The owners of a fitness club in Kyiv lost control of their firm when another one, with political connections, walked in and took over. It is one of many examples of corruption that is undoing Kyiv’s move westward.The trouble started at the end of 2016, when the Ryabchenko family – which owns the Sofiyskiy Fitness Center – was told by a company unknown to them called BF Group that they were in default on a $15-million (13.8-million euro) loan.
Property rights to the club – which the BF group said were collateral on the loan – were then seized and the BF Group took over the mortgage and the property rights of the club.
Officers of the Security Police of Ukraine and security guards hired by BF Group are now sitting inside the building behind welded bars.
The BF Group is run by Yuriy Hryshchenko, an aide to People’s Front MP Andriy Ivanchuk.
“On May 24 they entered with 30 armed policemen, blocked all entrances, did not let our lawyer in, barricaded themselves inside our office with all the accounting and all operating documents inside, and then literally carried my mom and me out of the premise,” owner Iryna Ryabchenko told DW. “They’ve simply stolen our home.”
Ryabchenko says BF Group won’t even agree to rent the space to her sports club while the dispute is being resolved. She claims that the BF Group told her it would make the building the People’s Front headquarters.
Property is theft
The case highlights a growing trend in Ukraine.
“This a huge trend,” Ryabchenko says. “Paper ownership deeds are replaced by electronic ones where anyone can have access and change owners of property, companies, land etc. All you need is a corrupt notary that has an access key to the registry. All of them do it. Private property is not protected,” she says.
SkyMall, ZhytomitskinLasoshi and Hotel Lybid have all also faced similar questions.
In April, Ukraine’s battle against entrenched corruption appeared to take a step forward when a senior state energy executive was detained shortly after an ally of former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was taken into custody.
But the IMF, US and EU have voiced concern that continued corruption threatens to undo Ukraine’s pro-Western trajectory and disillusion the population after the downfall of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
L’etat c’est moi
“By showing that when one party controls the ministry of justice, internal affairs, prosecutors and justice they become the law. They become justice,” Ryabchenko says.
“Narodnyi Front [the People’s Front] controls it all. Whatever they want they get,” she goes on.
“They don’t care about scandals in Ukraine, they care what they look like to the outside world, to Europe or the US where their families live and where they keep the money stolen out of Ukraine,” she adds.
“I believe the time for this type of dealings was supposed to be gone with Yanukovich. Too many lives were lost for people worse and more selfish than Yanukovich to come to power. It’s a betrayal of our trust,” Ryabchenko says.
“They want Europe to continue giving money, so they need to keep appearances and care for their image and reputation outside of Ukraine.”
“Our criminal charges filed have not been reviewed or investigated in over six months. All we have left are courts, where money and pressure from the ruling party are a huge factor in decision making.
The law is an ass
The Ryabchenkos have been trying to convince the courts that the right of ownership was transferred to BF Group illegally and that the case was based on forged documents.”
Judges when they see cameras are more reluctant to do completely illegal things,” she adds.
Ryabchenko, with Efenes Properties Limited, in a parallel court process, appealed the court decision about granting BF Group ownership arguing that their claims about Ryabchenko’s loan debts were based on forged documents.
The appeal was satisfied on May 24. Despite this, BF Group claims the Supreme Economic Court of Ukraine issued a final ruling on May 29 stating that Sofiyskiy was in default on a loan. However, this case cannot be found in the state register of court decisions – there’s only an invitation for the May 29 court hearing.
Ryabchenko says she and her lawyers didn’t get any invitation to the hearing and didn’t attend and she doesn’t even know if it actually took place.
The next day after the court decision on refusing BF Group in ownership due to the falsification of documents, on May 25, police and the company’s representatives stormed in and occupied most of the building – about 1,300 square meters.
BF Group CEO Hryshchenko said BF Group was the rightful owner of the property and that the premises would be exploited in accordance with its proper use – as a sports and recreation center, but under a different brand name.
“Let them pay their debts to the banks first,” Hryshchenko said.
And so it goes on.