Son of Avakov, na­tion’s top cop, ac­cused in ma­jor theft

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLEG SUKHOV SUKHOV@KYIVPOST.COM

The Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine on Oct. 31 ar­rested the son of In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov, who is ar­guably the na­tion’s sec­ond most pow­er­ful per­son af­ter President Petro Poroshenko.

The ar­rest is the NABU’s most high-pro­file anti-graft raid since the de­ten­tion of State Fis­cal Ser­vice Chief Ro­man Nasirov in March and ex-Peo­ple’s Front party law­maker Mykola Mar­ty­nenko in April.

Avakov’s son Olek­sandr, ex-Deputy In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ser­hiy Che­b­o­tar and IT firm Tur­boseo’s CEO Volodymyr Lytvyn are ac­cused of em­bez­zling Hr 14 mil­lion in a case re­lated to the sup­ply of over­priced back­packs to the In­te­rior Min­istry. The sus­pects deny the ac­cu­sa­tions and be­lieve them to be a politi­cal vendetta by the NABU.

The three sus­pects were re­leased with­out bail on Nov. 1. Ex­perts say this case, like many oth­ers, will not lead to any re­sults due to the mas­sive politi­cal in­flu­ence on the ju­di­ciary.

Un­til in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion courts are cre­ated, such cases will in­evitably be buried by Ukraine’s cor­rupt and politi­cized courts, anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists say.

The Olek­sandr Avakov case is also seen as a re­sult of an on­go­ing power strug­gle be­tween Avakov and Poroshenko, who wants to con­trol the pow­er­ful min­is­ter.

Mean­while, the back­pack sup­ply scheme is just the tip of an ice­berg, with nu­mer­ous me­dia in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Avakov’s al­leged cor­rup­tion still be­ing ig­nored by law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Igor Lut­senko, a law­maker from the 20-mem­ber Batkivshchyna Party, said on Face­book that Avakov should be sus­pended from his job dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But Anas­ta­sia Kras­nosil­ska, an ex­pert at the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter, told the Kyiv Post there’s “zero chance” that Avakov would be sus­pended or would step down.

Politi­cal in­ter­fer­ence

Kyiv's Solomyan­sky Court was ini­tially re­luc­tant to con­sider the case on Oct. 31, say­ing its work­ing day was over. On Nov. 1, it made a bizarre de­ci­sion to re­lease the sus­pects with­out any bail, which was seen by crit­ics as a sign of politi­cal in­ter­fer­ence in the ju­di­ciary.

More­over, the rul­ing can­not even be ap­pealed due to le­gal tech­ni­cal­i­ties.

The hear­ing was at­tended by dozens of cam­ou­flaged sup­port­ers of Avakov, who were dis­parag­ingly called “ti­tushki”, or pro-govern­ment thugs, by his op­po­nents. Lawyer Yevhe­nia Zakrevska said it was pres­sure on the court.

Anti- cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tor Olek­sandr Sne­giryov said at the hear­ing that ti­tushki and po­lice had pre­vented NABU de­tec­tives from search­ing Avakov’s of­fices in Kharkiv. Na­tional Guards and po­lice were also brought to the NABU build­ing in Kyiv.

Law­maker Sergii Leshchenko said on Face­book that the NABU had been ready to charge Olek­sandr Avakov in early 2017, but Chief Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor Nazar Kholod­nyt­sky had been drag­ging his feet on ap­prov­ing the no­tice of sus­pi­cion for him. Kholod­nyt­sky, who is ac­cused of be­ing in­flu­enced by the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tions, au­tho­rized it only now amid a con­flict be­tween Poroshenko and Avakov, Leshchenko added.

The back­pack case was in­ves­ti­gated by the mil­i­tary pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice start­ing from 2015 and was trans­ferred to the NABU in 2016. How­ever, first mil­i­tary pros­e­cu­tors and then Kholod­nyt­sky blocked it un­til now, Olek­sandr Le­menov, an anti-cor­rup­tion ex­pert at the Rean­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­forms, told the Kyiv Post.

Avakov with­drew Na­tional Guard troops and po­lice from a protest tent camp in front of the Verkhovna Rada on Oct. 31 in what some in­ter­preted as ei­ther re­luc­tance to pro­tect Poroshenko’s in­ter­ests or de­sire to use the troops to pro­tect his son. Poroshenko has been un­happy with Avakov for fail­ing to pre­vent his op­po­nent Mikheil Saakashvili’s re-en­try into the coun­try in Septem­ber and dis­perse pro­test­ers in front of the Rada, ac­cord­ing to sources cited by the Ukrain­ska Pravda on­line news­pa­per.

