He plundered state coffers and was convicted of treason. Now SVT can reveal that Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych funneled EUR 3.7 million through an account in Swedbank. The funds are linked to a suspected bribe – and have been known to Swedbank since 2017, according to documents SVT has received.
Last week, SVT revealed how suspected customers have funneled at least USD 5.8 billion through Swedbank and Danske Bank in the Baltics – and how the Swedish bank is now being drawn into the money-laundering scandal that is shaking Denmark to its core.
But until now it’s been unknown who was behind the suspicious companies and transactions.
Now SVT can reveal that the former president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, used Swedbank to funnel millions out of the country.
Yanukovych was notified as a suspect for receiving a bribe
Andriy Radionov, chief prosecutor
The suspected money laundering occurred in 2011, when EUR 3.7 million were transferred via the company Vega Holding Limited, which has accounts in Swedbank.
The money was from a suspected bribe, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor who investigated Yanukovych.
“Viktor Yanukovych was notified as a suspect for receiving a bribe for seemingly writing a book by himself,” says chief prosecutor Andriy Radionov to SVT.
It would take three years after the money was transferred through the Swedish bank before president Yanukovych would become widely known to the rest of Europe as the most hated man in Ukraine.
By then, war-like scenes took place on Independence Square, also known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti, in the heart of the capital Kiev.
At the end of 2013, hundreds of thousands of Kiev residents took to the streets after learning that president Yanukovych had chosen to establish stronger ties to Putin’s Russia and to reject a new agreement with the EU.
“The time of Yanukovych was a very dark time. You had this feeling that anything could happen,” says Yulia Marushevska, who took part in the protests on Independence Square.
At the time, Yanukovych had been president of Ukraine for four years, but he had also been building up a private fortune by funneling money out of the country via corporate accounts in European banks. An estimated USD 30 billion were stolen from the state coffers.
His family and cronies stole about USD 10 billion a year
Anders Åslund, professor of national economics
“His family and cronies stole about USD 10 billion a year from the state. At the same time, he tried to implement the most authoritarian rule possible,” says Anders Åslund, professor of national economics and former advisor to both Russian and Ukrainian governments.
The protests culminated on February 20, 2014.
The Berkut special police force tried to clear Independence Square by firing on the crowds with live ammunition. Forty-eight demonstrators lost their lives. Four police officers also died. President Yanukovych fled by helicopter to Russia, and Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to the Crimea. The war in eastern Ukraine had begun.
When Yanukovych fled the country, a group of journalists broke into the empty presidential palace.
“It was a dream come true to come here,” says Anna Babinets from the journalist network OCCRP.
Babinets and her colleagues discovered that the president had tried to destroy documents by throwing them in the water. They worked round the clock to rescue as much as possible, in the hopes that they could track the money to different European banks. Then all the material was confiscated by the Ukrainian prosecutor, who initiated an investigation.
SVT gained access to parts of the corruption investigation and the names of several secret companies that Yanukovych is suspected to have used to launder money.
One of the companies is Vega Holding Limited, which has accounts in Swedbank’s Lithuanian branch. This is clear from the leak of transactions between Danske Bank and Swedbank that SVT analyzed.
A high government official in Kiev also confirmed to SVT that Vega Holding Limited is the company that Yanukovych used for the suspected bribery.
The organization Anti-Corruption Center in Kiev reacted sharply to the information that the money was funneled through Swedbank.
“Sweden was not on our radar at all; it is perceived as a totally un-corrupt country. These findings significantly damage the image of Sweden,” says director Darla Kaleniuk of the Anti-Corruption Center.
Yulia Marushevska, one of the participants in the protests on Independence Square, was upset when she learned how much Yanukovych used the Swedish bank.
“It’s not only money. It’s human lives, it’s destroyed roads. It’s not sufficient medicine, it’s lack of education. All this stolen money, it’s a huge harm against society, and I think people who have some influence in it should think if they want to be a part of this vicious circle," she says.
SVT shows Swedbank the information about Viktor Yanukovych and the company Vega Holding Limited. We are met by communication manager Gabriel Francke Rodau.
Did you know Yanukovych had done business through Swedbank?
“I didn’t know, and if I had I wouldn’t have been able to comment on it, because of bank confidentiality,” Gabriel Francke Rodau says.
According to documents that SVT was given, the bank has known about Yanukovych’s business since 2017, when Ukrainian authorities sent a request to Swedbank for information about that specific bank account.
I’m not comfortable commenting on my CEO and her statements
Gabriel Francke Rodau, communication manager at Swedbank
That was close to two years before CEO Birgitte Bonnesen publicly announced that Swedbank was not involved in suspected money laundering in the Baltics.
What is your comment on that?
“I believe that what Birgitte Bonnesen was primarily talking about was the names that figured in Danske Bank and the business model that Danske Bank had,” Rodau says.
But can you comment on your CEO’s statement that there was nothing more to search for, and yet we found this?
“I’m not comfortable commenting on my CEO and her statements,” Rodau says.
In addition to the suspected bribe, the bank leak also shows that another EUR 12.6 million and USD 5.6 million were funneled via the company that Victor Yanukovych used in Swedbank between 2007 and 2014.
On January 25, 2019, Victor Yanukovych was sentenced to 13 years in prison for treason. He has been living under Putin’s protection in Russia since his flight in 2014. Nothing indicates that he will be extradited to Ukraine.
The full investigation “Swedbank and the money laundering – part 2“ is available in english on SVT Play.
Read the first article about suspected money laundering in Swedbank here. Or click on one of the chapters below to continue reading – in Swedish only.
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Publicerat 20 februari 2019