Journalists uncover luxury houses, Russian citizenship of top intelligence officer’s family
The family of a top officer of the Foreign Intelligence Service have Russian passports and have acquired expensive real estate in the past four years, according to an investigation by Ukrainian journalists.
Journalists from the Bihus.info website found that relatives of Serhiy Semochko, first deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, also visit Russian-occupied Crimea regularly. His family owns $7 million in real estate near Kyiv, obtained after the Kremlin launched its war on Ukraine in 2014, according to the journalists.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine announced on Oct. 3 that it had opened a criminal case against Semochko, based on the investigation by the journalists. Semochko is suspected of illegal enrichment, the bureau said.
Before getting a job with the foreign intelligence, Semochko had a long career with the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, the powerful law enforcement agency with 40,000 employees and far-ranging powers.
The Crimea-born Semochko
served as the head of the economic counterintelligence department and later the head of the SBU’s Kyiv office.
President Petro Poroshenko appointed him as the first deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence Service on July 31. The intelligence agency is an independent state body, controlled directly by the president.
A video detailing the results of the journalists’ investigation was posted online on Oct. 1. Neither the SBU, FIS or any other top officials have so far commented on the allegations made by the journalists.
The Foreign Intelligence Service refused to comment on Semochko to Kyiv Post, saying “it’s not within our competence.” The SBU refused requests from the Kyiv Post for comment on the basis that Semochko no longer works with the security service.
“The silence of President Petro Poroshenko, the silence of other officials and politicians about the investigation of the journalists of property and relatives in Russia, Serhiy Semochko, looks irresponsible and helpless,” Censor.net news website chief editor Yuri Butusov wrote on Facebook.
Yehor Soboliev, a lawmaker from the 26-member Samopomich Party, asked in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, for SBU Head Yaroslav Hrytsak to come to parliament on Oct. 3 and explain to lawmakers how Semochko had come by his fortune.
“The journalists found out that Semochko only obtained real estate worth millions of dollars in the last few years, the years of war,” Soboliev said.
As it is not easy for internally displaced people to move from Crimea and settle somewhere new, there is “no chance to get property in such amounts without selling the national interests of Ukraine in wartime,” Soboliev said.
“This is deadly danger to hundreds of real investigators and a threat to all of us,” he later added in a post on Facebook.
This is not the first scandal involving defense and security officers and other officials having links to Russia, but all cases against them have stalled. For instance, Deputy Defense Minister Ihor Pavlovsky and the head of the ministry’s procurement department Volodymyr Hulyevych are suspected of embezzling Hr 149 million ($5.3 million) through the purchase of fuel at inflated prices. Pavlovsky was placed under house arrest in October 2017 but was released after a month.
Poroshenko on Aug. 30 appointed Valentyna Simonenko as a justice of the Supreme Court, though checks by the Kyiv Post show she was registered as a Russian taxpayer in Russian-annexed Crimea in 2015, according to the official register of Russia’s Federal Tax Service.
Unlike other state officials, the electronic asset declarations of intelligence officers, detailing their income, real estate, and family fortunes, are not publicly accessible.
The journalists became interested with Semochko a year ago, when media reported the halting of the procurement of medicines for kidney failure, investigative journalist and the author of the Bihus.info story Lesia Ivanova said. They first found very little information on Semochko — for instance, there were no pictures of him.
To uncover Semochko’s fortune, Ivanova followed the car he used, analyzed social media accounts belonging to his relatives, and used a drone to observe his property from the air.
Ivanova found that he traveled in a Toyota Land Cruiser to a house in the wealthy neighborhood of Koncha-Zaspa. The house is owned by Tetiana Lysenko, whose daughter owns two other pieces of real estate worth millions of dollars, all of which was bought in 2017.
The journalists found evidence that Semochko and Lysenko are a couple, and have a child together. One of the links dates to 2013, when they both privatized two land plots next to each other in Yalta, in Russian-occupied Crimea.
According to the journalists, Semochko, Lysenko and her children do not officially earn enough money to buy real estate worth a total of Hr 200 million ($7.1 million).
The journalists alleged that to make the fortune, Semochko and his department had blocked the international procurement of medicines to treat kidney disease.
While serving as head of the economic counterintelligence department, Semochko signed documents to prevent the procurement of drugs needed for dialysis, the procedure required by patients suffering from kidney failure. These drugs are provided by the state under the state medical insurance program. Once patients start using these particular medicines — produced by American company Baxter — they cannot for medical reasons switch to using alternative medications.
Journalists allege that procurement of these drugs was blocked on Semochko’s orders, advising that alternative medications be procured instead.
Serhiy Hrystynchenko, the head of a department of the Diavita medical equipment company, claimed that Semochko’s economic counterintelligence department at the SBU had demanded a bribe to restore the supply of medications.
Around 200 people died because they were unable to get their medications in time, Hrystynchenko said.
Semochko’s family also appear to have obtained Russian citizenship.
Pictures of the data pages of the passports of three of Semochko’s relatives – Lysenko, her daughter Anastasia Koton, and son-in-law Volodymyr Koton – were leaked on Facebook in August. Bihus.info journalists were able to confirm the authenticity of two of the three passports through the Russia’s Federal Tax Service website. They also found that other relatives of Semochko had apparently obtained Russian passports.
In total, eight Semochko’s relatives allegedly have Russian citizenship, the journalists claim.
While NABU has started investigation into Semochko’s expensive real estate purchases, law enforcement hasn’t reacted to his family alleged dual citizenship. Having more than one citizenship is not allowed in most cases in Ukraine, according to the legislation.
“On this part, I don’t see an official reaction or official investigation (starting),” Ivanova said.
“However, logically, this should be the first thing to be checked,” she said.
Semochko’s family often appears to vacation in Crimea, taking pictures on the Black Sea coast, often in front of the same blue helicopter.
Lawyer from the Reanimation Package of Reforms think tank Oleksandr Lemenov said he has doubts Semochko gained his fortune legally.
A collage shows three houses worth $7 million owned by family members of Serhiy Semochko, one of Ukraine's top foreign intelligence officers. The houses are located in the elite Kyiv suburb of Koncha-Zaspa and nearby village of Kozyn, according to the journalists of Bihus.info investigative reporting project. (Bihus.info)
Serhiy Semochko, first deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence Service and an appointee of President Petro Poroshenko, is tied to millions of dollars in real estate holdings, according to journalists from Bihus.info.