Ukraine targets smuggling and with it unlikely football success
Were the smuggling revenues used to finance the rapid rise of a Ukrainian football team from obscurity to the highest level in the country?
A new corruption scandal has hit Ukrainian football: the owner of FC Minaj has had his assets frozen by the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council for his role in a smuggling ring.
On April 2, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that “sanctions” had been imposed on Ukraine’s 10 biggest smugglers, as well as 68 associated companies. The most famous of these is Valeriy Peresolyak, owner of the Ukrainian Premier League team FC Minaj. As part of these sanctions, Peresolyak’s assets and bank accounts were frozen.
In an address to the nation, Zelensky called smuggling “economic terrorism” and stressed that those sanctioned are “among the top 10, but certainly not the only ones”.
“The losses due to smuggling reached 300 billion hryvnia [around nine billion euros] every year, money that is withheld from our state budget, ”the president said.
FC Minaj director of football Mikhailo Kopovolets, in a statement posted on the club’s website, said FC Minaj’s official position was to support the president. The club will continue to exist regardless of future developments. The main task now is to stay in the Ukrainian Premier League. “
Peresolyak had been on the customs radar since at; is 2019.
In November of the same year, Oleksandr Sova, member of the finance committee of fiscal and customs policy of the Ukrainian parliament, appointed Peresolyak as the “godfather” of smuggling in Zakarpattia oblast, in the west of the country. . Mr Sova went on to say that the Peresolyak operation involved 4,000 minivans bringing in products from neighboring Slovakia.
At the height of the operation, Mr. Sova estimated that Peresolyak was making US $ 1.5 million per month.
Little is known about Peresolyak’s life before the founding of FC Minaj. According to a June 2020 report by investigative journalist Yevhen Plinsky, Peresolyak worked in customs for more than 10 years, rising through the ranks to become deputy chief of customs in Zakarpattia oblast in 2013.
Peresolyak left this role in 2016, but kept his contacts and connections to continue his criminal activities. According to tax records, in that year he and his family declared 13 plots of land, totaling more than one hectare, as well as two houses and four apartments, with a total income of 2.8 million hryvnia (over 100,000 US dollars), already a significant amount of capital on the salary of an official in Ukraine.
Peresolyak founded FC Minaj in 2015 with two colleagues from the customs administration. The club is based in a suburb of Uzhhorod, a former Hungarian town on the Slovak border. According to Plinsky, the club was funded almost entirely from proceeds from illicit smuggling and was used for money laundering.
The club quickly climbed the pyramid of Ukrainian football. In his first two years of existence, he dominated both divisions of the Zakarpattia Oblast Regional Amateur Championships, winning promotion to the National Amateur Championship, the third tier of Ukrainian football. Over the next three seasons, Minaj secured two promotions, first to the Ukrainian Premier League (the country’s second level and lowest professional level) and finally to the coveted Ukrainian Premier League in 2020.
Looking back, the explanation behind FC Minaj’s meteoric rise through the Ukrainian football system – moving from regional amateur competitions to the top league in five years – is easily explained. Funded by Peresolyak, the club employed professional level players even when participating in the amateur divisions.
After winning his promotion to the Ukrainian Premier League, Minaj called on several foreign players, including South Africa international Tercious Malepe, at a time when most Ukrainian teams were struggling financially due to the Covid pandemic. 19. He even managed to sign Artem Milevskiy, a once highly regarded Ukrainian international who played for Dynamo Kyiv and took part in the 2006 World Cup campaign in Ukraine.
Despite this, Minaj’s luck has run out this season, as the team find themselves at the bottom of the Ukrainian Premier League. And although club officials have claimed that FC Minaj’s existence is not in question regardless of what happens to Peresolyak, the scandal cannot help the players’ performances.
A fight against corruption with mixed results
This whole incident demonstrates several horrific truths about the current state of Ukraine, including the fact that corruption is still deeply entrenched in many sectors of society.
This knowledge of the alleged illicit activities of Peresolyak was widespread as early as 2019 and has not been acted upon so far, is a sad indictment of the Ukrainian justice.
One explanation for the slow progress in this case, according to Plinsky, is the fact that Oleksandr Vasilenko, deputy prosecutor of Zakarpattia oblast, is the godfather of one of Peresolyak’s sons. Corruption based on personal or family ties has unfortunately been all too common in Ukraine in recent decades.
Additionally, although there is evidence of Peresolyak’s illicit activities, no formal criminal charges of any kind have yet been brought against him.
Two of the main promises Zelensky made during his successful campaign to become president in 2019 were to carry out substantial reforms in the justice system and fight corruption. The results have been mixed at best so far.
In addition, the latter case also highlights the fact that Ukrainian football still has a long way to go in moving from an unstable, oligarch-dominated model to one that is sustainable and self-sufficient.
Photo: FC Minaj official Facebook page.
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