INTERVIEW-Owner of Ukraine ex-president's palatial estate slams "dirty propaganda"

by Reuters
Thursday, 27 February 2014 19:40 GMT

* Ukrainian politician says ready to support new government

* Yanukovich associate speaks out after president ousted

* Politician's brother recovering from gun shot

Feb 27 (Reuters) - A politician whose company owned the luxury country residence of the ousted president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, is ready to support the country's new government, he told Reuters on Thursday.

Sergei Klyuev, a businessman and member of parliament, vowed to return home soon to fight allegations that he and other members of the country's political elite - described by their opponents as "The Family" - had enriched themselves at public expense, for example by rigging state contracts and privatisations.

Klyuev said he and his brother were victims of "dirty propaganda" by political enemies that he would not name. His comments marked the first public statement by someone alleged to be close to Yanukovich since he disappeared on Friday.

"I wish success to the new government. If there is anything we can do for them, we will do it. Actually our faction in the parliament will vote today for the new government," Klyuev, a deputy from Yanukovich's Party of Regions, said in the interview, conducted on condition his location was not disclosed.

Klyuev also said his brother Andriy, the president's former chief of staff, was still in Ukraine and recovering from a gunshot wound.

Andriy was shot - but not seriously - after Yanukovich and he fled Kiev in an uprising.

"He got surgery and now he is recovering. I don't know the details but I think he is much better now," Sergei Klyuev said without being more specific about his sibling's exact location.

Andriy, who could not be reached for comment, is wanted for arrest by authorities over his suspected involvement in the murder of protesters during Yanukovich's crackdown, according to a statement by Oleh Makhnytsky, the acting prosecutor-general of Ukraine.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Makhnytsky said Andriy Klyuev's personal assets also were under investigation, because of his closeness to the president.


He would not comment on whether Sergei Klyuev was under investigation, although other law-enforcement officials said on Thursday he was not accused of any crime.

Despite the conditions he set for the interview, Sergei Klyuev said he was ready to return and declared he was unafraid of being charged by a new government, which his party would support in a bid to keep the country whole and end street violence that he said included mobs attacking his house with guns and molotov cocktails.

"I can return right now. Actually my plan to return depends on my health condition. I plan to return tomorrow," he said, occasionally pacing and wiping his brow to cope with a fever that he said kept him from sleeping well.

Asked about Yanukovich, he said: "I have no idea where he is. I have never been in touch and I'm not in touch now."

Russian news agencies said Yanukovich would give a news conference on Friday in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

The discovery of what lay behind the walls of the presidential retreat at Mezhyhirya outside Kiev - from private golf course and pet zoo to a fake Spanish galleon - and of other luxury homes around the country has sparked anger and suspicion in Ukraine that Yanukovich and his associates may have taken a substantial slice from public contracts.

Ukraine's acting prosecutor general said on Wednesday the country would urgently contact international organisations with an official request to help trace bank accounts and assets controlled by Yanukovich and his inner circle.

The retreat at Mezhyhirya, for example, was owned by a holding company, Tantalit, controlled by Klyuev, 44.

"I bought just to make a huge real estate project but I didn't even change management," he said. "It was just a clean purchase. I spent my money and that was it, basically."

He said he bought Tantalit on the secondary market, not from the state, and still owns it. "What happened, happened. I don't see the problem."

Since the ousting of Yanukovich, parliament voted that Mezhyhirya should be returned to state control.

Klyuev pledged to cooperate fully with authorities.

"I am open to the police, to financial authorities, to show everything. We did nothing wrong." (Writing by Stephen Grey; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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