Toyota and Mercedes for the Chosen Few

While tens of thousands of disabled people wait in vain for the state to provide them with Daewoo Lanos, the chosen few get luxury cars from abroad. They don’t pay any taxes and duties to the treasury on these cars. Because of corrupt schemes, the Ukrainian Treasury loses hundreds of millions of hryvnas. But for a special caste of the lucky few, life is good.

“Don’t disturb me,” says the already nervous Petro Cherepiy. “Don’t disturb me because I’m hearing cases today.” The mantle looks good on the judge. He is past his sixties, slender despite being short. There is a glittering badge on his dark mantle – a symbol of judicial power. Petro Cherepiy has confidently worn this attire for a long time. His demeanor shows that he is used to ordering people around. He has led the Frankivsk Regional Administrative Court since 2007. A very important institution for whichever government is in power at the time. Here you have election cases, tax cases or, for example, customs disputes. Just a few minutes into our conversation and the judge loses it and starts kicking us out of the office.

“Oh, will you just stop it!” screams the master of justice. Awkward questions cause considerable resentment in the judge. Questioning people during trials is his prerogative. But here’s some annoying journalist bothering him: where is the Mercedes from, and who gifted it to you. But of course. A professional such as Mr Cherepiy should have a lot of grateful supporters. After all, he was a leading person in the justice administration of the region before becoming in charge of the court. He has also worked in the Bar Commission. And in assessing lawyers, his word was very important.

But questions from an ordinary journalist are nothing for His Honour. He has been questioned by the public prosecutor so many times there is enough to make television series about it. Not every judge can “boast” about having so many cases with so many Criminal Code charges behind him. In the sense that, there were cases but law enforcement were not able to convict the judge. In short, there was no abuse of an official position and no embezzlement. And he was never a fraudster. Moreover, he never bribed the famous judge-the-caroler Ihor Zvarych. And he never confiscated his own son’s apartment. His wife gave a statement to the prosecution but then somehow changed her mind during the investigation. Like, no complaints.

So went on Petro Cherepiy’s life, attending interrogations, conducting court trials. Well, and driving his Mercedes. Sent over from Germany. Only for his car, this owner of the mantle has not paid a penny in tax, excise and customs duties. The judge has used a scheme that allows you to have a car from abroad and not pay any money into the treasury.

But let’s take things in order.

It is common knowledge that in Poland or Germany you can buy a foreign-made car cheaply. But when you drive it into and register it in Ukraine, the price will increase significantly. Sometimes 60% or even double. Because you have to do a customs clearance and pay taxes, excise duties and required fees. But there’s a sophisticated scheme in Ukraine that allows you to bring a car from abroad, register it and pay nothing in excise duties and taxes. Because our conscientious citizens would use any law to their advantage. Even the law on humanitarian aid.

It’s very simple. If a person is disabled and has mobility problems, they can join a waiting list to be provided with a car. Those waiting lists are the responsibility of the welfare protection agencies. Ideally, the state must provide disabled people with transportation. In the past, it was Tavriya and now it’s Daewoo Lanos. And there are a lot of disabled people entitled to the provision – but the state has in fact no money at all to procure these cars. So in 1999, lawmakers and ministers allowed people with disabilities to buy those cars from abroad and pay nothing for customs clearance. Only there is one important point. The car has to be a gift. You can’t just go and bring the car over from abroad.

A logical question then. There are a lot of international charitable funds, institutions and philanthropists. They can give a car to a disabled Ukrainian as a present. Well, it would be a sin to demand taxes and excise duties for such a car. And the average disabled Ukrainian person wouldn’t have such money. But when someone has enough, say, for a Mercedes or Toyota, one has to pay the treasury. It’s logical. If you have 40,000-50,000 euros for a foreign-made car, pay the treasury. If you don’t have enough – buy a cheaper car. And if your car is a gift from abroad – then rejoice and thank your benefactors.

“I have relatives in Germany,” says the judge Cherepiy.

“Could you give their name?”

“But what use would it be to you? What use? Michelle, Janek, other names. I could name the lot.”

