Editor’s note: This investigation was published in Ukrainian by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s investigative unit Skhemy on Jan. 18 and translated into English by the Kyiv Post.
Like any billionaire, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko can afford to vacation in any country in the world. And like anyone else, he has the right to a vacation. But as a president whose powers to govern the state do not stop for a single day during the year – it is obvious that he should not hide information about his absence from the country from the public.
Read also: Investigation unveils Poroshenko’s secret vacation in Maldives
However, for the almost four years that Poroshenko has been in office, Ukrainians for some reason only learn that the president is on vacation abroad through rumors and occasional photos.
This time, during the New Year’s and Christmas holidays, reports of a private trip by the president to the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives were the subject of gossip on the Internet. But as always there was no official confirmation of the trip.
Skhemy (a joint project by Radio Liberty and UA:TV) decided to investigate the rumors – not because the president has no right to a vacation (that’s not the case), but because he does everything he can to hide his overseas vacations from the public.
It’s not simply to do with the absence of any mention of these trips on his official website. Did he go openly to the airport with the police, State Guards and National Guards, as he always does when he goes on a business trip? Was he on the list of passengers on the plane in which he flew? Under what name was he registered at the resort?
Skhemy has found the island on which Poroshenko holidayed in the Maldives, found out which plane took him there, and figured out how much the Ukrainian president spent on his secret Christmas holiday.
“Wherever we are today: at church, at the festive table, or at work, – let’s remember those who are defending our country. And pray for them, asking that God give them health and strength,” Poroshenko said in his Christmas greetings to Ukrainians. But where exactly was the president at the moment that millions of Ukrainians were watching on TV this pre-recorded speech? There were no reports on the official website of the Presidential Administration that he had left the country on vacation, nor to where exactly.
On Jan. 8, Skhemy journalists noticed that a Dassault Falcon 7X private jet had departed at about 3 p.m. from Male International Airport in the Maldives. On the public online resource FlightRadar, it was possible to track this aircraft, registration number TC-KMR, as it crossed the Indian Ocean. According to information from the Skhemy program’s own sources, President Poroshenko was on board of this aircraft.
Meanwhile, at Borispol International Airport in Ukraine there were no signs that the president’s arrival was expected. There was no visible security for the president either there, or at the capital’s other main airport, Kyiv Zhuliany.
After five hours the Falcon 7X was already over the territory of Iran. Then it entered Turkish airspace, headed over the Black Sea and, judging from its flight course, headed towards Ukraine.
At the same time, in the area of Kyiv Zhuliany airport there was still no sign that the arrival of the head of state was expected. Where were the police cars? Why were roads not being blocked off? When would the National Guards and the State Guard officers arrive? They always accompany the presidential motorcade – these are the usual arrangements for its security.
Meanwhile, FlightRadar showed that the aircraft had already gone around Crimean airspace. Later it turned towards Kyiv.
As the car with the Skhemy film crew traveled around the airport, a Mercedes with a minibus escort was spotted driving to a remote gate through which there is access to the most remote part of Kyiv Zhuliany airport. Subsequently, one after another, trying to remain unnoticed in the same way, four other minivans entered the territory of the airport. A Land Cruiser SUV also came up to the gate, its lights switched off.
At 11:20 p.m., the Falcon 7X flight from the Maldives, on which, according to Skhemy’s information, was Poroshenko, landed at Kyiv Zhuliany airport.
As the plane taxied up from the runway, the guards at the far side of the airport were constantly on the lookout from the half-open airport gate.
However, the plane did not stop at the place where private planes are usually parked, but went next to the airplane plant to the most remote part of the airport, far from terminals A and D, which are used by ordinary passengers, and from the VIP-terminal that the passengers of private airplanes usually use.
Skhemy journalists recorded the plane coming to a halt, and just four minutes later the motorcade came out of the gate and left the airport. It consisted of four Volkswagen and Mercedes minivans, and drove to the Kyiv ring road.
There were no police officers at the crossroads, and the motorcade traveled without any sirens or flashing lights. The cars in the motorcade headed towards the Obukhiv Highway, then took the turn to the village of Kozyn, and in a few minutes drove through the gates of Poroshenko’s residence.
The day after his return to Ukraine, on Jan. 9, the president organized a meeting with the leadership of the National Police and heard a report into the investigation of the high-profile murder of lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska. This was the president’s first public event since the beginning of the year.
From the very first days of January, the website of the Presidential Administration posted only a statement about four laws being signed by Poroshenko. But there was nothing about his leaving the country on vacation.