“Poroshenko wants to keep Avakov on a hook to force him to be ‘friendly’,” Le­menov said.

Per­va­sive cor­rup­tion

Video footage has been pub­lished on the In­ter­net where Olek­sandr Avakov and Che­b­o­tar dis­cuss an al­legedly cor­rupt scheme to sup­ply back­packs to the Na­tional Guard in Che­b­o­tar’s of­fice. Since the Na­tional Guard is in­volved in the war with Rus­sia, the case is seen as an ex­am­ple of war prof­i­teer­ing.

Mean­while, in a video recorded by the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine and rec­og­nized by courts as gen­uine, Che­b­o­tar, the In­te­rior Min­istry’s State Sec­re­tary Olek­siy Takhtai and state firm Spetsvervis CEO Va­syl Petrivsky, an ex-aide to Avakov, ne­go­ti­ate a cor­rupt deal to sell sand at a rigged auc­tion in Che­b­o­tar’s of­fice.

In the video, Che­b­o­tar says that Avakov is also aware of the deal and is wor­ried that the sand has not been sold yet. Petrivsky has pled guilty and has been con­victed in a theft case for sell­ing the sand. Avakov de­nies graft ac­cu­sa­tions, while Che­b­o­tar has re­signed amid graft scan­dals.

The video about the sand scheme ap­pears to be part of the same footage as the video that fea­tures dis­cus­sions on back­pack sup­plies.

The NABU is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing Avakov’s deputy Vadym Troyan over video footage where peo­ple re­sem­bling Troyan and Che­b­o­tar dis­cuss cor­rupt rev­enues from the traf­fic po­lice and ex­tort­ing money from busi­ness­peo­ple. Troyan de­nies ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion.

Troyan’s house was searched in July as part of a bribery case. The Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine and pros­e­cu­tors said that three as­so­ciates of Troyan had been ar­rested for ex­tort­ing a Hr 1.5 mil­lion bribe, while he had noth­ing to do with the bribery. The state­ment was seen by Troyan’s crit­ics as an ef­fort to let him es­cape punishment.

The Novoye Vre­mya mag­a­zine has pub­lished an in­ves­ti­ga­tion on al­leged tax eva­sion in nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion pro­jects by Avakov — ac­cu­sa­tions that Avakov de­nies.

Mean­while, Avakov’s top ally and law­maker Ihor Kotvit­sky is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the NABU over an un­de­clared trans­fer of $40 mil­lion to Panama.

In 2015 Leshchenko also pub­lished a doc­u­ment ac­cord­ing to which Avakov is iden­ti­fied as Ital­ian com­pany Avi­talia’s president as of April 30, 2015. Ukrainian law bans min­is­ters from si­mul­ta­ne­ously work­ing as busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives. Ac­cord­ing to Avakov’s prop­erty dec­la­ra­tion, the min­is­ter owns 100 per­cent in Avi­talia.

Pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions

Avakov was ac­cused of large-scale cor­rup­tion when he was gov­er­nor of his na­tive Kharkiv Oblast in 2005 to 2010.

In 2012 the Pros­e­cu­tor General’s Of­fice charged Avakov with abuse of power and il­le­gally pri­va­tiz­ing land worth Hr 5.5 mil­lion. Avakov then called the case politi­cal per­se­cu­tion by then President Vik­tor Yanukovych and his al­lies and fled to Italy.

Af­ter Avakov be­came in­te­rior min­is­ter in Fe­bru­ary 2014, the case was closed, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors who were pur­su­ing it were fired.

In 2008 Avakov’s ally-turned-op­po­nent Gen­nady Kernes, now mayor of Kharkiv, ac­cused Avakov of killing his busi­ness part­ner Olek­sandr Kono­valov and seiz­ing his as­sets — a claim de­nied by Avakov. He was in­ves­ti­gated in the case but it has seen no progress.

In April 2014 hard­line na­tion­al­ist Olek­sandr Muzy­chko was killed dur­ing a stand­off with the po­lice. The po­lice said he had been shot for re­sist­ing ar­rest, while the Rivne and Lutsk city coun­cils passed res­o­lu­tions rec­og­niz­ing it as a politi­cal mur­der and blamed it on Avakov, who de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Olek­sandr Avakov, son of In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov, sits at a hear­ing on his ar­rest at Kyiv's Solomyan­sky Court on Nov. 1. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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