As an embodiment of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s corruption, evidence of Serhiy Klyuyev’s alleged crimes was known more than a year ago. Yet prosecutors not only moved slowly, they let him get away as Parliament on June 3 finally stripped the lawmaker of his legal immunity from prosecution. Critics say the case – and many others – call into question whether Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and top law enforcers are even trying to fight corruption. More than 15 months after the end of the EuroMaidan Revolution, the record is dismal in solving criminal cases, from murder to multibillion-dollar financial corruption, of the Yanukovych era.
More than 15 months after the EuroMaidan Revolution, Ukraine’s law enforcers have proven themselves to be corrupt or inept while unable to deliver justice.
The scorecard of top former President Viktor Yanukovych officials brought to justice stands at zero. The scorecard of officials on the run from justice or criminal investigations amounts to at least 50 people.
Yet President Petro Poroshenko, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, claimed on June 10 that 2,702 former officials have been convicted of corruption in the last year.
That assertion startled Daria Kalenyuk, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv.
“I think this is a mistake,” Kalenyuk said. “I don’t know who these people are.”
She said it appeared that Poroshenko was stealing a page from Yanukovych, whose administration would add up figures of minor officials caught for smaller-scale theft to make it appear that the corrupt ex-leader was, indeed, battling corruption. Poroshenko’s press office was unable to immediately provide a list of the 2,702 convicted corrupt officials when asked on June 11.
But the case of multimillionaire Serhiy Klyuyev is the one that sparked renewed attention to Ukraine’s broken law enforcement system. Klyuyev is the onetime top ally of Yanukovych and a current member of parliament. He is also the younger brother of Yanukovych’s last chief of staff, Andriy Klyuyev.
Serhiy Klyuyev disappeared the same day that Parliament stripped him of his legal immunity from criminal prosecution on June 3. He is wanted on suspicion of large-scale fraud, abuse of power and other crimes, according to prosecutors.
His vanishing act is only the latest is in a long list of high-ranking runaways tied to Yanukoyvch involving the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from Ukraine.
The ease with which Klyuyev evaded justice for more than a year indicates to many people that nothing has changed in law enforcement’s unwillingness or chronic inability to put an end to the impunity of high-level officials suspected of corruption.
“The largest problem with corruption lies with law enforcement and impunity,” Kalenyuk said. “The resistance of the law enforcement system is very strong....It’s all about the money, the billions that were embezzled and the billions which are still being embezzled and nobody is being punished. If we do not do something with impunity, real reforms will not happen in this country.”
Just to keep former Yanukovych officials on the European Union sanctions list, Kalynyuk said she and other activists had to pressure prosecutors to do their job.
The Presidential Adminstration, prosecutors and Security Service of Ukraine all blamed each other for the Klyuyev fiasco.
Parliament fulfilled the prosecutor general’s request to prosecute Serhiy Klyuyev by stripping him of legal immunity. But the law enforcement body ignored the most damning evidence against Klyuyev and parliament consequently didn’t vote to arrest him, allowing him to remain free.
The next day, he failed to appear for questioning and the Interior Ministry placed him on a wanted list on June 8.
From there, the situation became increasingly comical, with reports of Klyuyev trying to fly to Austria and a statement by the Security Service of Ukraine that he had been mistakenly placed on the fugitive list.
Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin sub- sequently said that Klyuyev was internationally wanted, but Interpol denied receiving notification from Ukrainian authorities to support the claim.
Currently, his whereabouts are unknown, although lawmakers Serhiy Leshchenko and Anton Gerashchenko speculated that he is in Russia – along with Yanukovych and many of his cronies.
His lawyer, Yuriy Sukhov, cited legal procedural issues in absolving his client. Sukhov told the Kyiv Post that Serhiy Klyuyev “could not be considered a suspect,” because he wasn’t given three days’ notice for questioning, as required by law.
“He cannot legally be on a wanted list,” Sukhov said, while citing client privilege for not commenting on “his whereabouts at this time.” Before he disappeared, Klyuyev denied committing any crimes.
Svitlana Zalishchuk, a lawmaker in the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and a founder of the Reanimation Package of Reforms initiative, said Klyuyev’s disappearance could lead to a major loss of public trust in the president and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
“If Klyuyev ran away, Shokin has to resign,” she told the Kyiv Post. “Otherwise it will undermine trust in the president, parliament and government...He was part of this big pyramid of corruption in this country. The prosecutor failed...miserably. If no one will take responsibility, it will be a great disappointment.”
In justifying why they were not seeking the arrest of Klyuyev, Zalishchuk said prosecutors ignored the strongest evidence against Klyuyev in their report to parliament, portraying the case as weak. For instance, she said, the prosecutors did not include
Klyuyev’s role in the alleged illegal privatization of state assets involving Yanukovych’s billion-dollar Mezhyhirya estate or his purchase of a Kyiv apartment for a wildly inflated $7 million, what she called a clear-cut money-laundering scheme.
