Ukraine Billionaire Fails to Appear for Questioning

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's richest man and an ally of Ukraine's opposition leader failed to appear for questioning by police in a criminal investigation on Monday because he was out of the country, the Interior Ministry said.

Rinat Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated at $2.4 billion, was summoned for questioning about criminal cases that happened at least 10 years ago in Donetsk.

Akhmetov, president of Shakhtar soccer club, is a supporter of ex-prime minister Viktor Yanukovich who lost a December presidential election to Viktor Yushchenko after weeks of popular protests against electoral fraud.

A senior Interior Ministry official told reporters police had received faxes from companies controlled by Akhmetov saying he was out of the country for holidays and business.

"We will invite him again. If there is a need, we will go to see him," minister official Sergei Blokhin said.

Police officials said they wanted to question Akhmetov about events in the 1990s in Donetsk, an eastern industrial city then caught in gangster wars and high-profile killings.

Akhmetov's business empire, made in the 1990s, is centred in Donetsk and includes steel plants, machine-building plants, telecoms companies, banks and the soccer club, which became Ukraine's champions last season.

Yanukovich was the governor of Donetsk region before becoming prime minister in 2003, and police have questioned him several times as part of investigations into misuse of state funds and separatist activity in the east of the country.

Yanukovich and his supporters say the investigations are politically motivated ahead of a parliamentary election in March.

Source: Reuters