Washington React: FBI Helps Ukraine Recover Stolen Billions

FBI and U.S. Treasury agents have arrived in Kyiv to aid Ukraine's interim leaders to uncover the financial crimes of the government of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in an effort to repatriate billions of dollars.

Ukraine's new government is determined to recover some of the billions of dollars it says went missing during Yanukovych's regime.

And Washington is eager to assist.

"We are very interested in working with the government to support its investigations of those financial crimes, and we have already, on the ground here in Ukraine, experts from the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury who are working with their Ukrainian counterparts to support the Ukrainian investigation," U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told reporters here on Monday.

According to Ukrainian officials more than $20 billion of gold reserves may have been embezzled and $37 billion in loans has disappeared. In the past three years more than $70 billion was moved to offshore accounts from Ukraine's financial system.

The country needs all the cash it can recover as it labors with debts of $75 billion. Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, has lost more than 20 percent of its value this year. With the revolution and political turmoil, the economy is limping along.

An International Monetary Fund team is in Ukraine negotiating the details of a $15 billion-package for the struggling economy. The United States is providing $1 billion in loan guarantees to help restore financial stability.

The American ambassador says the United States is not the only country trying to help recover stolen funds.

"There are a variety of other governments who are also interested in this through the international financial networks to uncover the financial crimes committed by the previous regime and to see what can be done to recuperate some of those assets," Pyatt said.

But while Ukrainian authorities, with the assistance of outsiders, scour the books and analyze digital data in a bid to pick up the money trails, some Ukrainians worry that those who had a hand in aiding and abetting the pillaging of the country are being given government jobs.

The interim government has appointed some of the country's oligarchs as regional governors. Opposition lawmaker and rights activist Lesya Orobets is not delighted with the picks.

"I am not comfortable with those appointments, but I do see common sense in that," Orobets said. "We have to appoint those people who, acting together with the interim government before the presidential elections, will gain the control of the country. This is very important."

Orobets is comforting herself with the knowledge that there is not much left to steal and hopes the oligarchs will use this as an opportunity to be responsible.

"The previous regime has already stolen everything," she said. "This is a big chance for them to show they can behave differently."

But one of the grassroots leaders of the Maidan revolution, Sergey Poyarkov, warns loans given now by the United States or European countries should be closely monitored.

"If you give some money, control the money," he said. "And you should demand that any payment for anyone should be openly visible on the website of the ministry or that department. That is the only way your money will not be stolen."

The interim government has appointed Tetyana Chornovol, an investigative journalist who was nearly beaten to death in December for her reporting, to lead the effort to recover the stolen billions.

VOA News / Mar. 11, 2014 08:01 KST