KIEV: Interpol on Monday put Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych on its global wanted list for alleged embezzlement that drained the ex-Soviet republic’s budget in his four years of pro-Russian rule.
The “red notice” alert for the 64-year-old comes nearly a year after a massive pro-European uprising in Kiev led to a deadly confrontation with police that forced him to flee for safety in Russia.
It also covers former prime minister Mykola Azarov and two other senior officials who escaped protest-riven Kiev in a government helicopter under the cover of darkness last February.
An Interpol “red notice” — the most urgent issued by the international criminal police group — requires governments “to seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action.”
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov accused Moscow on Monday of violating international law by giving shelter to the most wanted man in Kiev.
“The Russian general prosecutor’s office is basically lying when it claims that it never received a request from its Ukrainian colleagues for the extradition of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and other politicians,” Avakov wrote on Facebook.
A source close to the matter told Moscow’s Interfax news agency that Russia was unlikely to act on the extradition request.
Yanukovych — a hulking presence who spoke halting Ukrainian and grew up in the heavily Russified east of Ukraine — became deeply unpopular while in power for allegedly enriching family members.
His oldest son Oleksandr managed to build a fortune from coal estimated at $500 million despite being a dentist by profession.
Oleksandr was also reported by Ukranian media to enjoy enormous political influence over his father and could handpick ministers and influence Kiev’s relations with both Russia and the European Union.
Subsequent probes led Ukraine’s prosecutor general in April to accuse Yanukovych and his allies of taking $32 billion of state funds with them to Russia — and using some of that money to finance the current eastern separatist revolt.
Ukraine last year was ranked 142nd out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
Yanukovych initially won a corruption-riddled presidential election that saw heavy political interference from Moscow and sparked the pro-Democracy Orange Revolution in 2004.
He lost a re-run of that vote in 2005 but eventually beat out Orange Revolution co-leader Yulia Tymoshenko in a bitterly contested race five years later.
His rise to power saw Ukraine quickly strike a new alliance with Russia that gave Moscow long-term access to a naval base in Crimea — a Black Sea peninsula its forces seized just a month after Yanukovych’s fall.
But Yanukovych also irritated the Kremlin by promising to establish closer relations with the European Union in exchange for huge financial aid.
And several tycoons with ties to Moscow ended up being squeezed out of business or losing lucrative contracts to a new breed of political insiders Yanukovych created with the help of his sons.
The former president’s fate was sealed when he ended months of indecision in November 2013 by choosing closer relations with Russia over a landmark pact with the European Union.
Yanukovych’s surprise choice — made in exchange for huge aid from Moscow — caught Brussels off guard and prompted hundreds of thousands to launch nonstop rallies at home that became more heated as police began to use force.