Overheard an interesting conversation at dinner last night in Budapest between two expats. Both are strongly opposed to the Russian invasion. One, “A.”, said that he can’t bear that people think of Volodymyr Zelensky as a hero, given that Zelensky was revealed by the Pandora Papers release to be as corrupt as the Ukrainian leader he displaced by running on an anti-corruption platform. Indeed, as I checked later, Zelensky really is a rich oligarch who hides his fortune offshore. Excerpt:
Actor Volodymyr Zelensky stormed to the Ukrainian presidency in 2019 on a wave of public anger against the country’s political class, including previous leaders who used secret companies to stash their wealth overseas.
Now, leaked documents prove that Zelensky and his inner circle have had their own network of offshore companies. Two belonging to the president’s partners were used to buy expensive property in London.
The revelations come from documents in the Pandora Papers, millions of files from 14 offshore service providers leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with partners around the world including OCCRP.
The documents show that Zelensky and his partners in a television production company, Kvartal 95, set up a network of offshore firms dating back to at least 2012, the year the company began making regular content for TV stations owned by Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch dogged by allegations of multi-billion-dollar fraud. The offshores were also used by Zelensky associates to purchase and own three prime properties in the center of London.
The documents also show that just before he was elected, he gifted his stake in a key offshore company, the British Virgin Islands-registered Maltex Multicapital Corp., to his business partner — soon to be his top presidential aide. And in spite of giving up his shares, the documents show that an arrangement was soon made that would allow the offshore to keep paying dividends to a company that now belongs to his wife.
And yet, countered “B.”, Zelensky really has shown himself to be heroic in defying Russia. A. agreed with that.
So, two things are simultaneously true: Zelensky is a crook, and Zelensky is a hero. It can happen; ever seen Schindler’s List? Don’t be surprised if that $40 billion we’re sending him ends up in the pockets of his pals, is all I’m saying.
And I’m also saying that this kind of corruption is simply part of life in this region of the world. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s how the leadership class rolls, everywhere. An American diplomat once told me that his countrymen of the left and the right come over and impose their own culture-war narratives on these post-communist countries, when the real story is the corruption of, well, everybody. The big anti-corruption crusader Zelensky turns out to be the same as those he trashed. Postcommunist dog bites postcommunist man. Shocked, shocked, etc.
Not just here, though. I met last year an American who works in the oil business worldwide. He told me that the two most corrupt places he’s ever done business (in terms of how. you had to grease palms to get things done) were Ukraine and Louisiana. Gumbo is better than borsht, if you ask me.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
“Don’t be surprised if that $40 billion we’re sending him ends up in the pockets of his pals,”Not a penny will leave the Beltway™. You see, help for Ukraine has to be built first — here. Ever wondered why there was such bipartisan support for the measure to the tune of appropriating even more than asked for? A brazen wealth transfer. It’s not Zelensky’s pals who are lining their pockets. In the US, interest in the war will start fading. The goods have been delivered.It’s monkey pox time!