Ukraine’s disgraced president, Viktor Yanukovych, used to boast to other heads of state about how corrupt he was, says Georgia’s former president Mikhail Saakashvili.
Yanukovych, who fled from Kiev last weekend and is believed now to be hiding somewhere in the Crimean Peninsula, was known for his thuggish behaviour and obsession with money.
This week the Ukrainian parliament voted to send Yanukovych to the Hague, to face charges before the International Criminal Court, once he is arrested.
He is considered responsible for the killings of more than 100 people - many shot dead by snipers - during the final days of protests that forced him out of office.
The extent of Yanukovych's interest in money was revealed last weekend when his lavish presidential compound outside Kiev was opened to the public.
The comments of Saakashvili suggest the Ukrainian leader was brazen in his abuse of office.
Saakashvili, president of Georgia from 2004 until last November, met Yanukovych on many different occasions.
He recalled one incident in particular, at the 2011 UN general assembly in New York, when he said Yanukovych bragged at length about how his corrupt government worked, in front of Saakashvili and a group of post-Soviet leaders.
“He would talk very loudly about how he had corrupted senior officials, in the supreme court and the constitutional court,” Saakashvili said in Kiev, where he was meeting opposition leaders after Yanukovych’s downfall.
“He didn’t care who he was talking to; the guy did not have any idea about morality.”
Saakashvili said Yanukovych was unique among post-Soviet leaders – even the notoriously ruthless and corrupt central Asian dictators.
“The others might be cynical, but not to the extent of denouncing themselves. I wasn’t that surprised he would do these things, but I was surprised how open he was about it.”
He said Yanukovych took great pleasure in talking about his corruption and judicial abuse. “He would tell me at length about criminal cases.
He would elaborate on every small detail, and was obsessed and fascinated with the fact that he could really play around with the courts.
“It’s a sign of people who have had problems with the law in the past. It’s also a very Soviet mentality; Stalin used to sign the verdict on every serious case.”
Saakashvili said Yanukovych was particularly obsessed with Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was released from jail over the weekend.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of office – charges that many felt were a personal act of revenge by Yanukovych.
“He had a strange obsession with her,” Saakashvili said. “He felt she could never get out of prison or he would be in trouble.
"European politicians used to come to me and say they had achieved agreement that she would be released, and I was amazed. It was clear he was never going to release her.”
Saakashvili swept to power in Georgia after the 2003 rose revolution, and enjoyed a period of successful reforms before he lost popularity and his party lost elections in 2012.
He came to Kiev in December to speak at Independence Square and tell Ukrainians to stand up for their freedoms. He was subsequently put on a blacklist and not allowed to enter the country, but after the fall of Yanukovych he was invited back.
Now he has spoken again at Independence Square and held meetings with Tymoshenko and former boxer Vitali Klitschko, two of the frontrunners to win presidential elections in May. Saakashvili said both had a good chance of winning.
He said he had no sympathy for Yanukovych, and painted a damning picture of him as someone who was always looking to do a deal and make extra money.
“Even when he was not president, at the time when he was still an opposition leader, we were trying to buy a plane from the Ukrainians for government use; it was a particular type of plane but they did not have them in stock.
"When I met with him, he offered to sell me one, as a private deal. He said he had a few of them.” Yanukovych was jailed twice on petty offences during his youth, and Saakashvili said the Ukrainian leader reminded him of the so-called thieves-in-law of the late Soviet period.
“I knew these kinds of criminals from my youth in Georgia, and he was really a reminder from my childhood,” he said.