Alina Stryzhak has been on the trail of Ukrainian officials’ undeclared assets in the Czech Republic for some time, but her recently completed summer internship with a Czech investigative journalism outlet has given her the tools and opportunity to finally shine a light on these murky transactions.
An award-winning investigative journalist with nearly 15 years of experience, Alina writes for the Ukrainian website Nashigroshi.org, which covers public tenders and public sector corruption. Much of her work has focused on revealing the undeclared foreign and hidden assets of so-called “PEPs”, or politically exposed persons, individuals entrusted with a prominent public function (senior government officials and their close relatives) who, because of their position, have more opportunities than average citizens to enrich themselves by illegal means.
For those looking to hide their ill-gotten wealth, purchasing property or registering a business in a foreign country is a common method of funnelling money out of the country and away from public scrutiny. When they fail to disclose these foreign assets as required by law, that’s when Alina comes in. Time and again in her investigations into the holdings of Ukrainian officials and their relatives, the threads kept leading back to the same place—The Czech Republic.
“The Czech Republic is a popular country for undeclared and hidden assets of Ukrainian politicians, officials and prosecutors for a variety of reasons,” said Alina. “The languages are similar, it’s not far away, there is a comfortable exchange rate of nearly 1:1 between the currencies, and it is relatively easy to register a business or buy property here as a foreigner if you have the cash.”
With the help of a PCSC supported internship, Alina was able to spend one month with Investigace.cz, a Czech investigative journalism outlet interested in some of the same Ukrainian public figures. The team of veteran investigative journalists at Investigace.cz introduced Alina to the national land registry, business registry, and other tools to help her map the undisclosed assets of Ukrainian PEPs in the Czech Republic.
Alina adds that being physically present in Prague was essential to her investigation.
“Requests from some registries have to be made in person, and if I’m sitting in Kyiv, I can’t do that. What’s more, while in Prague I could physically walk to a certain address and confirm that there is a business there registered to a prominent Ukrainian politician.”
Reciprocally, Alina showed the team at Investigace.cz how to use several Ukrainian databases to enhance their investigations, and in collaboration they discovered 30 undisclosed assets in the Czech Republic belonging to Ukrainian members of parliament, prosecutors and customs officials, among others. Alina will publish the findings in an article for Investigace.cz in late October.
In addition to the upcoming article revealing PEP assets in the Czech Republic, Alina wants to create a website mapping the assets and ownership she is uncovering, and will continue cooperating with Investigace.cz on a deep dive into the holdings of one high-profile politician in particular she discovered has hidden assets in the Czech Republic.
The PCSC internship program covers the costs of a one to two-month internship at a host organisation of the intern’s choice in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Balkans, and Central Asia. The programme is flexible and gives interns an opportunity to tailor their internships to their specific needs and goals. The programme also gives an opportunity for host organisations to forge a deeper connection and cooperation with civil society from other countries whilst gaining from their experience and skills.