Stolen from Ukraine: As US charges Manafort, Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties do noth­ing, as usual

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLEG SUKHOV AND VERONIKA MELKOZEROVA SUKHOV@KYIVPOST.COM AND MELKOZEROVA@KYIVPOST.COM

The con­trast could not have been starker.

U.S. law en­forcers, in a blaze of public­ity on Oct. 30, in­dicted Paul Manafort, an ex-ad­viser to ousted Ukrainian President Vik­tor Yanukovych and ex-cam­paign man­ager to U. S. President Don­ald J. Trump, on charges that he laun­dered at least $18 mil­lion out of $75 mil­lion in ill-got­ten gains from Ukraine.

Mean­while, in the of­fices of Ukrainian in­ves­ti­ga­tors, pros­e­cu­tors have failed to file any charges re­lated to Manafort, even though there is ev­i­dence the U.S. con­sul­tant ac­cepted mil­lions in se­cret pay­ments and was in­volved in shady busi­ness deal­ings in Ukraine for years.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­leged “Black Ledger” of $2 bil­lion in il­le­gal pay­ments by Yanukovych’s Party of Re­gions, in which Manafort is men­tioned, has ef­fec­tively stalled. Only one top Yanukovych-era of­fi­cial, ex-Jus­tice Min­is­ter Olek­sandr Lavrynovych, is cur­rently on trial for cor­rup­tion. No Yanukovych-regime of­fi­cials have been con­victed since the former president fled for Rus­sia in 2014, de­spite $40 bil­lion be­ing stolen dur­ing his four years in power.

The case against the or­ga­niz­ers of the po­lice sniper mur­ders of at least 100 EuroMaidan pro­test­ers in 2014 has not even been sent to trial, and only one per­son is in jail for crimes against EuroMaidan demon­stra­tors.

Fruit­less ef­forts

In con­trast with the U.S., Ukrainian in­ves­ti­ga­tors, pros­e­cu­tors and courts are in­ca­pable of in­ves­ti­gat­ing and con­vict­ing cor­rupt of­fi­cials due to per­va­sive graft, in­com­pe­tence and politi­cal in­flu­ence, an­a­lysts say.

The only pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion is the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of

Ukraine, but its ef­forts are ul­ti­mately fruit­less due to the lack of in­de­pen­dent courts in Ukraine.

“In the U.S., within a few months a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor brings con­crete well-founded charges against Manafort, con­firm­ing cash flows through his off­shore ac­counts,” Daria Kale­niuk, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter, told the Kyiv Post. “In Ukraine, more than a year af­ter the 'Black Ledger' in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan, the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice can’t bring charges against a sin­gle sus­pect for whom there is ev­i­dence col­lected by the NABU, and de­cides to send the ' Black Ledger' in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the grave­yard of crim­i­nal cases: the Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Of­fice.”

Olek­sandr Le­menov, an anti-cor­rup­tion ex­pert at the Rean­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­forms think tank, told the Kyiv Post that com­par­ing U.S. and Ukrainian law en­force­ment was like com­par­ing cheap Ukrainian Lanos cars to “a brand-new Fer­rari.”

“First, they have com­pletely in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors and courts, and we don’t,” he said. “Sec­ond, they have more re­sources for in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

No charges

Ukraine’s Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Of­fice has so far brought no charges against Manafort.

The U. S. politi­cal con­sul­tant is part of two in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Ukraine, ac­cord­ing to Sergii Gor­batuk, head of the in ab­sen­tia cases unit at the Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Of­fice. One is the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of em­bez­zle­ment at the Jus­tice Min­istry. The sec­ond is the case of the "Black Ledger," ac­cord­ing to which Manafort got $12.7 mil­lion from the Party of Re­gions.

The "Black Ledger" doc­u­ments list a to­tal of $2 bil­lion in bribes and il­licit pay­ments al­legedly handed out by the party. In the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, pros­e­cu­tors have only filed no­tices of sus­pi­cion for ex-Party of Re­gions law­maker Vi­taly Ka­lyuzhny and his brother, while the Na­tional An­tiCor­rup­tion Bureau has filed a no­tice of sus­pi­cion for Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion chair­man Mykhailo Okhen­dovsky.

