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Former Ukrainian Official On The Lam In Alligator Shoes?

Former Ukrainian government minister Mykola Zlochevskiy (right) was closely associated with ousted President Viktor Yanukovych (left).
Former Ukrainian government minister Mykola Zlochevskiy (right) was closely associated with ousted President Viktor Yanukovych (left).

As former Ukrainian official Mykola Zlochevskiy runs from the new authorities in Ukraine, he might be doing so in his own brand of highly fashionable, exotic-leather shoes.

Zlochevskiy earned a reputation for lavishness while serving as environment and natural resources minister under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. In December, he was placed on Ukraine's most-wanted list for a host of alleged economic crimes.

So when that same month a new upscale shoe and apparel boutique opened in Kyiv, with a trail of ownership that appears to lead back to Zlochevskiy, it raised some eyebrows.

High End

Serhiy Andrushko, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, recently visited the Zlocci boutique, located in the heart of the capital's high-end shopping district.

From ceiling to floor, the store exudes luxury. Crystal chandeliers direct customers' eyes toward an ornate marble-topped table. Fitted with recessed interactive panels and brass stands sculpted into the shape of a lion's paw, it displays a well-heeled product line of exotic leather shoes and accessories that can cost thousands of dollars.

According to Zlocci's website, its footwear, belts, and hosiery are expertly crafted by world-class manufacturers and imported directly from Spain.

"The clever combination of hand finished materials and masterful design result in absolutely gorgeous footwear," it states. "As a self-indulgent reward or a generous gift for a loved one, Zlocci delivers unrivaled quality."

"Of course," the site notes, "everything starts with the skin," and Zlocci offers nothing but the best in the world -- whether alligator, ostrich, eel, or lizard.

Zlocci has opened a swish, upmarket shoe store in downtown Kyiv.
Zlocci has opened a swish, upmarket shoe store in downtown Kyiv.

Our correspondent was offered an enticing deal by a polite and well-trained salesperson -- a 10 percent discount on a set of matching crocodile dress shoes and belt listed at $2,800.

Even at the cut-rate price, the average Kyiv resident would have to work nearly nine months to supplement their wardrobe with such accoutrements.

Opaque Origins

Zlocci traces its "family factory" to the cozy town of Almansa, located in the eastern Province of Albacete, according to the boutique's website.

The site gives little other information, however, about the firm's ties to the province, which a local business database lists as having more than 30 such factories.

And things get even murkier when you delve further into Zlocci's background.

The name itself appears intended to resemble that of an expensive foreign brand, perhaps Italian. But Zlocci also bears similarities to the name Zlochevskiy.

It is common in Ukraine for business owners to base their company or brand names on their own last names; for example, Roshen, which is owned by President Petro Poroshenko, is derived from the middle part of his surname.

In a funny aside, Zlocci also sounds like the Ukrainian word for crime, "zlochyn."

The listed owner of the Kyiv outlet, however, is named as Valeriy Tkach, a man registered with Ukraine's tax authorities as a private entrepreneur. This type of registration is commonly used by small business owners such as market traders, and is taxed at a low rate.

Such small business owners often give their own home address when registering, and as it turns out the listed owner of Kyiv's exclusive Zlocci boutique lives in a dilapidated block of apartments on the outskirts of the capital.

The Zlocci trademark, meanwhile, was registered in Ukraine by a person who has previously helped Zlochevskiy register other brands, Okhotnikova Kateryna Oleksandrivna. She has registered intellectual property that belongs to Infox, a holding company directly owned by Zlochevskiy.

The Zlocci trademark is owned by Ametosa Investments Ltd., a Cyprus-registered company that shares an address with Birtilina Consulting Ltd.

Birtilina Consulting Ltd. holds a share in the Ukrainian firm Velyki Klyuchi, which owns two palaces and land situated north of Kyiv -- properties that invited scrutiny when they were tied to Zlochevskiy.

Birtilina Consulting's share in Velyki Klyuchi was originally owned by Zlochevskiy himself, and his father -- Vladyslav Zlochevskiy -- still holds shares as co-owner of Velyki Klyuchi.

In the past year, Velyki Klyuchi received a $1 million loan from Birtilina Consulting, using the palaces as collateral.

In theory, what is effectively a loan between related companies could be used to evade property confiscation.

"We can assume with high probability that this was done to protect the property and secure it behind the beneficiary owner, which we think is Zlochevskiy," says Bogdan Borovyk, who specializes in corporate rights for Kyiv-based law firm Borovyk and Partners.

Man Behind The Mark?

Zlochevskiy is a multimillionaire who, as minister of the environment and natural resources from 2010 to 2012, gained access to many lucrative natural-gas and oil fields in Ukraine.

Zlochevskiy was dismissed from the post, which is crucial in the licensing process for hydrocarbons, in April 2012 when he was appointed deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.

The former minister's name resurfaced following Yanukovych's ouster in 2014 when Zlochevskiy's flagship company, the Cyprus-incorporated Burisma Holdings Limited, emerged as a player in the effort to promote Ukraine's energy independence from Russia.

Burisma had been involved in leasing natural-gas fields in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in March 2014.

Later that year, an RFE/RL investigation identified Zlochevskiy as having an ownership stake in the two opulent palaces outside Kyiv.

Anticorruption campaigners demanded a government investigation into how he came to own the properties.

The results of the investigation, if conducted at all, are unknown. But Zlochevskiy was subsequently accused by Ukraine's new authorities of abuse of office, large-scale embezzlement, and illegal enrichment while serving in Yanukovych's government. He faces the confiscation of his properties and imprisonment if found guilty of the charges.

A Fan In The Family

Zlochevskiy was also sanctioned by the European Union in early 2014 for one year, but his accounts and assets were unfrozen when the sanctions ran out in March because Ukraine's prosecutors failed to provide evidence that Zlochevskiy had committed any crimes.

Zlochevskiy's representatives refused to comment on issues related to his assets for this article, including any possible ownership ties to Zlocci.

The boutique does have one identifiable fan within Zlochevskiy's immediate family.

His daughter, Karina Zlochevska, is clearly keen on the trendy Kyiv shop, and has dedicated many Facebook posts dedicated to the brightly colored shoes it offers.

Shortly after RFE/RL requested a comment for this story, however, the posts were deleted from Zlochevska's Facebook page.

Written by Katya Gorchinskaya based on reporting by RFE/RL Ukraine Service correspondent Serhiy Andrushko in Kyiv
  • 16x9 Image

    Katya Gorchinskaya

    Katya Gorchinskaya is a journalist based in Kyiv.

  • 16x9 Image

    Serhiy Andrushko

    Serhiy Andrushko is a journalist with Schemes (Skhemy), an investigative news project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in cooperation with UA: Pershy television.​ Andrushko began his career in television in 2000 as a journalist for STB, reporting on government corruption, before working for the National Radio Company of Ukraine. He was also a founder of Hromadske digital TV​. Andrushko was a winner of Ukraine's prestigious Teletriumph Awards in 2010.

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