Details Of Kyiv Land Grab Revealed

KYIV, Ukraine -- Reports that the Kyiv City Council gave away massive amounts of land worth around $200 million through rushed votes and under mysterious circumstances on Oct. 1 were greatly understated.

Kyiv’s eccentric and controversial mayor, Leonid Chernovetsky, has been accused by oppositionist political groups in the city council of orchestrating massive shadowy land handouts a day after the Sept. 30 snap parliamentary election.

According to new information uncovered by Korrespondent magazine, a sister publication of the Kyiv Post, and published in that magazine’s Oct. 13 issue, the scale of the so-called land grab was far larger than the original estimate of $200 million.

And the schemes used were various and elaborate. New information also revealed that the scandal involved many individuals, including the relatives of Kyiv officials, businessmen and well-known politicians, both on the local and national levels.

The most conservative estimates of the land plots that were given away through allegedly non-transparent city council votes on Oct. 1 put their total value at $10 billion, which is one-third the annual national budget, four times greater than the annual budget of Kyiv, and double the amount paid for Kryvorizhstal.

Ukraine’s flagship steel mill auctioned off in a showcase tender to Mittal Steel in 2005 for a whopping $4.8 billion in what is highly regarded as the Kyiv’s only crystal clean privatization deal.

It took but five hours for Kyiv City Council deputies from President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine faction and the bloc of Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky to give away what Korrespondent calculated to be more than 300 plots of land totaling between 2,000 and 3,000 hectares – the equivalent of around 3 percent of the capital’s territory.

According to Kyiv council opposition deputies, voting on the marathon land grab took place with breaches of protocol and in great secrecy.

Representatives of the Yulia Tymoshenko’s Byut faction, the Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and the bloc of boxer Vitaliy Klitschko, who did not take part in the voting, described the event as an “unprecedented giveaway,” adding that those deputies who did take part either received a slice of the land pie or bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“They simply very cynically robbed all Kyivans, although I understand that the Kyiv authorities tried to include all political forces [in the scheme], said Oleksiy Kucherenko, a member of the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense parliamentary faction.

Korrespondent’s investigation revealed that the votes against the land grab were few and far between, inasmuch as those politicians who did not vote were also rewarded.

Who got what

Tetyana Melikhova of the Kyiv council’s Byut faction said that the minimum value of 1 hectare of land in Kyiv is $4.5 million, making the Oct. 1 land give away worth at least $9 billion.

Kyiv developers, however, said that this figure only applies to land in the outlying residential districts of Kyiv. One hectare of land in the city center is worth tens of millions of dollars, and the city council gave away many plots in the center, thus easily tipping the value of the land grab above the $10-billion mark.

Dmitriy Andriyevsky, a city council member from Our Ukraine, said that the factions of Our Ukraine and the Chernovetsky bloc, which supported the vote, “obtained their interests.”

“Those who were not interested personally were interested materially. They took bribes, were corrupted. I can’t name names. Everyone is talking about it in the corridors. The sums were huge – hundreds of thousands of dollars for everyone,” Andriyevsky said.

According to information the Klitschko bloc made available to Korrespondent, plots were given away to more than 20 companies, with each company having a direct relation to a city council deputy, and each deputy being either a company founder or director. The information shows that 12 companies on the list are connected with Chernovetsky bloc deputies.

According to the Klitschko bloc, Chernovetsky family member Viktor Hrynyuk received several precious plots through different companies, including in the quickly-developing Obolon district and the popular recreational zone on Trukhaniv Island. Hrynyuk’s and Chernovetsky’s wives are sisters.

Volodymyr Bondarenko, deputy council head from the Klitschko bloc, said that a little-known medical and health center, Cecil, received 7.57 hectares of land on Zhukiv Island, is directly linked to Oles Dovhy, deputy mayor and deputy city council head, and Oleksandr Prohnimak, a council member from the Regions.

A 2.38-hectare plot of land along the Dnipro River went to a company called D.I.A. Development, a part of the Brinkford holding, which has been linked to Our Ukraine member David Zhvania.

Vasyl Horbal, the head of the Regions party organization in Kyiv, said that a few plots of land were received by businessmen from the non-voting opposition in the city council.

For example, Kyivrybhost, which received a 64.5-hectare plot of land in the capital, is connected to Bohdan Hubsky, No. 27 on the Byut parliamentary list, according to Horbal.

Hubsky’s press service said that he knows nothing about the land.

The fate of the largest land plots remains a mystery.

According to Our Ukraine council member Andriyevsky, more than 20 hitherto unknown companies received more than 1,700 hectares of land. Many of these plots are located in the elite settlement of Koncha Zaspa near Kyiv and along the 21st kilometer of the Stolichny Highway, which is popular among developers for building cottage neighborhoods.

“This was all residential construction. This was a significant redistribution of Kyiv land,” Andriyevsky said.

Each of these plots is between 75 and 142 hectares. For an idea of their true value, one investor laid out $200 million for a similarly-situated 113-hectare land plot in one of Kyiv’s rare land auctions that took place earlier this year.

Individual gains

The Kyiv council gave away hundreds of plots to private citizens: Klitschko bloc members found copies of documents showing that more than 40 hectares were given away to individuals.

Dovhy, who also serves as city council secretary, said on the Inter television channel Oct. 5 that those plots were given to people, who had not been able to exercise their legal rights to land plots since the times of Kyiv’s previous mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko.

However, based on the documents that came into Korrespondent’s possession, many individuals submitted their applications for land plots during the term of Kyiv’s current mayor, Chernovetsky. Many were submitted on one day: Nov. 17, 2006. And all received approval from the Kyiv land resource administration to draw up development plans on the very same day.

A similar one-day application and approval scenario took place on March 22 of this year.

During that session, 450 such applications were submitted. According to law, every Kyivan has the right to privatize 0.10 hectares of land.

“Kyivans should just go ahead and try to get 0.10 hectares,” Andriyevsky said ironically.

According to Korrespondent, Kyiv authorities took great pains to hide the evidence of the Oct. 1 session, including taking the municipal television channel, TRK Kyiv under their control, thus preventing the broadcast of the Kyiv council session.

In addition, Horbal said that all council decisions are supposed to be posted in all their detail on the city’s website. The website was last updated on May 22, 2007.

Council members who did not support the Oct. 1 votes said that fewer than the 61 deputies necessary for a quorum were present in the session hall. Those who were present voted for their absentee counterparts – a direct violation of the law.

“We started going among the rows taking out voting cards where there were no deputies. The whole thing ended with members of the Chernovetsky bloc attacking us,” said Byut’s Melikhova.

As a result, dozens of absent deputies voted for the distribution of several thousand hectares of land in the capital.

Source: Kyiv Post