What use would it be indeed. Someone at that time gave a Mercedes to the head of the court as a gift. The judge never paid a penny to the treasury for it. But why won’t the judge name this kind person? We found details of the man who signed the deed of gift for Cherepiy. The benefactor was Yakiv Liokumovych. A person with the same name was a confidant of the presidential candidate Vasyl Onopenko in 1999. The latter, as I recall, was elected as a judge of the Supreme Court of Ukraine in 2002 and was the institution’s head during 2006-2011. 

“You are not approaching these issues objectively. You should carry out your orders elsewhere,” said Peter Cherepiy as he parted with us and slammed the door.

We then headed to another happy owner of a humanitarian car. But he also began removing us from his office.

“Are you from the tax office?! Well, that will be all! Goodbye! Even if you are from the tax office! Do whatever you like!” shouted Anatoliy Levitsky, the head of Drohobych in-patient tuberculosis hospital in the Lviv region.      

“I’m telling you again, go away. Are you from some investigation bureau or something?” Mr. Levitsky wouldn’t calm down.

A serious-looking physician, the doctor’s gown and a cap, an important position. A great amount of certificates and diplomas on his office shelves. And he drives a Volkswagen made in 2012.

“Am I expected to wear bast shoes?” – an indisputable argument. That was the head’s snap reaction, caused by one single banal question about who gave him the vehicle as a gift.

“You underpaid excise duties and taxes to the treasury. By approximately 60-70 percent.”

“Darling, enough, enough.”

“Who gave you the car?”

“Why you need this, why you need this?” 

Just curiosity really. Perhaps some grateful patient or relative gave it to him as a present. From the documents, we found out that the generous benefactor was Harry Lehman from the small town of Lahr in Germany. And there was a firm that sells second-hand cars registered under the same name.  

“Please relieve me from talking to you… This is unsubstantiated. Am I obliged to answer you!?” – a standard set of phrases. And of course, in addition, “How old are you?” and “What are you filming?”

On leaving the hospital we were greeted by a medical UAZ van which was falling apart. The medical cross on the side of this derelict vehicle was an eyesore in the background of the head’s Volkswagen parked nearby.

As it turns out, many of our disabled people have reasons to be happy. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, 888 cars were donated to Ukrainians in 2013-2015 alone. But after you analyse the records of the lucky ones who got those cars from abroad and paid not even a penny to the treasury, you begin to feel really happy. Happy for those heads of hospitals, senior managers of pension funds, heads of the social welfare authorities. Happy for them, brothers in arms and those in the know. After all, to qualify as a person with a disability, a person inevitably comes into contact with doctors and a pension fund. And in addition, all decisions regarding the paperwork and permits for humanitarian cars from abroad now lie with regional state administrations and departments of social security. And precisely those high-ranking officials of the above mentioned institutions become the happy owners of humanitarian cars from abroad. And in addition to them, well, some of the not so ordinary people. The judges, relatives of people’s deputies and politicians, customs officers.

Just keep in mind that a car from abroad should be given as a gift. Only then do you not pay customs duties, excise duties and taxes for a car from abroad. And if it’s at all plausible, foreigners “give” cars to all those chiefs, managers and officials. Why then are those mighty and powerful people so unwilling to name who gave them foreign-made cars as gifts? Lawyers have their own version of the story.

“Of course, it’s all a fiction. Foreigners do not give out those cars as gifts. The car is bought abroad at it’s usual price,” the lawyer Yuriy Tanasiychuk is convinced. “Certain senior influential officials in Ukraine are allowed to pay nothing to the state.”

Is this really possible? But here is the deed of gift!

Here is Vitaliy Lisovyy who has this document. He’s in charge of the forestry and hunting sector in the Khmelnytsky region… for the past eighteen years. The fourth president, the eleventh governor, government and ministers change one after another. But Vitaliy Lisovyy finds a common language with everyone. In a word, he is a professional. He is also a politician who served as a regional people’s deputy for more than 15 years. Respectable man, in short.

“Which German gave you this gift?” I asked.

“It was an anonymous person,” blithely replys Mr Lisovyy.

Now that’s a leader. None of this “why do you need it”, “does it matter” and “what are you, some kind of law enforcement”. 

“So you don’t know that person?”

“Of course not.”

“A stranger gives you a Volkswagen as a gift.”

“Yes. He saw my details and gave away it for a disabled person.” 

