Lut­senko’s dis­mal record at odds with his boasts

Kyiv Post - - Na­tional - BY OK­SANA GRYT­SENKO AND OLEG SUKHOV GRYT­SENKO@KYIV­POST.COM SUKHOV@KYIV­POST.COM Guards of the Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral's Of­fice spray wa­ter at a pro­tester through doors bro­ken in scuf­fles. Demon­stra­tors clashed with po­lice on Sept. 17 as they protested against t

Sub­jected to a po­lit­i­cal trial in 2012, then-op­po­si­tion politi­cian Yuriy Lut­senko would spit in the face of his pros­e­cu­tors and tell jokes about them while sit­ting in the de­fen­dant’s cage in court.

Fast for­ward six years, one of which Lut­senko spent in prison, and the for­mer de­fen­dant be­comes the ac­cuser.

Hav­ing now been Ukraine’s prose­cu­tor gen­eral for 2.5 years, Lut­senko of­ten claims he and his al­lies have man­aged to cre­ate a new, Euro­pean-stan­dard law en­force­ment sys­tem, re­turn money stolen by ousted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, and bring to jus­tice thou­sands of cor­rupt of­fi­cials.

“Let’s stop the empty talk that noth­ing is chang­ing,” he said at the Yalta Euro­pean Strat­egy or YES con­fer­ence on Sept. 15 in Kyiv, slam­ming his crit­ics for play­ing on the is­sue for po­lit­i­cal gain.

But the facts show that Lut­senko’s words are mostly empty.

Ukraine still ranks as the most cor­rupt coun­try in Europe after Rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to the 2017 Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tion In­dex, in which it scored a dis­mal 30 points out of 100.

In the four years since the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion that ended Yanukovych's four-year reign, no top of­fi­cials from ei­ther the old or new regimes have gone to jail for cor­rup­tion. Out of hun­dreds of in­flu­en­tial Yanukovych al­lies, only one is un­der ar­rest: ex-law­maker Olek­sandr Ye­fre­mov, who is now kept in a de­ten­tion cen­ter await­ing trial for sep­a­ratism.

Olek­sandr Le­menov, an anti-cor­rup­tion ex­pert at the Rean­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­form non-gov­ern­ment watch­dog, called Lut­senko’s claims about his achieve­ments a “pub­lic re­la­tions binge.”

“A politi­cian has no right be prose­cu­tor gen­eral,” he said.

Speak­ing from the par­lia­ment tri­bune, law­maker Ie­gor Soboliev said on Sept. 18 that Lut­senko had been ap­pointed to the top law en­force­ment post il­le­gally ( Lut­senko has no de­gree in law as re­quired to hold the post, but par­lia­ment voted to re­lax this con­di­tion in his case). Soboliev called on the par­lia­ment to dis­miss Lut­senko for mul­ti­ple vi­o­la­tions and “cov­er­ing for high-level cor­rup­tion” and started col­lect­ing law­mak­ers’ sig­na­tures to ini­ti­ate his res­ig­na­tion.

His grand achieve­ment?

Lut­senko said at the YES con­fer­ence that he had felt “un­com­fort­able” when par­lia­ment had to swiftly change the law to ap­point him prose­cu­tor gen­eral in May 2016. Be­fore his ap­point­ment, Lut­senko headed the dom­i­nant 135seat pro-pres­i­den­tial Bloc of Petro Poroshenko fac­tion in par­lia­ment.

Still, Lut­senko claims that by gain­ing the post he was able to re­turn to Ukraine’s bud­get $1.5 bil­lion in money stolen by Yanukovych from the na­tion.

But what was sup­posed to be the big­gest achieve­ment of the post-EuroMaidan prose­cu­tion ended up in scan­dal, when the Doha, Qatar-based news or­ga­ni­za­tion Al Jazeera pub­lished in Jan­uary a se­cret rul­ing of Kram­a­torsk City Court.

It re­vealed that money con­fis­cated from off­shore ac­counts likely be­long­ing to Yanukovych’s ally, oli­garch Ser­hiy Kurchenko, were laun­dered with the me­di­a­tion of Ukrainian in­vest­ment bank ICU, which also pro­vides ser­vices to Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, who ap­pointed Lut­senko.

