Gen­eral test

The Ukrainian Week - - BRIEFING - Stanislav Ko­zliuk

High-profile ar­rests have been ex­pected for a very long time. For over two years now, Ukraini­ans have been de­mand­ing pun­ish­ment for those in power who were guilty of es­ca­lat­ing events on the Maidan and then the war in Don­bas. The ques­tion “Why aren’t the Re­gion­als be­ing pun­ished?” is hot­ter than ever, and it’s only re­cently that the Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice has tried to an­swer it. Now Olek­sandr Ye­fre­mov, ex-Head of Luhansk Oblast State Ad­min­is­tra­tion, then First Deputy Head of the Party of Re­gions and gen­er­ally one of the more odi­ous ex-Re­gion­als, is sit­ting in jail await­ing trial.

“I want to cry with all my heart that I’m not guilty,” Olek­sandr Ye­fre­mov whines from his cell in the stuffy hall. “It’s im­pos­si­ble when the en­tire state ma­chine is work­ing against you.” The one­time head of the Party of the Re­gions fac­tion in the Verkhovna Rada is now the #1 sus­pect in a case over sep­a­ratism.

Ye­fre­mov is un­likely to get used to be­ing in the de­fen­dant’s seat. In win­ter 2014-15, when Vik­tor Shokin was the Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral, they tried to ar­rest him for the show-of-hands vote on the “dra­co­nian laws” on Jan­uary 16, 2014. At that time, Ye­fre­mov was in­crim­i­nated for over­step­ping his au­thor­ity and stir­ring in­ter-eth­nic en­mity. But by Fe­bru­ary, he was re­leased un­der bail and fit­ted with an elec­tronic bracelet. Later, the fine print in Ukrainian laws al­lowed Ye­fre­mov to get

rid of even that, get back his pass­port and freely move around in Ukraine.

Later he was jailed once again. On July 30, 2016, at 07:28, he was re­moved from an Aus­trian Air­lines flight en­route to Vi­enna and ar­rested right in Bo­ryspil Air­port. This time, he was ac­cused by the Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral of far more se­ri­ous crimes: act­ing in a way to change the ter­ri­to­rial bound­aries of Ukraine, pro­vid­ing or­ga­ni­za­tional and other sup­port at the time when LNR was emerg­ing, and, for the ic­ing on the cake, of steal­ing as­sets be­long­ing to Luhan­skVuhillia, the re­gional coal as­so­ci­a­tion.

Had the ac­cu­sa­tions been lim­ited to just this last item, Mr. Ye­fre­mov might have eas­ily ex­pected that he would once again be re­leased on bail and the fa­mil­iar lit­tle bracelet on his arm. How­ever, in­fring­ing on the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of the coun­try was a far more se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tion. At this point, there was no al­ter­na­tive to de­ten­tion in a pre-trial fa­cil­ity, known as SIZO in Ukrainian. The in­trigu­ing ques­tion at the court hear­ing this time was just one: Would the for­mer PR leader walk free this time and how would he man­age that? There were two pos­si­ble op­tions: vi­o­la­tions of pro­ce­dure dur­ing the ar­rest of the politi­cian which would al­low the in­fa­mous Pech­ersk Court to let the sus­pect go free, or a sim­ple de­lay in the process. In the sec­ond case, the lawyers had to drag the court hear­ing out un­til the morn­ing of Au­gust 2. That would pass the 72-hour time limit dur­ing which pre­ven­tive mea­sures with re­gard to the sus­pect needed to be de­cided and Ye­fre­mov would then be free as the wind in the Luhansk steppes.

For the PGO, this ar­rest was an all-or-noth­ing move. If it won, that is, if it got to ar­rest the odi­ous Re­gional, the PGO could get to wear a big star for “down­ing a pi­lot” and show every­one who had ac­cused it of do­ing noth­ing to in­ves­ti­gate so many cases re­lated to sep­a­ratism, that it had put a blue-and-white politi­cian be­hind bars. In other words, “We may be work­ing slowly, but we’re work­ing. Ex­pect more ar­rests.”

But if the PGO lost and Ye­fre­mov was re­leased, there would not have been enough fin­gers on the hands in all four sides of the court­room to cal­cu­late the loss of rep­u­ta­tion of the gov­ern­ment in gen­eral and Yuriy Lut­senko as the new Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral in par­tic­u­lar. What’s more, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko’s op­po­nents would have a great ex­cuse to get into fights on tele­vi­sion talk-shows. So the ar­rest and pun­ish­ment of Ye­fre­mov is a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple and a case that will boost all kinds of rat­ings.

