Ukrainian Officials Backtrack on Crypto Wealth Claims as Feds Promise Probe: Report

Ukrainian public officials now say they actually don't own billions in crypto after the anti-corruption agency weighed in.

AccessTimeIconApr 9, 2021 at 9:44 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:38 p.m. UTC
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Ukrainian public officials who reported eye-popping numbers of bitcoin in their property declarations might be having some regrets after the nation's anti-corruption agency said it would weigh in.

As CoinDesk reported earlier this week, 652 public officials in Ukraine reported owning 46,351 bitcoin (BTC), worth around US$2.67 billion at the recent price, in their obligatory property declaration. The numbers raised eyebrows, especially when it came to individual declarations.

For example, Vyacheslav Mishalov, a member of the Dnipro city council, reported owning 18,000 bitcoin; Petro Lensky, first secretary of Ukraine’s embassy in Vietnam, said he had 6,528 BTC; and Alexander Urbansky, deputy chairman of the Odessa regional council, reported holding 5,328 BTC.

It turned out, however, those numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt. On Friday, Mishalov said he made a mistake and "skipped the line" with crypto in his declaration and actually he doesn't have that much BTC.

That admission came right after Ukraine's anti-corruption authorities took notice of the whopping numbers declared by public officials. Following the report by the data analytics project Opendatabot on Thursday, the head of the office of mandatory full inspections at the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) said on his Facebook page that the agency will look into the reported holdings.

"When checking the declaration, we will see whether the declarant really owns the specified number of crypto tokens, whether the money for its purchase was really transferred and whether the declarant can explain the origin of the money spent on the purchase of tokens," NAPC's Sergiy Petukhov wrote. He added that filing a false declaration might lead to a criminal investigation.

The next day, Mishalov told a Ukrainian TV channel he actually doesn't own that much bitcoin, although he does have some.

"I do have some bitcoin, quite a lot actually, but of course not that much," Mishalov said. "I was amending my previous declaration and didn't update that line. I wrote a letter to NAPC and you will soon see the updated declaration."

Another self-declared crypto whale, Alexander Urbansky, told the journalists he bought bitcoin in 2009 at the price of $1.

Alex Bornyakov, the deputy minister for digital transformation of Ukraine, said public officials in Ukraine might be claiming to own large amounts of cryptocurrencies as a plausible explanation of ill-gotten income.

Michael Chobanyan, founder of the Ukrainian crypto exchange Kuna, told CoinDesk crypto is often used to explain why a civil servant happens to own a lot of money he or she couldn't have possibly gained in a legal manner.

"Previously, they would declare royalties from books. Now they might simply say they sold some crypto and here's how they could buy that villa in Italy," Chobanyan said. He added that, in practice, nobody would check such claims so they often might be outright false.

He believes 99,9% of the crypto Ukrainian public officials declared this year are bogus numbers. "Some do hold crypto, but not that much," he added.

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