More­over, anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists ar­gue that the rul­ing on con­fis­ca­tion didn’t have the re­quired ev­i­dence or le­gal grounds. So Ukraine may end up hav­ing to re­turn the con­fis­cated money to the off­shore firms.

Daria Kale­niuk, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter and law­maker Sergii Leshchenko called on Lut­senko to re­sign in the wake of the scan­dal.

Lucky un­touch­ables

Lut­senko said at the YES con­fer­ence that an­other of his achieve­ments was the “2,200 bribe-tak­ers that were sen­tenced for cor­rup­tion” after EuroMaidan.

He ad­mit­ted, how­ever, that un­der new laws reg­u­lar pros­e­cu­tors can in­ves­ti­gate of­fi­cials no higher than deputy gover­nor. It’s up to the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to in­ves­ti­gate top -rank­ing of­fi­cials, he said.

But in fact NABU can only in­ves­ti­gate of­fi­cials, while it's still up to Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral's Of­fice and the Na­tional Po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in Ukraine -- the oli­garchs and their cronies. De­spite mas­sive ev­i­dence of cor­rup­tion and other wrong­do­ing, the coun­try’s heavy­weights are es­cap­ing charges.

One of them is oli­garch Dmytro Fir­tash, who is based in Austria and faces U.S. bribery charges.

Fir­tash, who de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing, has been ac­cused of si­phon­ing mas­sive amounts of the na­tion’s wealth by sell­ing Rus­sian and Turk­men gas in Ukraine through shady in­ter­me­di­aries. How­ever, he has not been charged in any cases in Ukraine.

Mean­while, last year law­maker Leshchenko pub­lished the text of what he says is a draft par­lia­ment mo­tion to strip Yuriy Boyko, the leader of the Op­po­si­tion Bloc and close ally of Fir­tash, of his im­mu­nity from prose­cu­tion in a $700 mil­lion em­bez­zle­ment case. Leshchenko said Lut­senko had blocked the case, although the prose­cu­tor gen­eral de­nied it.

An­other lucky un­touch­able is ty­coon Ihor Kolo­moisky, who also de­nies ac­cu­sa­tions of wrong­do­ing. In Jan­uary a re­port by foren­sic au­di­tor Kroll into Pri­vatBank un­cov­ered a “large-scale and co­or­di­nated fraud” scheme that emp­tied $5.5 bil­lion from the bank’s vaults when the bank was con­trolled by Kolo­moisky. The bank was na­tion­al­ized in 2016.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov, one of the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in the coun­try, has not been charged with any­thing ei­ther de­spite video footage in which his son and sub­or­di­nates dis­cuss a cor­rupt deal and im­pli­cate Avakov him­self.

Prison sen­tences

But even when he plays on what he says is his field, it seems that Lut­senko isn't too hard on the de­fen­dants sus­pected of cor­rup­tion.

The Nashi Hroshi in­ves­tiga­tive web­site, which an­a­lyzed all sen­tences handed down for abuse of power, brib­ing or ac­cept­ing bribes in 2015–2017, found out that the tough­est pun­ish­ment was one-and-a-half years in a de­ten­tion cen­ter. It had been given to a for­mer deputy head of the State Agrar­ian In­spec­tion, Ihor Ne­my­rovsky.

De­spite a court sen­tenc­ing Ne­my­rovsky to 10 years in prison for tak­ing a $30,000 bribe, an ap­peal court later cut the term to three years, and even­tu­ally re­leased him early.

Nashi Hroshi found that over the three years, the most se­nior of­fi­cials pros­e­cuted for cor­rup­tion were ei­ther ac­quit­ted, given a sus­pended sen­tence, con­cluded a plea bar­gain with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, or had their cases sent to the ap­peal courts. No of­fi­cial higher than a deputy min­is­ter or head of a dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion had been pros­e­cuted.

How­ever, in 2017 a doc­tor and two bor­der guards were sen­tenced to be­tween three and five years for tak­ing bribes. Eight peo­ple were also sen­tenced to three to four years for brib­ing po­lice of­fi­cers, bor­der guards or prison of­fi­cers, ac­cord­ing to Nashi Hroshi.

