29 Nov 2019
The wanted runaway politician, businessman and equestrian Oleksandr Onyshchenko has said he is about to return to Kyiv on Dec. 13 to face down accusations of fraud and money laundering.
“I believe it is time,” he told the Kyiv Post on Nov. 21.
As proof, millionaire Onyshchenko sent the Kyiv Post his economy class Ryanair flight ticket dated Dec. 13 and departing from Barcelona to Kyiv. The businessman, who fled Ukraine in 2016, said he lives in a village in Spain.
Taking a Ryanair flight would be out of character for Onyshchenko.
The Russian-born millionaire is one of the most notorious members of the previous Ukrainian parliament and one of the showiest politicians.
He is used to a jet-setting lifestyle involving sailing in the Mediterranean and partying with models and Hollywood celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Paris Hilton. He is also an equestrian athlete who participated in the Olympic Games and in a competition organized by U.S. President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
In Ukraine, however, Onyshchenko is a criminal suspect, wanted by anti-corruption investigators for allegedly organizing a $125-million fraud scheme in the country’s natural gas sector.
Onyshchenko served as a member of parliament with ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions until the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution forced Yanukovych from power.
Onyshchenko then became an ally of Yanukovych’s successor, Petro Poroshenko, and got elected to parliament as an independent candidate. However, this relationship turned bitter in 2016, when Onyshchenko faced criminal charges. In return, he accused Poroshenko of corruption.
To avoid the charges, which Onyshchenko called political persecution, he left Ukraine, initially for Russia.
In an interview, Onyshchenko strongly denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
“I’m not a criminal, nor am I a thief. I want to testify before the court and to fight so the court decides, but I do not want (Artem) Sytnyk to say he made me return,” Onyshchenko told the Kyiv Post, referring to Ukraine’s top anti-corruption investigator.
Sytnyk, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) chief, said on Nov. 13 that Onyshchenko may be extradited from Spain to Kyiv as early as December.
Onyshchenko, who has fought extradition since he left Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post that he had decided to return anyway.
Onyshchenko claims he is returning to Ukraine because he wants to. However, this decision coincided with Ukrainian authorities saying they are finally close to getting him extradited.
Since 2016, Onyshchenko has been fighting extradition from the countries where he was hiding – first the U.K., then Germany, later Spain.
Meanwhile, he was accumulating assets in these countries, trying to root himself deeper and preferably receive asylum. In Germany, for instance, Onyshchenko bought a horse stud farm and promised his plans to hold invitational equestrian tournaments there would bring tourists and money. But nothing worked out, as he failed to receive the national visa required for applying for residency and a work permit in Germany.
Onyshchenko has not only put down roots outside Ukraine with his horse business but also with his family. In November 2017, the businessman became a father in Spain and used this to fight extradition to Ukraine, according to the court documents he shared with the Kyiv Post.
Onyshchenko claimed that he has documents that prove he can return home whenever he likes and shared them with the Kyiv Post. However, translated from Spanish, the document says he has agreed to surrender himself to Kyiv at the direction of Spanish and Ukrainian authorities, as well as Interpol. He isn’t currently in Interpol’s database of wanted people.
In August, Onyshchenko’s lawyer asked the court to allow her client to surrender voluntarily. The handover may be coordinated with Interpol, the lawyer agreed, but asked to hold it without Onyshchenko’s arrest because “there is no risk he will run away.”
Another reason why the arrest is unnecessary, the lawyer said, is that Onyshchenko has a wife and a son born in Spain, with whom he will be traveling.
However, Onyshchenko has repeatedly claimed that he is not married. In 2018, he broke up with girlfriend Anna Rizatdinova, the mother of his baby son and an Olympic award-winning Ukrainian rhythmic gymnast, who now lives in Kyiv.
The same documents show that Onyshchenko agreed to this “voluntary extradition” because of recent changes in the Ukrainian political landscape.
“Mr. Onyshchenko has been one of the personal goals/targets of the former president of Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko,” argues his lawyer in the documents, referencing the rivalry that developed between the two politicians.
In 2016, then-president Poroshenko, an ally-turned-foe, accused Onyshchenko of corruption, and authorities named him the suspected organizer of a multi-million-dollar fraudulent scheme in the gas sector. In exile, Onyshchenko published a book accusing Poroshenko of corruption on a vast scale.
He also published what he said were audio recordings of his conversations with Poroshenko in the presidential administration. In one of the recordings, he asks Poroshenko to help Mykola Zlochevsky, the ex-ecology minister and owner of the Burisma gas company. Burisma previously employed Hunter Biden, son of ex-U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, and is mentioned in the impeachment inquiry against Trump.
By Anna Myroniuk and Jack Laurenson, Kyiv Post, 27 November 2019
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