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.

Coming home?

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.

Poroshenko’s Office called the tapes fake.

“My client wishes to return to Ukraine due to the recent change in the presidency of the government, which will allow Mr. Onyshchenko to face a fair trial… ​the former President Poroshenko​ can no longer interfere in any way with this procedure,” the letter states.

According to NABU, the businessman has little choice but to return to Ukraine and face the music, given that his extradition now seems inevitable. He lost the court cases on extradition – Spain agreed to hand him over in 2017 – and did not manage to get political asylum in Spain, said Sytnyk.


However, it is not Onyshchenko’s first promise to come back. In May, he claimed he would return to Ukraine within two weeks to participate in the trial and to run for parliament. He was subsequently barred from running because he had not resided in Ukraine in the years before the election.

Horses and money

On Nov. 13, NABU also said it had arranged for 500,000 euros belonging to Onyshchenko to be frozen in Estonia. Law enforcement in Kyiv believes this money was stolen from Ukraine.

That same day, the Anti-Corruption Court ruled to seize 500,000 euros which Onyshchenko had transferred from his account with the Russian state-owned VTB bank – currently under EU and U.S. sanctions – to a branch of SEB bank in Estonia. The latter bank has reportedly been systematically used for Russian and Eastern European money laundering in recent years.

Onyshchenko denies it was frozen at all.

On Nov. 14, Onyshchenko stated in a Facebook post that no funds had been frozen and claimed that the money was a payment for a showjumping horse. He said the purchase went through. He repeated that claim in a phone call with the Kyiv Post, despite evidence to the contrary.


“Look, I got the horse and I then sold it. That is my business — I buy and sell horses,” Onyshchenko said.

In an attempt to prove that the deal was finalized, he provided part of what he claimed was an invoice from the company selling the horse, named Oak Grove’s Laith, and a receipt on the money transfer. The receipt stated that Onyshchenko sent 500,000 euros from his Russian VTB bank account to the SEB bank account of an Estonian company called Reval ProTeam OÜ.

Reval ProTeam OÜ isn’t an obvious company from which to buy a horse.

It was established in 2010 as a limited company without a specific business focus. In 2017, it claimed itself as an IT company with a share capital of 2,500 euros, according to Estonian company registers.

One of its founders was an Estonian accountant named Argos Kracht. Estonian media report that Kracht has been linked with the opening of sham companies, which resulted in him being “in disgrace with banks and international risk databases.”

However, this IT firm now sells horses, according to company owner Mari-Liis Kalmus.

“It was an IT company and then, about two years ago, I decided that I like horses more so I started selling horses,” Kalmus said in a phone conversation.

Kalmus confirmed that Onyshchenko’s money had been arrested right after it was transferred to the company’s account, contradicting Onyshchenko’s version of the events.

She received an official notice about this from the Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), a police division that specializes in money laundering.

“FIU is looking into Onyshchenko,” she said. “The money was frozen so the deal was not finalized.”

The horse named Oak Grove’s Laith was supposed to be transferred from Germany to Onyshchenko. Instead, it has remained in Germany with its rider, Harm Lahde, according to Kalmus.

Onyshchenko, however, told the Kyiv Post he had received the horse in September and then sold it to Lahde. Yet Lahde’s Facebook page shows him riding the horse in March, many months before the alleged purchase. The horse also appears to belong to the equestrian center that employs Lahde, Oak Grove in northern Germany.

Lahde did not respond to requests for comment.

Major gas fraud

NABU alleges that, while he was a lawmaker, Onyshchenko and others coordinated a scheme that stole state funds during the extraction and sale of natural gas. He denies the charges and calls it a politically-motivated case.

The alleged $125-million (Hr 3 billion) fraud took place during a joint venture with Ukrgasvydobuvannia, the country’s largest gas extraction company and a fully-owned subsidiary of state-owned energy giant Naftogaz.

According to NABU, Onyshchenko’s accomplices, employees at Ukrgazvydobuvannia, allowed the sale of gas at cheap prices to intermediary companies associated with Onyshchenko, which then resold it at market prices, pocketing the difference.

Onyshchenko also allegedly violated a law that prohibits lawmakers from doing business.

Supporting Trump

Onyshchenko is a supporter of Trump. He has periodically waded into the online debate surrounding the Ukraine-linked impeachment of the U.S. president.

He has posted attacks against Hillary Clinton on social media and furthered the debunked theory that NABU and Sytnyk somehow aided the Democrat nominee in her 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

Onyshchenko believes that the black ledger of the Party of Regions, his former party, that implicated Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort in receiving undeclared payments in Ukraine, was forged. He also believes Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election and even claims that former Vice President Biden personally canceled his U.S. visa. He declined to elaborate on this claim.

Onyshchenko said that he met with Trump twice in 2010 or 2011 when he participated in the equestrian competition at Trump’s Florida-based resort Mar-a-Lago.

There is a less obvious connection between them, as well. From 2009 to 2012, Onyshchenko owned the Miss Ukraine beauty pageant and organized Miss Ukraine Universe. The winners of Miss Ukraine Universe went on to compete at Miss Universe, which Trump owned until 2015.

For his part, Trump is aware of Miss Ukraine and its models. In a May phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump complimented the contestants from Miss Ukraine Universe: “When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people,” Trump told Zelensky. “Ukraine was always well represented,” he added.

Sarah Morland, a journalist, contributed to this story.

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