His lawyers de­cided to drag things out. In the hear­ing hall, they con­fi­dently in­sisted that the Prose­cu­tor’s re­quest to ar­rest Ye­fre­mov was granted only the day be­fore the court hear­ing, on July 31 in the evening. So, as they put it, they hadn’t had enough time to agree to a strat­egy for their de­fen­dant and to over­come this er­ror they would need at least three hours just to fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with the ma­te­ri­als in the case. The court sus­tained this de­mand but lim­ited the lawyers to just 40 min­utes.

This was prob­a­bly the first hint that “cut­ting a deal” with the jus­tice sys­tem did not work this time. So it looks as though the PGO has ac­tu­ally man­aged to put to­gether some more-or-less se­ri­ous ev­i­dence of Ye­fre­mov’s guilt in events from two years ago. Here, there is his likely role in the takeover of Oblast State Ad­min­is­tra­tion and SBU build­ings in Luhansk (see The sur­ren­der of Luhansk SBU at ukraini­an­ for more de­tails), and in or­ga­niz­ing demon­stra­tions in sup­port of Don­bas join­ing Rus­sia.

Tes­ti­mony about these events be­gan to come from Tor­nado, the scan­dalous vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion, in par­tic­u­lar Mykola Tsukur. They claim that their first tes­ti­mony from 2014 mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared from the mil­i­tary prose­cu­tor’s of­fice. And now the GPO has to re­con­struct them. The Tor­nado wit­nesses also clamed that Ye­fre­mov’s peo­ple tried to ne­go­ti­ate with them, but they re­fused to co­op­er­ate. Not long ago, another ex-PR deputy and Ye­fre­mov’s fel­low home­boy, Volodymyr Landik, showed up again. In his recent com­ments to the press, Landik has openly ac­cused Ye­fre­mov of be­ing a prin­ci­pal in these crimes.

Af­ter the fi­asco of their first de­lay­ing tac­tics, Ye­fre­mov’s lawyers de­cided to try another ap­proach: they pro­posed ex­am­in­ing the ev­i­dence pre­sented to the PGO and, if pos­si­ble, in­ter­ro­gat­ing wit­nesses. This would have meant the court not only work­ing un­til dawn but ac­tu­ally sit­ting with­out in­ter­rup­tion in the court­room for sev­eral days. The folks in the black gowns did not agree to this and re­mained im­pla­ca­ble: the norms of the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­du­ral Code stated that when se­lect­ing pre­ven­tive mea­sures, there was no obli­ga­tion to en­gage in a de­tailed re­view of the ma­te­ri­als of the case. At this, the court with­drew to the de­lib­er­a­tion cham­bers. It be­came clear that, un­less Ye­fre­mov sud­denly be­came sick and an am­bu­lance ap­peared on the scene, by evening he would be in an SBU de­ten­tion cell.

Perhaps the sit­u­a­tion would have changed had there been any as­so­ciates of the Luhansk Re­gional, but not one PR or Op­po­si­tion Bloc deputy showed up. At pre­vi­ous hear­ings, Ye­fre­mov’s sup­port group in­cluded Natalia Korolevska, Yuriy Voro­payev, Te­tiana Bakhteyeva, and Mykhailo Dobkin, but this time the “boss of Luhansk Coun­try” was left pretty much on his own with the pros­e­cu­tors. The over­whelm­ing im­pres­sion was that his for­mer com­rades had de­cided to write off their col­league. In­stead, the room was filled with his op­po­nents: Nar­o­d­niy Front’s An­driy Le­vus and Yuriy Bereza, Samopomich’s Se­men Se­menchenko and Svo­boda’s Yuriy Levchenko. There were also rank-and-file ac­tivists from Ai­dar and Dnipro-1 batal­lions. Were the court to rule in fa­vor of Ye­fre­mov, they had sim­ply threat­ened not let him out of the room.

So far, things have not turned vi­o­lent. The ex-PR leader in the Rada has been sen­tenced to two months in the SIZO, which he will prob­a­bly spend in an SBU cell. His lawyers are pre­par­ing an ap­peal, but have not named a spe­cific date so far. They only said that they would be pre­pared to say something spe­cific af­ter Au­gust 5, when they see the en­tire text of the court rul­ing. How­ever, the boss man of Luhansk has lit­tle rea­son to feel op­ti­mistic: be­cause this is case is in­tended to be a demon­stra­tion, the de­ci­sions of the low­est court will, of course, re­main in force. As for Ukraini­ans, they can prob­a­bly get ready to en­joy the show­case trial of a top­tier politi­cian from Party of the Re­gions.


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