Journalist goes to European court to demand information on president's mansion
Serhiy Leshchenko, one of Ukraine's most prominent investigative journalists who writes for the Ukrainska Pravda web site, filed a lawsuit claiming that his right for access to public information has been violated. Leshchenko conducted a major investigation on how the Mezhyhirya estate north of Kyiv, which once belonged to the state, became, as he claims, the president’s private property.
Critics have been accusing President Viktor Yanukovych for years of illegally obtaining the estate that stretches over 140 hectares of land. They maintain it was enabled through a series of transactions conducted by various state officials, including Yanukovych himself.
When Yanukovych became prime minister for the first time in 2002, the status of the estate was changed from “state residence” to “state dacha.” In 2003, Yanukovych’s Donetsk-based charity fund Vidrodzhennya Ukrainy (Revival of Ukraine) rented the house and the land around it.
According to Ukrainska Pravda, Yanukovych paid a much lower rent than the market would suggest – Hr 107,000 annually, or less than $2,000 monthly for the entire 140 hectare plot. In 2005, when the now imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko was prime minister, a court cancelled the rental agreement.
But after Yanukovych took over the prime minister’s office for the second time in 2006, another court reversed the previous legal decision and the estate went back to Yanukovych.
In 2007, Mezhyhirya was put up for sale with no competitive bidding, which is required by law in such cases. It was snapped up by the Donetsk-based company Medinvest Trade, which quickly sold it to another company, Tantalit.
Due to the nation's moratorium on land sale, Tantalit rented most of the estate’s land from the Vyshhorod District Administration. Ukrainska Pravda, citing the rental agreement, reported that the entire fee was just Hr 626,645 per year – or just Hr 4 per acre – extremely low for land near Kyiv.
“Yanukovych was renting the land plot of 1.76 hectares before 2010… I have learned that he is not renting but owning a land plot of 1.76 hectares from his tax declaration for 2010. So in the summer of 2011 I asked (the) Vyshhorod district administration for information about the price at which they sold this land plot to Yanukovych,” Leshchenko explains in his blog.
However, his information request was turned down. He subsequently sued the administration to gain access to the information, and has since lost three lawsuits in Ukraine.
Leshchenko and his lawyer say that Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights was violated in his case. It guarantees freedom of speech and access to information.
He says that he intends to figure out the whole puzzle to the story behind the Mezhhirya deal and who was responsible for stalling the release of public information.
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