Any further questions? Similar cars today attract just under 300,000 hryvnas.

“We are registered on a website. I’m on the social security waiting list for a car for the disabled. If someone who wants to donate a car is found, I provide my details on that site,” the main gamekeeper of the Khmelnytsky region tries to convince me.

What site? What is he talking about? The social security department insists that such sites simply don’t exist. 

“It’s confidential information because not everyone wants to disclose that they have disability,” says Olexandra Kurnytska, Head of the Social Security Department of the Lviv regional state administration. 

We have also searched the Internet for a long time for sites, lists of disabled people and their care needs and confirmation of all this. We have not found anything.

“He found me through this site,” Mr Lisovyy insists on his version.

“What’s his name?”

“Dick knows, I can’t remember.” 

In my opinion, a reasonable explanation.

Yaroslava Tsynkalenko had equally compelling arguments, Head of Administration of the Central Hospital in Sokal.

“They are relatives, Antik, yes.”

“Antik?”

“Yes, the Ternov’s family, they are our relatives,” head Tsynkalenko stares at the wall.

Her husband Bogdan is a known local doctor and politician. He was a local member of parliament from the Svoboda party when his wife got a car for a disabled person. He was the one who went to talk to the social security commission. And it sounds fine, the head’s explanation. And her relatives seems nice. But just one moment.

“According to the documents, Bogdan Bliok gave you this car, do you know him?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Who is he?”

“Hmm, it’s, it’s, well, it seems that they are my husband’s relatives.”

“Bogdan Bliok is your husband’s relative?”

“No, not my husband’s relative. Antik is a relative, then they were already abroad.”

“Why is Bogdan Bliok on the documents then?”

“Well, that is Bliok, well, out there, where it is, they are ours, not relatives, they are our friends. They arranged it all.”

“So was it your relative Antik Tarnavski’s gift? Or Bogdan Bliok?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know such details.”

Customs officers that oversee the import of humanitarian cars do not believe in “miracles”

“Let’s call her a pseudo-benefactor or something like that. Someone who is used for making those donations. But I believe that the majority of those vehicles are bought with money,” Levko Prokipchuk smiles.

A shirt with traditional Ukrainian embroidery, a modest wristwatch, this official is accessible to ordinary people and sincere. The chief customs officer of the Lviv region reminds me more of a European politician.

“We don’t see in our documents that the car was purchased by a disabled person. All we see is the deed of gift.”

The same document is seen by the department of social security. Although they are skeptical about this procedure. 

“Do you personally believe that such expensive cars are gifts to people with disabilities?” I asked Svitlana Lukomska, Director of the Social Security Department of the Khmelnytsky Region State Administration. 

“I believe that about ten percent out of one hundred are,” said the official. She insists that she is an honest person with no intention to deceive “But the majority of them were dealt with in a different way.”

Which way? Some lucky drivers don’t even bother to hide it.

“We know that you have a Toyota Avensis 2012 release…,” I asked Yuriy Vyaznitsev, who is in the military forces.

“I’ll tell you this. I gave someone the money to buy a car for me…”

“Was it expensive?”

“Let’s say this: it was registered as a gift. I paid 15,000 euros for it.”

A true colonel. None of that “well, I don’t remember” stuff. He just paid a middleman the money and he brought him a Toyota and the deed of gift. A large sum of money didn’t make it to the treasury? So what? Yuriy Vyaznitsev has done so much for the country! Let alone leading the military study department of the Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas for the past nineteen years!

“I gave money to the man. The car itself costs 13,000 euros, and, I think, I gave 36 euros for it to be brought over. 15,000 in total.”

In fact, it is possible to find a lot of middlemen on the Internet. They’ll arrange the entire process for 1,500 euros. You just say what car you want to buy and the rest is done by those masters of their trade. 

“Do you know the donor who gave you your car, can you name them?”

“No, no.”

“How did you find them?”

“I basically know people who, well, know other people who can give you a car as a gift. Or find people who can provide or transfer the vehicle,” Volodymyr Ivahov, Deputy Head of the Pension Fund of Ternopil region skillfully explains the origin of his family’s foreign-made car. Interestingly, prior to this position, Mr. Ivahov was deputy head of the Department of Social Security of Ternopil Regional State Administration. In the Khmelnytsky region, Olga Vyshpolska is another deputy head of a similar department. She has worked in social security institutions for many years. She is responsible for signing a number of documents related to car donations for disabled people at the Department of Social Security. Her husband has also received a car from abroad as a gift. By the way, Vyshpolska’s daughter now also works in the Department of Social Security, and her son Mykola heads a department in the Khmelnytsky City Council.                  

