-stop to scour the reams of documents for proof of possible corruption or eye-watering spending.

These were details that someone apparently had scrambled frantically to hide.

The documents were found - some half-burned - floating in the reservoir at Yanukovych's former estate by local residents.

"It was clear that the people who left the property did not have enough time to burn the documents so they just threw them into the water," Sergei Sidorenko, a journalist at Kommersant Ukraine newspaper told AFP.

The documents paint a vivid picture of the wild extravagance at the home of Yanukovych - whose private life was kept a ferociously guarded secret.

Among the mountains of information, Sidorenko said he found a document that put the costs for one of the many buildings on the vast estate at $70 million.

Other paperwork posted online showed some more unusual spending habits.

Documents posted on Twitter by a journalist from local English-language newspaper Kyiv Post seemed to show a bill for gold chandeliers worth some 30 million euros, while another showed nearly $1000 spent on a medical bill for fish.

Elsewhere posted on the website of Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper documents appear to confirm over $1.2 million was spent on furniture for one of the houses and about $10,000 more on name plaques for the animals in the zoo.

While the extravagant spending does not necessarily prove corruption, Sidorenko said it certainly poses questions given that Yanukovych's official annual salary as president was about $100,000.

- 'Bad taste, sick imagination' -

More incriminating Sidorenko alleged were documents showing money transfers sometimes worth millions of dollars - illegal in Ukraine, he claimed - from unknown individuals to local bank accounts.

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Sinister documents were also uncovered elsewhere on the property by Ukrainskaya Pravda showing lists of anti-corruption journalists who had campaigned for more openness about presidential finances.

Among them appeared to be details of cars connected to Tetyana Chernovil, a crusading journalist and activist who was savagely beaten in December in an attack the opposition said was linked to her involvement in anti-government protests.

As the stream of revelations continued, people began to debate what should be done with the mammoth property.

While they strolled awestruck around the manicured gardens on Saturday, Kiev residents suggested it should be turned into a orphanage or sanatorium or museum for the scores of protesters killed in the demonstrations that led Yanukovych to flee.

Without giving details of what was next for Yanukovych's waterfront Xanadu, Ukraine's parliament - now dominated by Yanukovych's political foes - took the first step and voted overwhelming to hand it over to the people.

"Yanukovych's residence is a manifestation of bad taste, the man's sick imagination and vulgarity," Igor Miroshnichenko, a lawmaker from the nationalist Svoboda party told parliament.

"But it comes from money belonging to the state."

- AFP

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