With the help of a public web service, Skhemy found that the Falcon 7X had flown from Kyiv to the Maldives on Jan. 1.
It is one of the most expensive private jets – priced at about $40 million. The Falcon 7X is capable of flying from Kyiv to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean in about eight hours, without refueling. Also, unlike cheaper jets, the aircraft has a high passenger capacity – 14 people.
Turkish airline Setair leases the Falcon with the TC-KMR registration on which the president flew.
Skhemy ’s editorial team sent a letter to the company asking how much it would cost to fly in such an aircraft from Kyiv to Male and back to Kyiv, with the plane remaining in the capital of the Maldives for seven days.
In response, the company offered two options:
A Kyiv-Male-Kyiv flight, taking into account the fact that the airplane would have to stay in the Maldives for seven days, would cost 154,000 euros.
To fly Kyiv-Male, then Male-Kyiv, with the plane not staying in the islands for seven days, would cost 119,000 euros.
Which of the options offered by the Turkish airline was taken by the President of Ukraine?
In the occasion described by Skhemy, the plane must have waited for its return passengers at the airport in Male.
Such an option would be necessary in the event that the passengers urgently had to return to Ukraine. On Jan. 5, the plane for reasons unknown to Skhemy flew to Turin, Italy, and returned the same day.
So it is most probable that the chartering of the plane, with idle time for almost the whole period of the vacation, cost the president about 154,000 euros.
The passengers of the ‘presidential’ flight
The tradition of not making public presidential vacations and the secrecy of his return to the country made us wonder: Are border crossings by the Ukrainian President recorded by the relevant bodies?
Using its own sources, Skhemy managed to obtain a list of the passengers on the Kyiv-Male-Kyiv charter flight.
According to this information, eight passengers (three men and five women) on Jan. 1 flew from Kyiv to the Maldives and returned on Jan. 8. Neither President Poroshenko nor any of his family members were among them. There are no other well-known names.
The passengers registered on the flight were the following: Vera Lazarieva, Ivan Dekhteriev, Evheniia Safonova, Oleksandr Syshchykov, Kateryna Boieva, Vitaliy Kokorin, Olena Senchenko, and Olha Herasymenko.
Could President Poroshenko and his family have flown under false names?
Skhemy sent a request to the State Border Guard Service on whether the President of Ukraine Poroshenko crossed the state border of Ukraine on Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, and whether he passed through passport control at the Kyiv airport on the day of his departure to Male and after his return from abroad? But by the time of broadcasting this investigation they had not received an answer.
The mystery of the presidential holidays
Poroshenko has been president for four years. Over this whole period, neither the Presidential Administration nor the head of state personally has ever officially reported that the country’s highest official has left the country for a vacation.
The journalists of the Access to Truth project in 2016 sent a request to the Presidential Administration regarding the president’s vacations. However, the response was only a reference to the laws relating to the general principles of the president’s activities, and the statement that “all information about (the president’s) activities is promptly and systematically posted on the official website of the President of Ukraine.”
Five-star Cheval Blanc resort with separate ‘private island’
From reliable sources, Skhemy has learned that Poroshenko holidayed on the Maldives from Jan. 2-8 at the five-star Cheval Blanc resort hotel, which consists only of private villas built on islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
From Male airport, to which the president and his guests flew by charter flight, they traveled on to an island resort. Eight adults and two children stayed in the most expensive villa of the resort, which is located on a separate island.
In addition to the main villa with its swimming pool, there is another two-story guest apartment, mooring for boats, a spa area, an outdoor dining area, and a private beach.
The Ukrainian president stayed here with his guests for seven days and six nights.
Poroshenko, apparently, sought secrecy while abroad. At least, he visited the resort under the name of Mr. Petro Incognito (Ukraine). This is a typical service for a resort of this level – ensuring complete anonymity at the request of the guest.
Skhemy also managed to find out from reliable sources that renting the private island at the Cheval Blanc resort cost Poroshenko and his companions at least $46,000 a day. Thus, the six-day stay on the private island cost the president $276,000 dollars.
But there were additional costs. For example, Skhemy has succeeded in establishing that during Poroshenko’s seven days at the Cheval Blanc resort, he spent $18,705 on diving, water sports, and boats. Breakfast totaled $10,791. For instance, on Jan. 4, he paid $4,118 for breakfast. Lunches cost $4,682, and dinners totaled $3,165.
In total, all additional services amounted to $37,550. Mr. Petro Incognito paid for them in cash.
As far as Skhemy can determine, mystery surrounds only the president’s overseas vacations in elite resorts – official trips and travel within the territory of Ukraine is not accompanied by such conspiracies.