And there are so many such chiefs and officials that it’s unbelievable.

“As an ordinary citizen, a person who is entitled to it,” Petro Sereda calmly replies, the head of Social Security for the Kamenetz-Podolsk district council.

“You are the head of the social security department that is in fact responsible for providing humanitarian cars.”

“Yes, carry on checking.”

The administration of the pension fund, as well as of the office for social security, are the lucky ones. Here, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, a luxury SUV Mitsubishi ASX was given to Halyna Cheredarchuk, Deputy Chief of the Pension Fund of the Kolomyia district in 2011. A similar second-hand model could cost up to 400,000 hryvnas. In the same region, a car has reached Mr Dmytro Nalyvayko, deputy head of the pension fund of another district, the Nadvirnianskyy. 

We also spotted an interesting trend among benefactors from abroad that signed the deed of gift. In most cases they were the same individuals. Raphael Fasalov, Michal Lagoda, Igor Golub, Alexander Kofman and Jerzy Balovski gave dozens of cars away to different people in different regions.

Hundreds of millions in losses to the budget. And the happy owners of foreign-made cars rejoicing. 

Perhaps Robert Hensel is a good man. He gave a Volkswagen away. And then, perhaps, another disabled person turned to him for help. So Mr Hensel gave them a Mercedes E 200, 2010 release. We even found the registration number plate 05LFB6 in the customs declaration. Google it and you’ll get several results from Dutch sites. In one of them it says that this Mercedes was on sale for only 49,000 euros!!! And that does not include taxes and fees. But Hensel just gave it away as a gift.

“You needed hot facts, you now have them. Well, how are you? You work hard with your little feet for your bread, that’s it.” Viktor Borysenko was not in a mood for talking.

Until recently he had worked at the Lviv Regional State Administration. And not as just some clerk. As the deputy director of the Department of Civil Protection. No wonder that the Western regions are at the forefront of humanitarian car provision. This is understandable because it’s very close to the border with the EU.

Here is doctor Oksana Hrytsevych, who is also the wife of a politician from Western Ukraine. Roman Hrytsevych, people’s deputy of the Lviv City Council since 2002! He is a known politician and now he is in the Poroshenko party. Mr Hrytsevych’s influence is so high that he can be seen in the company of Vitali Klitschko during festivities. There are also photos of him with the people’s deputy Oksana Yurynets. Mr Hrytsevych is also head of the department of the first city clinical hospital named after Prince Lev. So. From last year, the wife of a politician has enjoyed a luxurious Volkswagen, 2012 release. It seems that the family is not poor. They have some wheels. According to Mr Hrytsevych’s declarations, he bought a Suzuki Jeep in 2014. And just last year, the family also acquired a Mercedes. The cars weren’t some rubbish. Both were released in 2007. Despite this abundance in their garage, a benefactor appeared abroad and decided to give Oksana Hrytsevych a Volkswagen as a gift. But the doctor, the wife of a politician, was abrupt: “I won’t be giving any comments, guys.” 

The Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytsky and Rivne regions are the leaders. And, well, of course the Kyiv region is as well.

It is worth noting though that formally a foreign car is given as a gift to the Departments of Social Security of regional administrations. But it must be passed onto a particular disabled person. He or his family members are entitled to use it. And, according to the documents, a person with disabilities can become the full owner of the car after ten years. In case of death, the family members of the deceased car owner become the owners straight away. But there’s one uncomfortable moment here – the disabled person cannot simply sell that foreign-made car before the end of this term. But if social security departments are the formal owner, is it possible to seize that foreign-made car from the disabled person? 

“Do I understand it correctly that for the last three or four years no cars were returned to the Department of Social Security?” I asked Svitlana Lukomska.

“Actually, not a single car during any period,” confirms the official. 

