Stolen from Ukraine: As US charges Manafort, Ukrainian authorities do nothing, as usual
The contrast could not have been starker.
U.S. law enforcers, in a blaze of publicity on Oct. 30, indicted Paul Manafort, an ex-adviser to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and ex-campaign manager to U. S. President Donald J. Trump, on charges that he laundered at least $18 million out of $75 million in ill-gotten gains from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in the offices of Ukrainian investigators, prosecutors have failed to file any charges related to Manafort, even though there is evidence the U.S. consultant accepted millions in secret payments and was involved in shady business dealings in Ukraine for years.
The investigation into the alleged “Black Ledger” of $2 billion in illegal payments by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, in which Manafort is mentioned, has effectively stalled. Only one top Yanukovych-era official, ex-Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, is currently on trial for corruption. No Yanukovych-regime officials have been convicted since the former president fled for Russia in 2014, despite $40 billion being stolen during his four years in power.
The case against the organizers of the police sniper murders of at least 100 EuroMaidan protesters in 2014 has not even been sent to trial, and only one person is in jail for crimes against EuroMaidan demonstrators.
In contrast with the U.S., Ukrainian investigators, prosecutors and courts are incapable of investigating and convicting corrupt officials due to pervasive graft, incompetence and political influence, analysts say.
The only possible exception is the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of
Ukraine, but its efforts are ultimately fruitless due to the lack of independent courts in Ukraine.
“In the U.S., within a few months a special prosecutor brings concrete well-founded charges against Manafort, confirming cash flows through his offshore accounts,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, told the Kyiv Post. “In Ukraine, more than a year after the 'Black Ledger' investigation began, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office can’t bring charges against a single suspect for whom there is evidence collected by the NABU, and decides to send the ' Black Ledger' investigation to the graveyard of criminal cases: the Prosecutor General’s Office.”
Oleksandr Lemenov, an anti-corruption expert at the Reanimation Package of Reforms think tank, told the Kyiv Post that comparing U.S. and Ukrainian law enforcement was like comparing cheap Ukrainian Lanos cars to “a brand-new Ferrari.”
“First, they have completely independent investigators and courts, and we don’t,” he said. “Second, they have more resources for investigations.”
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has so far brought no charges against Manafort.
The U. S. political consultant is part of two investigations in Ukraine, according to Sergii Gorbatuk, head of the in absentia cases unit at the Prosecutor General’s Office. One is the investigation of embezzlement at the Justice Ministry. The second is the case of the "Black Ledger," according to which Manafort got $12.7 million from the Party of Regions.
The "Black Ledger" documents list a total of $2 billion in bribes and illicit payments allegedly handed out by the party. In the investigation, prosecutors have only filed notices of suspicion for ex-Party of Regions lawmaker Vitaly Kalyuzhny and his brother, while the National AntiCorruption Bureau has filed a notice of suspicion for Central Election Commission chairman Mykhailo Okhendovsky.
Manafort's name also comes up in the investigation into the Justice Ministry’s secret financing of a U.S. law firm to falsify a 2011 report justifying the politically motivated case against ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Gorbatuk said.
In that case, prosecutors have filed notices of suspicion for former Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, his deputy, and the Justice Ministry’s former accountant. Gorbatuk said that Ukrainian prosecutors sought to get Manafort to testify in the case, but didn't succeed.
U.S. investigators say that Manafort lobbied members of U.S Congress to persuade them that the Tymoshenko case was lawful.
“We sent a request to the U. S. Department of Justice, informing them we needed to call Manafort in for questioning (as a witness), back in 2015, but got no response,” Gorbatuk said.
After Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016, Ukraine’s Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytskiy said there were no grounds to press charges against Manafort because his signatures were not present in the "Black Ledger."
“Ukrainian authorities are trying to forget (Manafort’s) name so as not to anger Trump,” lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko told the Kyiv Post.
In June the "Black Ledger" case was sent from the NABU to Gorbatuk’s department. This was seen by critics as an effort to bury the investigation through heavy political influence on prosecutors. But Gorbatuk said that the case “had not been lost yet.”
“As soon as we uncover crimes and gather evidence, we will send more notices of suspicion,” he said. “If we don’t uncover crimes, there will be no notices and no arrests.”
Moreover, in June the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office suspended the investigation into Central Election Commission chairman Mykhailo Okhendovsky. The office claimed that it was necessary to prove not only the fact that Okhendovsky took money, but also the fact that he used his position to act in the interests of the person giving the bribe.
Okhendovsky was charged by the NABU in December 2016 with receiving bribes worth $100,000 in 2010 and $61,000 in 2012 from the Party of Regions, based on the evidence of the "Black Ledger." A handwriting forensic examination had proved the authenticity of Okhendovsky’s signature under the payment in the ledger, NABU detectives said.
Leshchenko and Lemenov accuse Kholodnytsky of stalling the Okhendovsky case due to pressure from President Petro Poroshenko, who needs Okhendovsky to remain in his job. Kholodnytsky and Poroshenko deny the accusations.
Judges of the Constitutional Court received $6 million from the Party of Regions for decisions that helped Yanukovych usurp power, according to records in the Black Ledger. But the Prosecutor General’s Office has failed to charge any of the judges for usurpation of power or named them in any bribery cases so far.
Although the NABU is pursuing cases against top incumbent officials, they are going nowhere due to the lack of independent courts in Ukraine. In a shocking decision, Kyiv’s Solomyansky Court on Nov. 1 released Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s son Oleksandr in a graft case without bail.
State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov was arrested and charged with graft by the NABU in March, and the investigation against him was completed in July. But the case has not been sent to trial yet, and Nasirov has not even been fired from his job. Ex-People’s Front Party lawmaker Mykola Martynenko was arrested in a graft case in April but the case has not been sent to court so far.
Central Election Commission chairman Mykhailo Okhendovsky, a suspect in a bribery case, sits in Kyiv’s Solomyansky Court on Dec. 21, 2016. (UNIAN)