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France probes 4.5-mln-euro theft from Kiev mayor's daughter

16 February 2010, 19:57 CET
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(PARIS) - French police were on Tuesday investigating how jewellery said to be worth 4.5 million euros was stolen from the daughter of the mayor of Kiev during a one-day visit to Paris.

French judicial officials told AFP they had confirmed that the victim of the handbag snatch was indeed Kristina Chernovetska, 30-year-old daughter of Leonid Chernovetsky, the colourful mayor of the Ukrainian capital.

Earlier, one of the mayor's aides had denied the report, which could be embarrassing to Kiev city hall, given the huge value of the jewels that the victim is said to have been carrying.

The chief Ukrainian consular official in Paris, Kostiantyn Kostenko, told AFP: "This is a matter for the French police, it concerns a private citizen."

According to French investigators, speaking on condition of anonymity as is habitual in such cases, Chernovetska arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport at 10:00am Monday for a lay-over of several hours while en route to New York.

She rented a Mercedes and driver and set off to spend some time in Paris, but was caught in heavy traffic on the A1 motorway where it passes through the suburb of Saint-Denis just outside the city proper.

A thief smashed the window of the car and snatched Chernovetska's handbag, dropping around 10,000 dollars in cash as he made his getaway, pursued in vain by the victim's driver, the French officials said.

According to Chernovetska's statement to police, cited by the officials, the bag contained jewels worth 4.5 million euros (6.18 million dollars), or around 26,000 times the average monthly wage of her father's constituents.

French officials said the spot where the theft took place is notorious for such attacks and that the Ukrainian mayor's daughter did not appear to have been specifically targeted.

Earlier, Mayor Chernovetsky's adviser Marta Grimska told the Interfax news agency: "This has nothing to do with Kristina. I think it is a joke and that she has been mixed up with someone, probably someone with a similar name."

Grimska said the mayor's daughter was in Kiev when the robbery took place.

"When I told her about these reports by telephone, she laughed a lot," Grimska also told the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

A hugely controversial figure with many enemies, Chernovetsky senior won the post of mayor in 2006 following a career as a businessman and banker.

Nicknamed "Kosmos" for his increasingly unworldy behaviour, last year he gave a news conference dressed only in swimming trunks and ran a lap around Kiev's Dynamo Stadium in order to show that he was in good health.

In March last year a parliamentary commission probing his reign as mayor advised him to undergo psychiatric tests after antics that included recording a disc of 1980s hits and proposing to auction off his kisses.

Voters may be less amused by his family's apparent wealth, however, with Ukraine having suffered badly in the global crisis -- its economy contracted by about 15 percent in 2009, the economy ministry said Tuesday.

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