Zalishchuk said that, as bad as Shokin is performing, it is Poroshenko and the rest of the government who will pay the political price for inaction against corruption.
“People didn’t expect their pensions would be increased the next day or year. They understand that we have a war and an economic crisis,” Zalishchuk said. “But people expected real investigations of crimes and justice and punishment of the people involved in the bloody activities during the revolution.”
Andriy Andrushkiv, spokesman for the Reanimation Package of Reform, said Ukraine will start to resemble America’s Wild West in the 19th century if law enforcement doesn’t start functioning properly.
“That’s why people are ready to have their own guns in hand so they protect themselves and they make rule of law by themselves,” Andrushkiv said. “It could be a big problem if we don’t have reforms by the end of the year.” In fueling public anger, he also cited the prosecutors’ continuing inability to identify the killers of roughly 100 demonstrators during the EuroMaidan Revolution last year.
Critics suspect Klyuyev cut a deal with the authorities. That’s the theory of Yury Derevyanko, a lawmaker from the Volya party. Law enforcement agencies were working “not in the interests of justice and investigation, but in the interests of those who flee,” Derevyanko said.
The reasons, according to the lawmaker, are a lack of political will and “corruption,” Derevyanko said.
Boryslav Bereza, a lawmaker from the Ukrop group, which unites lawmakers whose political base stems from the EuroMaidan Revolution, said the Klyuyev case was further proof of rampant corruption in every structure of government, including judges and prosecutors.
“Our country is built on bribes for corrupt judges and corrupt law enforcement, and we are once again seeing that it is possible for anyone with money to avoid justice,” Bereza said.
A member of the Prosecutor General’s Office who is not authorized to speak to the press, told the Kyiv Post that the arrest of Klyuyev was not sought because he was being prosecuted under an article that allows bail.
Andriy Demartino, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said he could not comment on the matter.
The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, has also been criticized for failing to prevent the flight of high-profile suspects.
“We can’t track someone without a court’s authorization,” Olena Hiklianska, a spokeswoman for the SBU, told the Kyiv Post. She said that prosecutors had not instructed the agency to put Klyuyev on surveillance. She added, however, that the SBU was tasked with helping border guards monitor illegal crossings.
The Presidential Administration declined to comment on Klyuyev’s escape.
“So far, we don’t comment on this because it’s an issue for law enforcement agencies at this stage,” Andriy Zhyhulin, spokesman for the presidential administration, said.
Klyuyev’s flight follows a successive chain of similar cases.
At least 18 top Yanukovych allies accused of corruption and of the violent crackdown on EuroMaidan protesters fled Ukraine during or immediately after Yanukovych fled on Feb. 22, 2014. Most of them, as well as at least 18 riot police officers suspected of killing demonstrators, reportedly found refuge in Russia or in Kremlin-annexed Crimea.
The flight of other top officials continued well after the chaos of the immediate aftermath of the revolution that drove Yanukovych from power.
In May 2014, the former acting police chief of Odesa Oblast, Dmytro Fuchedzhi, who is accused of aiding Russian-backed separatists in the city, fled to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria.
Another fugitive, former Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin, fled after becoming a suspect in May 2014 in a criminal case into the unlawful arrest of Yury Lutsenko, the former interior minister and then an opposition politician, in 2010.
Kuzmin’s flight was followed by that of former riot police officer Dmytro Sadovnyk, who commanded a unit accused of killing EuroMaidan demonstrators. He escaped after a judge released him from a detention facility in September 2014 and put him under partial house arrest.
Another major escapee was former Kyiv traffic police head Mykola Makarenko, who is accused of running an extortion racket and crossed the border to Belarus in April.
Some ex-Yanukovych allies remain a flight risk.
Oleksandr Yefremov, a heavyweight in the former ruling Party of Regions, is also suspected of abuse of power. In February he was released on bail from a pre-trial detention center, triggering a public backlash, and is currently under house arrest. Moreover, some activists are alarmed that some opposition members of Parliament — and former allies of Yanukovych — are not under investigation. The most frequently named are Yuriy Boyko, the former energy minister, and Serhiy Lyovochkin, the former Yanukovych chief of staff.
The flights of top officials and police officers come as Parliament considers cancelling immunity from prosecution for lawmakers and judges. Yet the initiative, championed by Poroshenko, is currently stuck in the Constitutional Court because the bill requires amendments to the Constitution.
An oil painting hangs in the residence of former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, depicting him as Russian military leader Mikhail Kutuzov (seated) and his deputy, Renat Kuzmin, standing to the left with his head turned on Feb. 27, 2014. Both men are...
Lawmaker Serhiy Klyuyev pauses at the parliamentary rostrum on June 3 while urging his colleagues not to vote for a measure that eventually removed his right to prosecutorial immunity that day. (UNIAN)
Riot police commander Dmytro Sadovnyk, who is accused of killing EuroMadian demonstrators, at a court hearing on Sept. 25 before fleeing Ukraine. (UNIAN)