Countries usually take out full-page ads in the International Herald Tribune to polish their image, but it appears that Ukraine has done the opposite: on September 25, the surprised world learnt perhaps more than it wanted to about the criminal career of "Killer MP" Oleksandr Shepelev.
The 44-year old Shepelev sat in Ukraine's parliament from 2006 until December 2012, mostly for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party, but latterly as a member of the ruling Party of Regions. bne wrote about his colourful career here.
The 1,500 words of sometimes wobbly English - costing upwards of $80,000 to place as an ad, according to bne sources - ascribe to the former banker and MP a total of three contract killings and one attempted slaying. In 1995 Shepelev allegedly had his business partner in a Donetsk bank killed; in 2003 he had the head of another Donetsk bank knifed to death; in 2006 he had a top Kyiv cop, sent to crackdown on money laundering in Donetsk, shot dead; and in 2012 he ordered the (unsuccessful) shooting of the head of a bank that Shepelev had allegedly looted.
One more murder per defenestration of a witness is merely imputed - "he fell from the window of his house while repairing the air-conditioner" - as is one attempted murder of a witness - "he suffered serious injuries in the bathroom".
The "blood trail of a businessman", according to the ad's lurid text, was motivated by financial gain: the placed article goes on to accuse Shepelev of embezzling just under $1bn of government funds pumped into stricken bank Rodovid during the crisis in 2008-2009, using his position as member of the parliamentary banking committee to "exercise total control" over the bailout. The specific fraud charges that Shepelev is facing in connection with Rodovid cites lesser sums - such as a $40m fee paid by Rodovid to lawyers allegedly fronting for Shepelev.
So where is this master criminal?
Prisoner of Budapest
Shepelev was arrested in Budapest in July, apparently holding a false Hungarian passport, along with Ukrainian, Georgian and Canadian passports. Ukraine's security service SBU indeed announced in April 2012 that they were filing charges against him similar to those detailed in the article while he was still an MP enjoying immunity from prosecution. The charges followed years of public speculation that Shepelev was a major bandit running huge money-laundering operations at his various Donetsk banks.
But Shepelev has applied for political asylum in Hungary and is currently awaiting a hearing. Shepelev's argument is that Ukraine's state prosecutors are trying to get him back in order to force him into testifying against former PM Tymoshenko - who is in jail under abuse of power charges and also under trial for murder charges relating to a 1990s gangland slaying - and say that she masterminded the alleged looting of Rodovid Bank in 2008-2009 when she was prime minister and he in her party, while he was merely doing her bidding. This, goes the argument, would give state prosecutors another card to play against Tymoshenko as the pressure mounts from the EU and her supporters to have her released.
Shepelev's application for asylum in Hungary is expected to be heard in October, as early as next week. And this is what the IHT ad rails against: "This maneuvering is a blatant manipulation of international law: a criminal offender accused of murder and financial fraud attempting to present himself as a victim of political repression."
The article gives the impression that Hungary's decision to even consider Shepelev's asylum request has so riled Ukraine's prosecutors that they are ramping up the pressure on Budapest with this diatribe in the IHT. The article goes so far as to insinuate that Shepelev might have bribed Hungary's government: "Shepelev's business connections, his solid financial status and the possibility of corruption could outweigh the rule of international law," intones the conclusion. "Trusted sources made it known that Shepelev had met with a high-ranking official of the Hungarian government promising significant investment of the stolen money in the Hungarian construction industry."
And, according to the advertisement's author, it is not just Ukraine that is breathing down Hungary's neck over the pending decision. "Further delay in Shepelev's extradition to Ukraine may lead to chilly relations between Brussels and Budapest, as well as raising questions of a double standard (sic) in European politics," the article warns.
And if the EU doesn't get its act together, then "the extradition-process may affect not only Ukrainian-Hungarian relation but also those between Ukraine and the European Union."
The article is gloriously Ukrainian in style and could easily have flowed from the pen of an irate self-righteous prosecutor, via a talented local translator - similar to the epistle sent by deputy general prosecutor Renat Kuzmin to US President Barack Obama after Kuzmin was declined a US visa to interview witnesses in a murder case brought against Tymoshenko.
But do Ukrainian prosecutors really want Shepelev that badly as to publicly accuse Hungary of corruption if Budapest fails to extradite him? Was this IHT ad really placed by Ukrainian authorities so desperate to get their hands on him?
History suggests otherwise. Less than a year ago, Shepelev was a sitting MP who was able to register as an independent candidate for the November 2012 elections. In an interview on the campaign trail, he even blithely denied that he was facing any charges, or that there had been any attempt to remove his parliamentary immunity from prosecution. When he failed to win re-election, he left the country unhindered. It was only thanks to the vigilance of Hungarian and German police that he was apprehended in a Budapest nightclub in July.
Thus, the feeling on the streets in Kyiv is that the full-page ad is actually a ploy on the part of Shepelev to get thin-skinned Hungary's back up against the extradition bid, thanks to the corruption accusation and threats, while as an alibi defaming himself along the lines of the charges he is facing.
And the identity of the advertiser, emblazoned under the IHT ad? "Parwood Consult LLP" - a classic UK shell company, owned and directed by two untraceable Marshall Island shells, at a Birmingham address loved by Latvian bank clients, and with an internet domain registered in Kyiv. Which could point to Shepelev - regarded as one of Ukraine's leading money launderers.
Then again, such use of UK shell companies could also point to Ukrainian officials, for whom such vehicles are often used for corrupt deals.
Graham Stack in Kyiv - Ukraine's largest lender PrivatBank has survived a stormy week of speculation over its future, but there are larger rocks ahead, with some market participants anticipating the ... more
Henry Kirby in London - Ukraine and Russia’s latest “Despair Index” scores suggest that the two struggling economies could finally be turning the corner, following nearly two years of steady ... more
bne IntelliNews - Erste Group Bank saw the continuing economic recovery across Central and Eastern Europe push its January-September financial results back into net profit of €764.2mn, the ... more