Manafort's name also comes up in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Jus­tice Min­istry’s se­cret fi­nanc­ing of a U.S. law firm to fal­sify a 2011 re­port jus­ti­fy­ing the po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated case against ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, Gor­batuk said.

In that case, pros­e­cu­tors have filed no­tices of sus­pi­cion for former Jus­tice Min­is­ter Olek­sandr Lavrynovych, his deputy, and the Jus­tice Min­istry’s former ac­coun­tant. Gor­batuk said that Ukrainian pros­e­cu­tors sought to get Manafort to tes­tify in the case, but didn't suc­ceed.

U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tors say that Manafort lob­bied mem­bers of U.S Congress to per­suade them that the Ty­moshenko case was law­ful.

“We sent a re­quest to the U. S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, in­form­ing them we needed to call Manafort in for ques­tion­ing (as a wit­ness), back in 2015, but got no re­sponse,” Gor­batuk said.

Af­ter Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016, Ukraine’s Chief Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor Nazar Kholod­nyt­skiy said there were no grounds to press charges against Manafort be­cause his sig­na­tures were not present in the "Black Ledger."

“Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties are try­ing to for­get (Manafort’s) name so as not to anger Trump,” law­maker Sergii Leshchenko told the Kyiv Post.

Cases stalled

In June the "Black Ledger" case was sent from the NABU to Gor­batuk’s depart­ment. This was seen by crit­ics as an ef­fort to bury the in­ves­ti­ga­tion through heavy politi­cal in­flu­ence on pros­e­cu­tors. But Gor­batuk said that the case “had not been lost yet.”

“As soon as we un­cover crimes and gather ev­i­dence, we will send more no­tices of sus­pi­cion,” he said. “If we don’t un­cover crimes, there will be no no­tices and no ar­rests.”

More­over, in June the anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice sus­pended the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion chair­man Mykhailo Okhen­dovsky. The of­fice claimed that it was nec­es­sary to prove not only the fact that Okhen­dovsky took money, but also the fact that he used his po­si­tion to act in the in­ter­ests of the per­son giv­ing the bribe.

Okhen­dovsky was charged by the NABU in De­cem­ber 2016 with re­ceiv­ing bribes worth $100,000 in 2010 and $61,000 in 2012 from the Party of Re­gions, based on the ev­i­dence of the "Black Ledger." A hand­writ­ing foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion had proved the au­then­tic­ity of Okhen­dovsky’s sig­na­ture un­der the pay­ment in the ledger, NABU de­tec­tives said.

Leshchenko and Le­menov ac­cuse Kholod­nyt­sky of stalling the Okhen­dovsky case due to pres­sure from President Petro Poroshenko, who needs Okhen­dovsky to re­main in his job. Kholod­nyt­sky and Poroshenko deny the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Judges of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court re­ceived $6 mil­lion from the Party of Re­gions for de­ci­sions that helped Yanukovych usurp power, ac­cord­ing to records in the Black Ledger. But the Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Of­fice has failed to charge any of the judges for usurpa­tion of power or named them in any bribery cases so far.

No progress

Al­though the NABU is pur­su­ing cases against top in­cum­bent of­fi­cials, they are go­ing nowhere due to the lack of in­de­pen­dent courts in Ukraine. In a shock­ing de­ci­sion, Kyiv’s Solomyan­sky Court on Nov. 1 re­leased In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov’s son Olek­sandr in a graft case with­out bail.

State Fis­cal Ser­vice Chief Ro­man Nasirov was ar­rested and charged with graft by the NABU in March, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him was com­pleted in July. But the case has not been sent to trial yet, and Nasirov has not even been fired from his job. Ex-Peo­ple’s Front Party law­maker Mykola Mar­ty­nenko was ar­rested in a graft case in April but the case has not been sent to court so far.

Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion chair­man Mykhailo Okhen­dovsky, a sus­pect in a bribery case, sits in Kyiv’s Solomyan­sky Court on Dec. 21, 2016. (UNIAN)

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