There’s one but very important limitation when it comes to the donated cars for disabled people. Not all people with disabilities can get them without paying a large sum to the treasury. This is prohibited for those who use a new car or have bought such car within the last seven years. But Regions Party functionaries have skilfully evaded this law. Just as Myhaylo Voytyuk did. Before the Maidan, he was deputy head of the regional organization of the Party of Regions in the Khmelnytsky region at Vasyl Yadukha’s office, who spent four years working as a local governor. Mr. Voytyuk spent years of his career serving the State. And he is very proud of it.

“I worked in this position between 1992 and 2002. The Head of the Office for Mineral Resources, Tourist Resorts and Tourism.”

Later, Mr Voytyuk led the state enterprise Hmelnytskkurortresursy several times. And since 2010, he was also a region’s people’s deputy for the Regions Party. He jokes about his cooperation with the latter one: “I didn’t slice those golden loaves with Yanukovych.”

Perhaps it is true but Mr Voytyuk is known in the Khmelnytsky region as an organizer and active participant in rallies and pickets in support of the Party of Regions. And public office staff were usually made to attend those rallies. The local media exposed his attitudes towards Maidan participants by quoting him during that time: “He called the local Euromaidan activists ‘chawbacon’ and said that they were ‘incapable’,” wrote the Independent Community Portal. And Mr Voytyuk has also had a criminal case in the past. “I had to exploit mineral deposits without a special permit,” says the man about his actions as head of the state enterprise Hmelnytskkurortresursy.

Two courts found him guilty. In particular, of abuse of power and official authority that resulted in grave consequences. By the way, this was in 2008 and 2009. Mr Voytyuk appealed. But Yanukovych came to the throne in 2010. Who could have doubted that in April the Supreme Court of Ukraine would annul both verdicts and close the Mr Voytyuk case due to the absence of actions on his part that could constitute a crime.

“And after that, I took the prosecution to court and won 200,000 hryvnas in compensation for the period I was not able to work, stress and so on. I bought a car,” Mr Voytyuk smiles.

The then Regions Party member skillfully invested his money.

“A car that was worth 230,000 hryvnas at the time… The Nissan X-Trail.”

And everything seems to be fine except the fact that a kind Helge Mullig from Germany gives Mr Voytyuk an Audi A4 SUV in 2014 as a gift. Prices for similar used cars, even now, are holding in the area of $24,000, roughly 600,000 hryvnas. And Mr Voytyuk has not paid a penny to the treasury of Ukraine for that Audi. But what about the law then?

”If someone has a new car or has bought a new car within the last seven years, they are not entitled to a humanitarian vehicle. And you had one, you bought one… and here comes another one, an Audi.”

“It’s different matter. I bought one but I gave it away. I can’t drive two cars. I gave it to my son so he has it. And I have the one that the German gave me… When we bought it, we bought it under my son’s name… Every parent thinks about how to help their child.”

It turned out that it’s so easy and effortless for someone to get around the law. Helge Mullig is a cool person. His arm didn’t fall off when he signed the deed of gift for a further two Mercedes for disabled people. Here is one of them, a 2011 release. Wikipedia describes the model as Mercedes W212, a family car of the fourth generation E-class (a business car). Two models match the engine specifications, “E 200 CGI Blue EFFICIENCY” and “E 250 CGI Blue EFFICIENCY”. This range’s models are sold for 1,800,000 – 2,000,000 hryvnas. Mr Mullig bought a car like that on 23rd January 2014 and gave it away as a present on the same day.

And I’d like to believe so much that there are a lot of good and wealthy benefactors overseas who give away foreign-manufactured cars to Ukrainian people with disabilities from their heart. But after checking the names of benefactors, I have some reasonable doubts. Different regions but the same benefactors. Olexander Kofman gives away a Mercedes, an Opel and a Hyundai. The same people here and there. Elena Yundt from Dresden, Maxym Petrenko from Osnabrück. Also from Germany, Sergiy Padalka and Lubomyr Borynets. The list of donors to the Lviv region in the past three years. The same names. Here’s Olexander Greenberg – a Ford, a Renault, an Opel and another Opel. This man gives away four cars in just three months. In early 2013, Mr Greenberg, in addition to a Volkswagen, splashed out on a Dodge. He bought it at Christmas and gave it as a gift to a Ukrainian woman three days later. Now the price for similar cars abroad is between $3,000 – $11,000. Of course, you would have to pay roughly as much for customs clearance and all the fees and taxes. Also in 2013, Greenberg gave away two Nissans and two Opels as gifts. Not even a penny paid to the treasury for all those cars. In total, Mr Greenberg gave away thirteen foreign-made cars as presents in just three years. 

