Saturday, February 26, 2005

Ukraine Strips Ex-President of Retirement Perks

KIEV, Ukraine -- The cabinet Saturday stripped former president Leonid Kuchma of a plush - and widely criticized - retirement package that featured a monthly pension, two cars, a government home and much more.

New Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had ordered the government to come up with a new, slimmed-down package for former officials.

Kuchma's privileges were cancelled based on a decision by the Ministry of Justice that the previous government "exceeded its responsibilities," the cabinet said in a statement.

On Jan. 19, five days before President Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in, acting Prime Minister Mykola Azarov signed an order giving Kuchma a monthly salary worth about 8,200 UAH and allowing him and wife Lyudmyla to keep their government-owned home in Ukraine's most exclusive enclave. The package also gave Kuchma two aides, an adviser, securities, two cars, four drivers and a countryside residence.

Anger against Kuchma runs deep in this country of 48 million. Many Ukrainians accuse him of having run the state like a personal fiefdom, enriching those close to him while the rest of the country was choked by poverty and corruption.

Yushchenko, sacked by Kuchma in acrimony as prime minister in 2000, has cranked up the pressure on Kuchma and the previous government, ordering all sales of state property to be re-examined along with alleged "insider" deals under the previous regime.

Prosecutors are sifting through other major privatization deals and financial transactions, an investigation that is likely to focus on the wealthy clique of businessmen close to Kuchma.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko asked the country's Prosecutor General's Office to open a criminal case against Former President Leonid Kuchma, the party's press service said.

"The Prosecutor General's Office has to open a criminal case against Kuchma on crimes he committed when he served as Ukrainian president, which carry a sentence of high treason" said Symonenko.

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