Fugitive lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko late on April 18 published what he claimed to be a recording implicating President Petro Poroshenko and ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky in corrupt deals.

The Presidential Administration responded to the recording by saying on April 19 that “fakes do not require comments.”

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine said it would investigate the recordings if Onyshchenko provided the originals.

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The NABU has charged Onyshchenko with stealing Hr 1.6 billion ($64 million) from state-owned gas producer Ukrgazvydobuvannya, which he denies. He fled Ukraine before he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 2016.

Zlochevsky currently owns the biggest number of oil and gas licenses in Ukraine – a whopping 38 permits, according to the Anti-Corruption Action Center. The Yevropeiska Pravda news website reported in February, citing an unnamed source in gas market, that Zlochevsky had returned to Ukraine after fleeing it in 2014.

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An alleged recording of a conversation between President Petro Poroshenko and fugitive lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko. 

Recordings

“I met Zlochevsky in Dubai, and he’s already resolving the issue with Ihor,” Onyshchenko tells the person he alleges to be Poroshenko in the January 2016 recording that he released, referring to Ihor Kononenko, a top lawmaker and Poroshenko’s close ally. “Zlochevsky asked me to talk to you and offer something to you. When he meets Ihor, Ihor is interested only in gas supplies to his firms.”

Onyshchenko also says that Zlochevsky had bought a hydraulic fracturing company and a firm called Kulczyk Holding.

“(Zlochevsky) is ready to conclude contracts with Naftogaz and other state companies and give you 50 percent of the company and split the profits 50/50,” Onyshchenko says.

“Are you aware that Kolya (Zlochevsky) has already supplied over $10 million to your firm?” Onyshchenko says. The person alleged to be Poroshenko replies “yes.”

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Onyshchenko then adds that a specific bill drastically cut royalty tax payments for certain firms that cooperate with Shell and ExxonMobil, and Zlochevsky is ready to invest in such a company, split the profits with Poroshenko, and save on royalty tax payments.

Meanwhile, ex-State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov has been charged with abusing power by delaying tax payments for Onyshchenko’s gas firms.

Onyshchenko has claimed that Poroshenko instructed Nasirov to delay tax payments for Onyshchenko’s gas firms and used the unpaid tax money to finance Poroshenko’s political projects.

In the recording, Onyshchenko also says Zlochevsky was ready to “repay a debt” to Poroshenko. The person alleged to be Poroshenko replies that Zlochevsky is a “good guy” but adds that “the Americans are worried about him lately.”

Onyshchenko claimed that there would be no problems with the United States because Hunter Biden, son of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski were on the board of Zlochevsky’s Burisma firm.

Gas supplies

Zlochevsky’s Burisma group has supplied natural gas to firms owned by Poroshenko and his top allies Kononenko and Oleh Gladkovsky, Radio Liberty’s Schemes investigative show reported in 2017.

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Both Kononenko and Gladkovsky, as well as Poroshenko’s representatives, told Radio Liberty that they had no executive control over the assets and thus were not responsible for who their companies deal with.

Onyshchenko also claimed in December that Zlochevsky had been supplying gas free of charge to Poroshenko’s Piskivka Glass Product Factory as part of a corrupt deal. Under the deal, the factory pays for gas but then the money is refunded back to Poroshenko and Kononenko in a laundering scheme, he claimed. Poroshenko and Kononenko deny the accusations.

In December 2016 Olga Vasilevskaya, a journalist at television channel 1+1, published what she claimed to be photos of Kononenko meeting in Vienna with Zlochevsky.

Ukrainian cases

Onyshchenko also claimed in an interview with the Kyiv Post in 2016 that Zlochevsky had paid about $80 million to Poroshenko to unfreeze Burisma’s assets in Ukraine.

Burisma denied the accusations, while Poroshenko’s administration dismissed Onyshchenko’s allegations as “lies” and part of “Russia’s information war against Ukraine.”

In 2016 Dmytro Sus, a prosecutor accused of links to Kononenko and top Poroshenko ally and lawmaker Oleksandr Hranovsky, ordered a freeze on the assets of Burisma and other firms controlled by Zlochevsky as part of an embezzlement case. But later courts unfroze them, and Sus did not dispute the rulings.

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Zlochevsky, who has been charged with unlawful enrichment, was taken off the wanted list at the request of Sus’ department in 2016. The unlawful enrichment case against Zlochevsky was transformed into a tax evasion case.

However, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, a Poroshenko ally, closed the Zlochevsky tax evasion case in January 2017, with Burisma paying just Hr 180 million to the budget.

Meanwhile, in August Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky, who is accused of having ties to Poroshenko but denies this, closed the case into the allegedly illegal acquisition of natural gas production licenses by Zlochevsky, arguing there was no proof.

Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, has accused Kholodnytsky of blocking the case for political reasons, saying that he had “hidden” the evidence in the case for nine months before sending the case to trial. The court refused to accept the case because the term for its submission had expired, according to Shabunin. Kholodnytsky denies the claim.

In April the NABU released recordings in which Kholodnytsky is heard pressuring prosecutors and courts to block cases. Kholodnytsky confirmed the authenticity of the recordings but said they were taken out of context and denied allegations of wrongdoing.

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British case

In 2014 the United Kingdom opened a money laundering case against Zlochevsky and froze his accounts worth $23 million. However, the accounts were unfrozen in early 2015 due to Ukrainian prosecutors’ failure to provide assistance in the case. The Prosecutor General’s Office said then that there were no grounds for issuing a notice of suspicion for Zlochevsky.

Then-Deputy Prosecutor General Mykola Herasymiuk, who later became a parliamentary aide to Poroshenko ally Hranovsky, was accused of helping Zlochevsky in late 2014. He transferred the case from the prosecutor’s office to the police and failed to help British authorities to investigate the money laundering case.

According to emails obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a Kyiv Post partner, Herasymiuk was being offered bribes to drop charges against associates of Yanukovych. Herasymiuk told OCCRP he had no personal email address.

Under Western pressure, the Prosecutor General’s Office subsequently transferred the case back from the police to prosecutors and issued a notice of suspicion for Zlochevsky.

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