US, Britain vow to track down Ukraine loot
The United States and Britain promised Tuesday to track down billions of dollars of Ukrainian assets allegedly looted under the regime of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.
US Attorney General Eric Holder and British Home Secretary Theresa May told an international conference on asset recovery that those responsible would be held accountable.
Holder said the US FBI had set up its own "Kleptocracy Squad" to trace corruption in Ukraine as well as other countries.
"You can run but you can't hide," Holder told a press conference at the start of the two-day forum in London, directing his message to those accused of stealing Ukrainian assets.
"We are determined to hold accountable those who were responsible for the theft of these Ukrainian assets, and we are also determined to ensure that those assets are returned to the Ukrainian people."
Ukraine's interior minister and general prosecutor attended the forum in London, along with officials from more than two dozen other countries and international organisations.
Yanukovych was ousted in February following a series of massive protests after he decided to scrap an agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.
He fled Ukraine for Russia, which has since annexed the Crimea region amid soaring tensions with the West.
- Empty coffers -
Kiev has already identified stolen assets totalling at least 35 billion Ukrainian hryvnias ($3 billion, 2.1 billion euros), Ukraine's general prosecutor Oleh Makhnitskyi told the forum.
He expected the eventual total to amount to tens of billions of dollars.
Makhnitskyi described the Yanukovych regime as an "organised criminal group" whose tentacles reached throughout the administration.
"The new government was set up and we found that our treasury was empty and the funds were misappropriated," he said.
Britain's Serious Fraud Office announced on the eve of the conference that it had launched a money-laundering investigation into possible corruption in Ukraine and frozen $23 million (17 million euros) in assets.
May said officials from Britain's National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service have already travelled to Ukraine to offer their assistance.
"I think this event will help to set a new benchmark for the international community," she said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday he will visit Ukraine next week in a show of support for Kiev.
Holder said countries accused of dragging their feet over Ukrainian assets would have to choose sides.
"Do you stand with the Ukrainian people or do you stand with those who have robbed and stolen from the Ukrainian people? It's a simple decision," he said.
Several countries are helping Ukrainian-led investigations into alleged corruption and money laundering by members of Yanukovych's government.
Swiss authorities have ordered a freeze on the assets of both Yanukovych and his multi-millionaire son Oleksandr, as well as 18 other former ministers and officials.
The hunt for Ukraine's missing money comes as Washington and Brussels harden their economic front against Russia over the crisis.
The European Union said Tuesday it had targeted Russia's armed forces chief of staff and its military intelligence chief in its latest round of punitive measures against 15 individuals.
The White House on Monday slapped sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 companies close to President Vladimir Putin.
Asked whether the White House was considering targeting Putin's personal assets, Holder said: "We believe that Russia must cease its illegal intervention and its provocative actions in Ukraine and we remain prepared to impose further sanctions if that doesn't occur."
© 2014 AFP