Ukraine’s Boxer Klichko May Be out of Presidential Race
By Oleg Varfolomeyev
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed into law a tax amendment that may disqualify world boxing champion Vitaly Klichko from the presidential race in early 2015 (president.gov.ua, November 8). The parliament, which is dominated by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), on October 24, passed the amendment according to which those who have residence permits issued by foreign countries shall not be regarded as residents of Ukraine for taxation purposes (UNIAN, October 24). However, non-residents may not run for president, according to the Ukrainian constitution.
Klichko has a German residency permit, so the amendment prompted him to tell parliament on the same day that he would, nevertheless, run for president anyway. Although he has been widely expected to run, by making this announcement, Klichko became the first Ukrainian politician to openly confirm his ambitions. Klichko claimed that the PRU was trying to strip him of Ukrainian citizenship with the help of the taxation amendment (Ukrainska Pravda, October 24).
Recent public opinion polls show Klichko to be the second most popular presidential candidate after Yanukovych—especially if former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in prison for abuse of office, is not pardoned. Furthermore, Klichko is currently projected to likely defeat Yanukovych in a runoff election (Korrespondent.net citing a survey by Rating, October 21; Interfax-Ukraine citing a survey by KIIS, October 5).
Notably, the controversial tax amendment was authored by Ihor Brychenko, a parliamentary deputy representing Klichko’s allies from Tymoshenko’s opposition party Fatherland. However, Brychenko claimed that he did not author the bill and that his signature was forged. Kyiv prosecutors launched criminal proceedings, suspecting forgery and deliberate misleading of a parliamentarian, but the local police later closed the case (Ukrainska Pravda, November 9).
Forbes.ua cited two unnamed deputies from the PRU as saying that Brychenko had been asked by representatives from their party to author the amendment. According to the deputies, he initially did not understand what the amendment was about; when he did, he tried to recall it, but it was too late (forbes.ua, October 25).
Even if Klichko is not disqualified, the ruling party is apparently going to use the fact that he paid taxes abroad against him in the upcoming election campaign. Thus, after the adoption of the amendment, the leader of the PRU caucus in parliament, Oleksandr Yefremov, told the press that he doubted Klichko’s moral right to run for president. Yefremov said it was wrong for a people’s deputy not to pay taxes in his homeland (liga.net, October 24). Another PRU senior member, Hanna Herman, told the parliament that Klichko paid taxes in Germany, a country which had ravaged Ukraine during World War II (lb.ua, October 24).
The scandal around the controversial taxation amendment raises questions about ethics in Ukrainian politics at a time when the country hopes to sign an association agreement with the European Union. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia, who happened to be in Kyiv when the amendment was passed, said he thought it might damage the election process (Channel 5, October 24). If both Tymoshenko and Klichko are eliminated from the race, it will be hard for Yanukovych to explain such a coincidence to the West.