From a cache of documents found dumped in a lake outside the presidential palace, evidence of widespread tax fraud, money laundering, and human rights violations surfaced. The EU froze the assets of Yanukovych and his associates, with some Ukrainian politicians claiming the former president embezzled as much as $57 billion in state funds during three years in office. The revelations also highlighted the role of the international system in facilitating the state-looting, with documents showing how ownership of Yanukovych’s lavish palace had been hidden behind anonymous companies registered in the UK and Austria.
Opacity has been a long-standing feature of business in Ukraine. Global Witness’s 2006 report, It's a Gas, revealed an elaborate network of ‘middleman’ companies which controlled Ukraine’s gas supply. We showed how the companies were set up to hide the identity of the owners, and asked why private individuals were able to control so much of a supposedly state business.
With over 80% of Russian gas exports to Western Europe then going through Ukraine, this represented a major threat to the continent’s energy security, as demonstrated in 2006 when Russia shut off Ukraine’s gas supply. It's a Gas tied the companies involved to a then little-known Ukrainian oligarch, Dmytri Firtash, later revealed to be a key player in the deals and the owner of the key intermediary companies Eural Trans Gas and RosUkrEnergo.
To foster peace in Ukraine and protect regional energy security, transparency is essential. In October 2014, Ukraine passed landmark legislation requiring all companies to disclose their beneficial owners in a public register. This is a global first and a major step towards creating a more transparent business climate in Ukraine. Alongside international measures to crack down on anonymous company owners, it is hoped that Ukraine can turn the page on the corruption that has plagued its past and currently threatens regional security.