Documented foreign nationals that gave away foreign-made cars to Ukrainians are based in a dozen countries. Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Spain, Italy, France. But Poland and Germany have the lion’s share. We decided to talk to the philanthropists from abroad. To begin with, we called on the small Polish town, Dynów. Registered there are Andrzej and Svitlana Teplitski. Thanks to their generosity, a Renault Megane 2010 and a Volkswagen Sharan Turbo went to the Ternopil region. 

“I’m originally from Lviv but someone from Ternopil suggested I should contact you,” I said to Andrzej. “I’d like to buy a car in Poland. My mother has a disability of third degree and I want to register that car under my disabled mother’s name. You know all the nuances with customs duties so it should be like a gift. Would you be able to help me with it through your firm?” I continued.

“I think so,” was Andrzej’s laconic reply.

So off we go to a meeting in neighbouring Poland. Our choice was not accidental. The Teplitski’s address was identical to that of the firm Disel that we obtained from a Ukrainian social security office. And numerous auto-moto sites in Poland even mention the owner of this company. It’s our hero Andrzej. And selling cars is stated in the company’s activities section. We agreed to meet on the streets of Dynów. Here comes the benefactor himself. We encounter the first surprise. Our man is Ukrainian.

“That’s it, I don’t wish to,” Andrzej Teplitski says calmly after looking at our journalist identification cards.

“Do you wish to make a comment…?”

“What for?”

“Could you clarify please, we have documents here showing that you and, in my understanding, your wife Svitlana Teplitski give cars to Ukrainians as gifts. Do you really give them as gifts or do they pay you money?”

“I don’t wish to answer your questions. I’m not the right person at all.”

Notably, during our telephone conversation, Mr Teplitski had tried to be helpful but, after realising that we are journalists, he speaks to us quite differently now.

“Presented as a gift and that’s it. Got it? What else you want me to say? Well. I won’t be telling you anything because I’m not going to say anything on camera. You’re bugged and stuff like that.”

It is worth mentioning that the company Disel is known to judges and Ukrainian state fiscal service. This company was involved in several court cases where customs and excise fought a private enterprise based in Ternopil, asking the court to fine the director by seizing a hundred percent of his stock of goods. Ternopil businessmen had imported foreign cars from Poland to Ukraine. The court found that the Ukrainian businessmen’s trade documents had ‘false sender (vendor) information and false details in the proof of purchase between the seller and the buyer’. In another case, the court also found ‘falsification of shipping documents, including invoices and specifications, resulting in the underestimation of the invoices’ value and, as a consequence, a shortfall in customs duties.’ So, that Ternopil private enterprise provided customs officers with documents showing that cars were bought from Andrzej Teplitski’s firm. But the court found that the vehicles were purchased from other organizations. And the documentation packs were simply swapped at the border.

“I had problems, I know I had problems… I know it because everything was from the Polish side,” said Andrzej, while getting into his car and leaving after threatening us with going to the Polish police.

Perhaps another benefactor would be more talkative. So off we went. In Poland, generous benefactors are scattered all over the country. But the largest concentration of them is in regions that border Ukraine. Another generous benefactor works in a little village, Orły in Podkarpackie Voivodeship. Krzysztof Valchevski. His company sells, well… also cars. With his easy signature, a “modest” Mercedes went to a disabled person in Poltava. Today, a car of this class in Poltava would sell for almost 550,000 hryvnas. Perhaps the address indicated in the customs declaration would finally lead us to a charitable fund? But no. A company called ADMA is registered at Krzysztof Valchevski’s address. Even though they didn’t let us in, we noticed some cars in the yard, and one of them had German registration plates. Perhaps a gift for Ukrainians.

