International Intrigue: Chafee Consults to Controversial Ukrainian Billionaire
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Chafee earned as much as $100,000 from the foundation in 2009, according to the financial statement he filed with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. He has served as one of seven members of the International Advisory Board for the foundation for the past three years and continues to receive pay for his consulting work, according to campaign spokesman Mike Trainor.
Akhmetov was accused of being a leader in organized crime in the Ukraine by a senior government official. “I am deeply convinced that Akhmetov is the real head of an organized crime group. I don’t care if he’s offended,” Sergey Kornicha, the head of Economic Crimes Department of Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said at a June 23, 2005 press conference, according to Kommersant, a Russian commerce newspaper. The comments were also reported in the English-language Kyiv Post.
Chafee has made corruption and cronyism a major focus of his campaign.
In a September 30 press release criticizing Democratic opponent Frank Caprio, his campaign stated: “Rhode Islanders recognize that our state has a history of corruption and cronyism in government. The Chafee campaign has made ethical reform one of its chief priorities. To attract businesses to the state and foster job growth, our state must put the interests of its citizens above the personal gain of its politicians.”
Chafee’s emphasis on ethics, reform, and anti-corruption raises questions about why he would be associated with a figure like Akhmetov. Trainor said Chafee supports the mission of Akhmetov’s foundation. “He believes he’s making a contribution to the economy of this emerging democracy by providing regular participation in conference calls and other consulting,” Trainor said.
The foundation’s Web site states that it is “Mr. Rinat Akhmetov’s private initiative … his personal contribution to the economic development of Ukraine and to facilitate systematic dialogue between experts, Government, business, civil society organizations, and mass media.”
In addition to Kornicha’s public statement, an official Ukrainian government report identified Akhmetov as an organized crime leader, according to the Organized Corruption and Crime Reporting Project:
According to the report [titled an ‘Overview of the Most Dangerous Organized Crime Structures in Ukraine’], Renat Akhmetov, born in 1966 in Donetsk, is listed as the leader of the “Renat’s” organized crime group. According to the document, “the group dealt with money laundering, financial fraud, and controlled a large number of both real and fictitious companies.” The group is listed as one whose activities “have been stopped,” and says further that their criminal natures “have not been confirmed.”
After the 2004 elections in Ukraine, Akhmetov was named as a suspect in a murder investigation and fled the country to Monaco, according to The Nation, a U.S. political journal. “Shortly after the Orange Revolution, a murder investigation was launched against the country's richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, Yanukovich’s main backer. Akhmetov fled the country,” the October 2008 articles states.
Yesterday, the Chafee campaign declined to comment on what it described as “unproven” allegations against Akhmetov. Trainor said Chafee became involved with the Foundation for Effective Governance because he had been a respected member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He didn’t approach them, they approached him,” Trainor said.
Trainor noted that former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and Frances Cairncross, the rector of Exeter College at Oxford University, serve on the board of advisors with Chafee.
He said Chafee would resign his position on the board if he is elected governor.
With a net worth of $5.2 billion, Forbes ranks Akhmetov as the 148th richest man in the world in 2010. He also is the president of the Ukrainian football club, Shakhtar Donetsk, and recently built a $400 million stadium, which will host the 2012 Euro Cup, according Forbes.
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