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Yanukovych’s Shady Royalties

President Viktor Yanukovych has stepped into another scandal, this one over his assets. He declared his total income for 2011 as being 17,362,024 hryvnia, which, at 8.03 hryvnia to the dollar (the exchange rate on April 15th), comes out to $2,163,257.

Not bad enough for a populist president who claims to be one of the regular folk, but the real scandal concerns the source of Yanukovych’s money. A mere 757,615 hryvnia ($94,396) constitute his presidential salary, while 155,409 hryvnia come from dividends and interest. (He’s got 14,521,454 hryvnia stashed away in banks.) So what’s the source of the remaining 16,449,000 hryvnia ($2,049,497)?

Turns out those are his “author’s royalties” and other income due to “intellectual property.” How so? you ask. Well, according to the UNIAN Information Agency, the Donetsk-based Novyy svit (New World) publishing house paid Yanukovych the money for the rights to four books Yanukovych penned from 2005 to 2010, as well as for “literary works that the author will create in the future.” The prolific Prez’s books are primarily collections of his speeches and articles, which, as one democratic website points out, “are usually distributed for free by his party.” As to the literary works, let’s not even go there.

So is all this stuff really worth two million bucks? Seems like a stretch to me. Yanukovych ally Volodymyr Semynozhenko, the head of the State Agency for Science, Innovations, and Informatization, disagrees: “I didn’t speak with the president about this issue, but, as far as I understand, we’re talking about an advance for the future memoirs of the head of state. I think Viktor Yanukovych has agreed to give a long interview after 2020 and to relate his dramatic life’s destiny, his work as prime minister, how he experienced the Orange Revolution, stayed in opposition in 2005 and 2008–2009, and finally succeeded in winning the presidential elections and introducing reforms.” What’s the big deal? asks Semynozhenko. After all, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton also got big advances.

You gotta wonder what’s scarier: the thought of Yanukovych writing fiction or the preposterousness of Semynozhenko’s comments. Say what you will about those American presidents, but they were world-historical personalities whose memoirs were guaranteed important and large readerships. Are there more than 100 Ukraine experts (sorry—99 not counting myself)  who’ll care to buy Yanukovych’s memoirs? A nice Ukrainian folk saying is quite appropriate here: “As the smith is placing a horseshoe on the horse, the frog extends its leg.”

By the way, note that Semynozhenko assumes that Yanukovych will be around after 2020 to give long interviews. Given the Prez’s current ratings, his winning the 2015 election fair and square is virtually impossible. And if Yanukovych just grabs power and has himself declared president again in opposition to the popular will, he may be too busy running from Interpol in 2020 to have time to sit down for a chat.

Now, the Regionnaires may be dumb, but they know money, and no self-respecting Regionnaire can possibly believe that Yanukovych deserves so large an advance for books that nobody will read. So what’s going on? According to the opposition Ukrainska Pravda website, the New World publishing house is behind Yanukovych’s scandalous book, Opportunity Ukraine, which wasn’t only a snooze, but, after it was revealed that parts had been lifted from other published sources, was quickly withdrawn from the market—at some loss, I assume, to the state budget.

The director of the press is one Hennadi Ustymenko, who, as it turns out, is also the “head of the transportation-technical administration of the Administration of the State Special Service of Transportation of the Ministry of Infrastructure.” What the hell is that? you wonder. Turns out that the “State Special Service of Transportation is a specialized state organ of transportation in the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Ukraine, which is intended to ensure the reliable functioning of transportation in times of peace and under conditions of war and emergencies.”

Got that? Well, if you ever wondered just how impenetrable and absurd Ukraine’s bureaucracy is, the good news is that now you know. By the way, it’s even funnier. On January 12, 2012, Ustymenko was appointed a member of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade’s “Offset Commission.” What’s that? As with Yanukovych’s literary works, let’s not even go there. Oh, and Ustymenko is apparently affiliated with Biznesrazvedka.RF, a marketing firm that gathers “business intelligence.” If you want to visit the multitasking Ustymenko and get your own memoirs published, New World is on Batyshcheva Street 2-a in Donetsk.

Anyway, the bottom line is pretty clear. The shady Ustymenko is part of the state bureaucracy, and New World appears to be at the beck and call of the president. I figure that a good chunk of the state budget—lemme take a wild guess and say it’s about 16 million hryvnia—somehow made its way to Ustymenko’s publishing outfit, which in turn … Well, let’s not even go there.

The other thing that’s clear is that Yanukovych has been stung by criticism of his authorial lucre. On April 15th, Orthodox Easter, he told journalists: “This year the money I received from the publication of some of my books will be directed only at helping the poor, the ill, and of course above all children.”

The ease with which Yanukovych donated the $2 million suggests that he regards it as chump change, the price of a cup of coffee. Only a man who’s worth billions could think that way.

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