For example, on Jan. 8, the president flew from the Maldives, and on Jan. 13, according to Schemes’ sources, he flew to the Huta state residence in the Carpathian Mountains for a day.
The flight was performed from Borispol International Airport. Ten minutes after it landed back in Kyiv, our film crew managed to record the presidential plane parked right beside the official delegations reception hall, while National Guards lined the route of the presidential motorcade.
And only an hour after the passing of Poroshenko’s motorcade were the National Guards bused away.
Or another example: On Nov. 20, the president returned to Boryspil International Airport from an official trip to the city of Dnipro. There was a presidential motorcade with flashing lights. Even when he was getting to the car, the gates to the area of the airport was open.
Beforehand, Skhemy has sent a request to the Office of State Security on whether the staff of this administration and transport of the State Guards of Ukraine met Poroshenko at Kyiv Zhuliany airport on the night of Jan. 8, and whether, in accordance with the legislation and for security reasons, the president has the right to use a private aircraft or charter from a private company for personal flights?
No responses had been received by the time this program went on the air.
Skhemy decided to monitor Kyiv airport to check if anyone else was using the gate through which President Poroshenko’s motorcade had left after his arrival from the Maldives. However, after three hours of observation, no other car, not even an official car, had passed through the gates.
Our journalists also checked the registrations of the vehicles of the motorcade that went through the airport gates immediately after the arrival of the president from the Maldives. Most of the cars’ license plates weren’t in the database. The film crew kept watch at the exit of the Presidential Administration and spotted one of the minibusses that had on Jan. 8 been on the territory of Kyiv Zhuliany airport and met President Poroshenko on his return from his Christmas holidays.
Official vacation information – but only after detailed inquiries from journalists
President Poroshenko is a billionaire, so he can afford to vacation in any country in the world. But after almost four years in office, the Ukrainian public has learned about Poroshenko’s private trips only from rumors and random photos.
On Jan. 15, Skhemy sent a request to the Presidential Administration, and presenting the detailed evidence the program had collected about Poroshenko’s secret trip.
The next day, the president’s office acknowledged to news agency Interfax-Ukraine the fact that the head of state had vacationed in the Maldives.
The president’s press service said that Poroshenko had made a private trip to the Maldives “for the purpose of a short vacation.”
“He paid for this trip with his own, declared funds, which will be reflected in his electronic declaration,” the press service said.
The day before broadcasting this report, Skhemy received a response to its request the Presidential Administration – with the same text as the report by Interfax-Ukraine: the president only acknowledged that the trip had occurred and promised to declare the expenses on it.
However, the following questions remain unanswered, and Skhemy hopes the president will at least give answers to the public after this report:
By what means was payment made for the flight and accommodation?
Who was with the president aboard the plane during the Kyiv-Male-Kyiv flight?
What was the total cost of the vacation in the Maldives?
Did Poroshenko meet with any officials from other countries, politicians or business people while staying in the Maldives during the holiday season?
Did he pass through passport and customs control on departure on Jan. 1 and after arriving in Kyiv on Jan. 8?
But there are some more rhetorical questions that were not asked in the official request Skhemy made to the Presidential Administration.
If the president didn’t want to hide his Christmas holidays in the Maldives, why did he admit it only after Skhemy sent him a request with detailed evidence?
If the president didn’t want to hide his Christmas holidays in the Maldives, why did he check in at the resort under the name of Mr. Petro Incognito? Why did not travel via Boryspil International Airport, through the official delegations hall?
And why did he not go through the business terminal of Kyiv Zhuliany airport, but left through a secret gate?
If the president didn’t want to hide his Christmas holidays in the Maldives, then why for reasons of security was he not met by his usual presidential motorcade?
And finally, why were neither he nor his family members on the register of the Kyiv-Male-Kyiv flight?
How much did the president’s vacation cost?
In response to our request to Poroshenko, it was promised that he would declare all expenses on this holiday. Skhemy estimates this should be an eight-digit figure in hryvnias.
After all, the arithmetic comes out as follows:
– Charter flight with aircraft on call: $188,000 (or 154,000 euros, as noted by the Turkish company Setair).
– Rent of villa on private island at the Cheval Blanc resort for six nights: $276,000.
– Extra expenses and food on the island: $37,550.
Apparently, Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko spent a week on the Maldivian Islands, which the Presidential Administration refers to as a “short” Christmas vacation, at a cost of at least $500,000. That is more than Hr 14 million.
Copyright © 2017 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
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