We here at Celebrity Net Worth, love a good old fashioned rags to riches story. There's the story of Guy Laliberté, who before earning a $2.6 billion fortune by creating of Cirque du Soleil, was a homeless street performer in Quebec. Or, there's the amazing story of J.K. Rowling, who was a single mother living on welfare when she wrote the manuscript for what eventually became the multi-billion dollar Harry Potter franchise. And speaking of welfare, earlier this week when the founder of messaging service WhatsApp sold his company to Facebook for $19 billion (personally netting him $8.55 billion in the process), he poignantly chose to sign the final paperwork on the door to the office where he waited for food stamps as a dirt poor Ukrainian immigrant. And speaking of Ukrainian rags to riches stories, today we're going to dive into the incredible life of Oleksandr Yanukovych. Just five years ago, Oleksandr was a humble dentist in Kiev earning roughly $14,000 USD per year. Today he runs a massively successful Ukrainian business empire that controls banks, natural resources, factories and much more. His personal net worth today is $500 million… From lowly dentist to half-billionaire in under five years. Excuse me. I'm getting a little misty eyed… Oh wait. Never mind. I forgot to mention that Oleksandr's dad is Viktor Yanukovych, better known as the President of Ukraine whose unprecedentedly brutal, greedy and corrupt four year reign of terror has caused tens of thousands of protesters to flood his streets demanding regime change.
In case you haven't been paying attention to the news, over the last few weeks tens of thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets of Kiev in a series of violent protests that have left at least 100 citizens murdered by state police forces. The protesters are furious that Ukraine has been essentially hijacked by Viktor Yanukovych, who they see as nothing more than the boss of a violent mafia-like family that is only in power to rob the state of its most valuable resources. Viktor Yanukovych has been accused of wholesale corruption during his four year term as President. Recently he began to make moves that would turn Ukraine into more of an Oligarch like their Russian neighbors to the east than a democracy like their European neighbors to the west.
Yesterday we published fascinating story of how despite only earning $115,000 per year as President, Viktor Yanukovych somehow owns a $100 million, 350 acre, palatial estate that before he came into power was a public park any citizen could enjoy. He has further wasted tens of millions of dollars turning this estate into a lavish playground that would make even the gaudiest Arab sheikh blush. After seizing the public lands, Viktor added a zoo that is home to many exotic animals including Koalas and Kangaroos, an 18-hole luxury golf course, a horse riding club, tennis courts, bowling alleys, a helicopter pad, airplane hangar, an underground shooting range and a 70 car garage to house the President's fleet of exotic cars.
And while this level of corruption and theft is truly shocking on its own, the story of what's gone on with the President's son Olek might make your stomach churn. At 41 years old, Oleksandr Yanukovych is the eldest son of President Viktor Yanukovych and his wife Lyudmyla. Before his family entered politics, Olek graduated from Donetsk National University with a degree in dentistry. The elder Yanukovych's first time as Prime Minister lasted from 2002 to 2007, with a one year interruption when the Orange Revolution briefly gave new hope that Ukraine would reform to more Western political standards. After that pesky revolution was stamped out, Viktor began consolidating power as he prepared to "run" for President. In order consolidate power, in 2006 Viktor and his son formed a business called "Management Assets Corporation, LLC", commonly referred to as The MAKO Group. The younger Yanukovych was put in charge of the LLC which by 2009 listed assets with a total value of $7 million. This alone should have raised eyebrows considering at the time Viktor's only income outside his Prime Minister salary was a $24,000 annual military pension.
Viktor Yanukovych became President of Ukraine on February 25, 2010. One of his first moves, as we described in yesterday's article, was to commandeer the 350 acre, $100 million public park as his privately owned personal residence. Next, Viktor moved to privatize dozens more government businesses, resources and real estate. And guess which firm was first in line whenever a state-owned asset was privatized? The MAKO Group. Whenever the government offered a lucrative contract to build a road or a hospital or a shopping center… guess which firm won the bid? The MAKO Group.
After Viktor Yanukovych had spent just one year as President, The MAKO Group had magically grown from having a half dozen employees and $7 million in assets, to owning 16 major business enterprises with 700 employees in three different countries and $212 million in assets.
In January of 2011, Oleksandr magically acquired a 100% ownership stake in the Ukrainian Bank of Development (UBD). Before taking over, the bank was coincidentally controlled by the mother of one of Viktor's biggest political allies. Between April 2009 and September 2013, UBD's assets grew from $9 million to $900 million USD. In February 2012, Ukrainian government employees may have noticed that their checks were no longer being paid through the government owned Ukreximbank, but instead through the privately owned UBD. In November 2013, the state-owned Odesa Railway took out a $100 million line of credit that paid a 10.5% annual interest from UBD. That same year, the MAKO Group was awarded the rights to operate one of Ukraine's largest coal mining and enrichment operations. No money was exchanged at all. There are literally dozens, perhaps hundreds, of examples just like this. Also, the fact that the Yanukovych family controls all law enforcement, court systems and tax offices in Ukraine, hasn't exactly hurt business.
Today The MAKO Group controls more than 20 businesses in a wide variety of industries. MAKO owns banks, insurance companies, state TV/media, construction firms, investment houses, real estate, fast food restaurants and even a winery. As for Oleksandr Yanukovych, today he is personally worth an estimated $510 million. Not bad for a dentist who just a few years ago earned $1,166 a month cleaning gums and fixing teeth.
So what does President Viktor Yanukovych have to say about his son's magical five year rise from lowly dentist to one of the 100 wealthiest people in Ukraine? Not much. Viktor so far has basically just shrugged his shoulders. The family denies that there's been any preferential treatment but at the same time, Forbes Ukraine is quick to point out that in 2013 the MAKO Group managed to win at least 50% of all state business proposals. Oleksandr has never personally addressed the press, despite being ostensibly the largest government contractor in Ukraine. Oh and one more side note, in the time that Viktor Yanukovych has been President, somehow 26 Ukrainian Parliament Members have amassed a combined fortune of $9.5 billion.
So just to re-cap, the 41 year old son of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych transformed himself from a humble dentist to a business tycoon with $500 million in the bank in under five years. Now hopefully you understand why the citizens of Ukraine are so upset. As of this writing (11:50 am PST on February 21, 2014), Viktor Yanukovych has announced his intentions to cooperate with protesters after facing a global backlash from rival world leaders and threats of widespread sanctions. Most insiders believe Russia is pulling the strings to make the truce happen, so I wouldn't celebrate quite yet. If a miracle occurs and Yanukovych steps down, how will Oleksandr's business empire be affected? Also, will Viktor be allowed to keep his $100 million palatial lakefront estate? Stay tuned…