Prosecutor General Lutsenko’s ‘facts’ don’t hold up to scrutiny
Editor's Note: The following is a summary of Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko’s talking points at the 14th annual Yalta European Strategy forum on Sept. 16. His comments were fact-checked by the Kyiv Post.
Yuriy Lutsenko: “We have carried out a thorough overhaul of the prosecution service, cut its staff by a fourth, doubled their wages and opened prosecutors' jobs to those who had never worked there.”
Fact Check: A competition for local prosecutors' jobs carried out in 2015 was effectively blocked by then-prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, with 84 top local prosecutors keeping their jobs as a result. Lutsenko held competitions for about 600 rank-and-file jobs last year but failed to hold competitions for top local, regional and nationwide prosecutorial jobs, as he promised before, with corrupt and discredited prosecutorial establishment still holding sway.
Lutsenko: “As long as I'm prosecutor general, not a single person will hide behind their government position or party if there is sound evidence.”
Fact Check: There are many examples of powerful people accused of high corruption who have nothing to fear from Ukrainian prosecutors. Some of the most notable include billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, who allegedly stole $5 billion from the now nationalized Privatbank, ex-lawmaker Mykola Martynenko, accused of stealing $17 million in the sale of Kazakh uranium ore to a state-owned firm; Mykola Zlochevsky, a former ecology minister accused of giving state gas extraction licenses to his firms, while $35 million found in his U.K. bank account; settled on tax evasion charges; and on and on and on, in many sectors.
Lutsenko himself acknowledges $40 billion was stolen from the state during ex-president Viktor Yanukovych's rule from 2010–2014, but only $1.5 billion was recovered, and that amount by dubious legal means.
Two more examples: The Interior Ministry’s State Secretary Oleksiy Takhtai negotiated a corrupt deal in a video with a person who has already been convicted for the deal. The video footage has been recorded by the Security Service of Ukraine and has been recognized by courts as genuine. However, Takhtai has not been charged in any criminal case.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko on May 16 published the text of what he says is a draft parliament motion to strip Yuriy Boyko, the leader of the Opposition Bloc, of his immunity from criminal prosecution. Leshchenko said the motion was blocked first by Shokin and then by Lutsenko. In any case, nobody has been convicted of any crime. Lutsenko: “As prosecutor general, I asked my colleagues in parliament to create chambers in the capital and regional centers where new (anti-corruption) judges will be selected through open competitions with the participation of NGOS,” he said. “…The plan of (President Petro) Poroshenko and (ex-u.s. Secretary of State John) Kerry (on anti-corruption courts) is closer to me.”
Fact Check: The bill on anti-corruption judges that Lutsenko supports has been sponsored by Serhiy Alexeyev, a lawmaker from the president's bloc. Non-governmental organizations say that competitions envisaged by the bill will not be transparent and open. Until such competitions are held, incumbent judges of Ukraine’s discredited and corrupt judiciary will choose anti-corruption judges from among themselves, which may continue for a long period of time, according to the bill. At appeal courts, there will be no competitions at all, with anti-corruption judges chosen by incumbent judges.
Lutsenko also manipulated a statement by Kerry that all courts in the United States are “anti-corruption courts”, claiming that he supported Poroshenko. In fact, Kerry's statement was a critique of Poroshenko's refusal to create independent anti-corruption courts.
Lutsenko: "We have created an Inspectorate General that is eliminating corruption within the system."
Fact Check: The Inspectorate General, created in 2016, has the authority to investigate only rank-and-file prosecutors, while the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine investigates all mid-level and top prosecutors. The
inspectorate has kept a low profile, and the Kyiv Post has not found evidence of its achievements so far. The Prosecutor General’s Office could not immediately comment on the issue.
Lutsenko: "We might get rid of our investigative functions by the end of this year. We have also created prosecutorial self-regulating bodies."
Fact Check: Ukrainian authorities have so far failed to strip the Prosecutor General's Office of its investigative functions and transfer them to a newly-created State Investigation Bureau since a law on the bureau was passed by parliament in November 2015. Andriy Sliusar, an expert at the Reanimation Package of Reforms, said that, given the slow speed at which the bureau is being created, it will be set up by November 2018 “in the best case scenario.”
Moreover, controversial loyalists of the government are leading in the competition for the bureau's top jobs, which is rife with allegations of political influence and legal violations.
Lutsenko's critics also argue that prosecutorial self-regulating bodies, which approve appointments and dismissals, are blocking the cleansing of the prosecution service because they are run by old corrupt prosecutorial cadres. Lutsenko: “This month we will send to trial the case against the organizers of Euromaidan murders.”
Fact Check: Sergii Gorbatuk, head of the in absentia trials department at the Prosecutor General’s Office, has argued that the cases cannot be sent to trial because Ukrainian authorities have so far failed to bring legislation on in absentia trials in line with international standards.
Lutsenko: “We have returned $1.5 billion of (ex-president Viktor) Yanukovych's mafia to the budget.”
Fact Check. In March the Kramatorsk City Court concluded a plea bargain with Arkady Kashkin, the nominal owner of a firm linked to Yanukovych ally Serhiy Kurchenko. The plea bargain allowed the court to confiscate the funds. But critics have dismissed the confiscation hearings as a political show trial. Both the investigation and the trial were conducted in secret and in just two weeks.
The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Kramatorsk City Court have refused to publish the ruling, in what critics believe to be an effort to conceal violations of the law and behind-closed-door deals.
Among others things, the confiscated funds were spent on Poroshenko’s ally, the agribusiness tycoon Yuriy Kosyuk, who got 42 percent of all agricultural subsidies allocated by the government from January to June.
Lutsenko: “Over the past year, we have detained 6,931 suspects in bribery cases. Of these, 3,934 are on trial.”
Fact Check: The problem is that top officials are usually released on bail and are almost never convicted. During the first six months of 2017, 74 people were convicted to prison terms for corruption, according to the Nashi Hroshi watchdog. Of these, 65 may be re-considered or canceled by appellate courts. Of the nine whose verdict is final, the biggest term, 5.5 years, was given to a minor bank executive.
Lutsenko: “Privatization is the only way to get rid of (state) companies, which are the source of political corruption.”
Fact Check: The Poroshenko Bloc faction, which was headed by Lutsenko in 2014 to 2016, and its allies in parliament have blocked privatization since 2014. Ihor Kononenko, a leading member of the faction, faces accusations of profiteering from many state firms, which he denies.
Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych testifies at Kyiv's Svyatoshinsky Court on Nov. 25, 2016, in the case into the murders of Euromaidan Revolutin demonstrators. (Volodymyr Petrov)