Closed cases

Lut­senko also said at the con­fer­ence that he was ap­palled by a court de­ci­sion in Au­gust to close a crim­i­nal case against the mayor of Kharkiv Hen­nadiy Kernes, who faced charges of kid­nap­ping, tor­tur­ing and threat­en­ing to mur­der EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion ac­tivists. Lut­senko said he had or­dered the open­ing of a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion against the judge who made the rul­ing.

Law­maker Soboliev, how­ever, claimed that Lut­senko had ac­tu­ally helped to have the crim­i­nal case against Kernes closed. “His sub­or­di­nates failed to at­tend the court hear­ings and the court had to close the case,” Soboliev said.

Lut­senko’s of­fice is also mak­ing lit­tle progress in cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions against top of­fi­cials who served un­der Yanukovych. Some of the ma­jor cor­rup­tion cases in­ves­ti­gated by the Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice have been closed. Th­ese in­clude cases against ex-law­maker Yury Ivanyushchenko, Yanukovych’s ex-Deputy Chief of Staff An­driy Port­nov and ex-Ecol­ogy Min­is­ter Mykola Zlochevsky.

While Yanukovych is now on trial in a case on state trea­son, lawyers for the ac­tivists who were killed dur­ing the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion say this trial has lit­tle to do with real jus­tice. They say Yanukovych, who is hid­ing in Rus­sia, will never be ap­pre­hended, and could later chal­lenge his trial in the Euro­pean courts, as pros­e­cu­tors have failed to col­lect strong enough ev­i­dence to prove his guilt.

Fin­ger-point­ing

Lut­senko claimed at the YES con­fer­ence that he can’t bring to jus­tice top-level of­fi­cials, as that is the­job of the NABU, which is over­seen by the Spe­cial­ized Anti-Cor­rup­tion Prose­cu­tor's Of­fice.

“I’m the only prose­cu­tor gen­eral in Europe who has no in­flu­ence on this part of anti-cor­rup­tion work,” Lut­senko said, adding he hopes that in a year NABU will be able to bring at least 20 top of­fi­cials to jus­tice.

But in fact Lut­senko can still in­flu­ence NABU in­ves­ti­ga­tions, be­cause only he can au­tho­rize mo­tions to strip law­mak­ers of im­mu­nity, and be­cause Chief Anti-Cor­rup­tion Prose­cu­tor Nazar Kholod­nyt­sky, who over­sees NABU in­ves­ti­ga­tions, is for­mally one of Lut­senko’s deputies.

And after NABU agents spent months in­ves­ti­gat­ing Dina Pi­makhova, the deputy head of State Mi­gra­tion Ser­vice, who was sus­pected of tak­ing bribes to help a for­eigner ob­tain a Ukrainian pass­port, Lut­senko’s sub­or­di­nates and of­fi­cers of Ukraine’s SBU se­cu­rity ser­vice ar­rested in Novem­ber NABU agents- in­volved in the case.

Lut­senko claimed one of the NABU agents, who was work­ing un­der­cover, had en­trapped Pi­makhova by of­fer­ing her a bribe, which is il­le­gal, while the NABU de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions. With the break­down of the NABU un­der­cover op­er­a­tion, Pi­makhova and other top of­fi­cials from the mi­gra­tion ser­vice have not un­der­gone any fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Lut­senko’s of­fice is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing the head of the NABU, Artem Syt­nyk, claim­ing he shared se­cret in­for­ma­tion with jour­nal­ists dur­ing an off-the-record meet­ing.

Lut­senko said at the YES con­fer­ence that the re­cent de­mands of pros­e­cu­tors for 17 months of data from the cell phones of two in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists, Na­talie Sedlet­ska and Kristina Ber­dyn­skykh, is re­lated to this case. A court met the pros­e­cu­tors’ de­mand, caus­ing a scan­dal, and the rul­ing has been ap­pealed against.

Lut­senko said he only needs to know the date of the in­for­ma­tion leak.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I have to go ahead with this min­i­mal in­ter­fer­ence in the pri­vacy of the jour­nal­ists,” he said.

The Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights, how­ever, found the in­tru­sion ex­ces­sive. On Sept. 18 it banned the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment for a month from ac­cess­ing any data from the phone of Sedlet­ska, who hosts the Schemes in­ves­tiga­tive show, while the court re­views the case.

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