A lot of people who sign the deed of gift for a Mercedes or Toyota are from the border on the other side. The Polish-German side. They’re from glorious Wrocław and the surrounding towns and villages. Stanislav Kuzelyak, originally from Ivano-Frankivsk, is registered there. He gave away a Land Rover Freelander as a gift. Similar Jeeps now draw the price of 300,000 hryvnas. And with no regrets, he also gave away a Mercedes A-Class W169. The registration brings us to a small village near the German border. We paid a visit there but were greeted by Poles.

“There’s no Kuzelyak here. He lives in Nowa Sól. He is not here. He hasn’t lived here for a long time, for two years now…”

“They live in Tsesaniets,” says the hostess.

What a miracle, it turned out that Stanislav Kuzelyak, who was able to give away so many cars, just rented accommodation here. But we must find him. So we go to another village that the Polish woman told us about. Tsesaniets is hidden in depths of the forests. The recorded number of people living here is about 500 residents! Indeed, where else would such a rich man live.

“We have the deeds of gift here that show you gave cars away as gifts. Is this true?” we ask the benefactor.

“I need to have a look, I don’t remember, it was a long a time ago.”

“Do you give cars to Ukrainians as gifts?”  

“No.”

“You don’t?”

“No, why should I, for what reason?” wonders Mr. Kuzelyak. 

In addition to a Mercedes and a Land Rover, Stanislav had also signed deeds of gift for a Skoda, a Ford, a Volkswagen. His daughter Martha signed for a Volkswagen, and Volodymyra Kuzelyak for a Ford-S-Max.

“Did they pay you for those cars?”

“Well they paid, I mean they paid me for work, to bring the car to the border and things like that. The rest was not my business.”

“But you were the one who signed the deed of gift for the people?”

“Well, I had to. How else you can do it?”

“You wrote them, you signed the deeds of gift, so as people with disabilities they wouldn’t have to pay customs duties and excise taxes at the border. Is this true?”

“But they are disabled… Well then what is the problem?” 

Mr Kuzelyak gave away so many cars as gifts that it’s hard to even remember them all. 

“You don’t remember whether you gave away a Mercedes as a gift or not?”

“I don’t remember. No, believe me! Do you know how many cars I had in the past? I had to, it was required as a driver or to do deliveries or as a courier.”

“And they asked you to sign the deed of gift?”

“Well, when they asked me to, I went to a public notary and did it formally.”

But Piotr Nastal can certainly be named as the champion of giving cars away as gifts to Ukrainians. He lives in a small village called Hurko just ten kilometers from the border with Ukraine. He gives away foreign cars as gifts by the dozen in different regions of Ukraine. This village is even smaller than the previous one. There’s only one street here. We’re on our way to visit a person who should most definitely be an oligarch.

”A Ukrainian man bought those cars, something like that. He’d bring them and I would sign them off as gifts. It was something like that,” explains Piotr Nastal.

“They weren’t your cars?”

“No, I’ve never had a car. I just signed that I gave them away as a present. But they weren’t my cars,” explains the man anxiously, turning a few dozen of pages of the deeds of gift we brought with us.

“You testified at the public notary that they were gifts, why?”

“But that’s the only way to avoid paying customs duties at the border or something like that.”

Somehow our conscientious citizens are not in a hurry to pay the treasury. Posting on Facebook that our state is bad and that everybody steals is one thing. But paying taxes – oh no, we won’t. Our roads are bad, there is no medicine in hospitals, rubbish is not being collected – you hear cries from every direction. But when it comes to fair formal employment procedures or refusal to take wages of cash in envelopes – oh, no, why should we pay so much to the state. “Everyone is a bribe taker”, “nothing has changed after the Maidan” – well, that’s obvious. And at the same time people continue to give a couple of cents here and there to solve their problems in all areas. Starting from giving birth, kindergartens and education. But if something goes wrong, well, it’s not us, it’s the bad government.

While tens of thousands of disabled people wait in vain for the state to provide them with Daewoo Lanos, the chosen few get luxury cars from abroad. They don’t pay any taxes and duties to the treasury on these cars. Because of corrupt schemes, the Ukrainian Treasury loses hundreds of millions of hryvnas. But for a special caste of the lucky few, life is good.

Taras Zozulinskyy

“The investigation was prepared within the Polish-Canadian Programme for Democracy framework and with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada”

Бюро журналістських розслідувань 2019-2020. Усі права застережено | Розробка: levus.info