Mar­tyrs For Truth

Whistle­blower’s mur­der high­lights ju­di­cial im­po­tency

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLEG SUKHOV AND OK­SANA GRYTSENKO [email protected] [email protected]

A woman holds a por­trait of Kateryna Gandz­iuk, a lo­cal coun­cil mem­ber and an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigner, at a vigil in front of the In­te­rior Min­istry head­quar­ters in Kyiv on Nov. 4. Ear­lier that day Gandz­iuk died in hospi­tal fol­low­ing a July 31 acid at­tack on her in Kher­son, a city of 290,000 peo­ple lo­cated 550 kilo­me­ters south of Kyiv, where Gandz­iuk was ac­tive as an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigner. Gandz­iuk be­came the lat­est sym­bol of in­ten­si­fy­ing vi­o­lence against ac­tivists and jour­nal­ists in Ukraine and of the im­punity their at­tack­ers en­joy. (AFP)

The shock­ing death of whistle­blower Kateryna Gandz­iuk on Nov. 4 as a re­sult of an acid at­tack has un­der­lined Ukraine’s lack of progress in es­tab­lish­ing the rule of law.

The mur­der is the lat­est of at least 10 killings of ac­tivists and jour­nal­ists in Ukraine since the 2013–2014 EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion, which ousted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych. There have also been at least 93 vi­o­lent at­tacks on ac­tivists and jour­nal­ists since the revo­lu­tion, in­clud­ing at least six at­tempted mur­ders.

None of those who or­dered the mur­ders were found. Only in half of the mur­der cases, sus­pected hit­men were iden­ti­fied. None have been con­victed yet. Yet Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko on Nov. 6 again de­nied ac­cu­sa­tions that cases were be­ing sab­o­taged, ar­gu­ing against the ev­i­dence that law en­forcers were, in fact, do­ing a great job.

But oth­ers warn that law en­force­ment’s fail­ure to ad­e­quately in­ves­ti­gate the at­tacks is caus­ing the level of vi­o­lence to rise.

As­saults on ac­tivists "hap­pen due to im­punity,” said Olena Sot­nyk, a law­maker with the 25-mem­ber Samopomich Party fac­tion and a mem­ber of the par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion that is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Gandz­iuk’s mur­der. “If the law en­force­ment sys­tem fails to ful­fill its key func­tions and in­ves­ti­gate crimes, a ma­jor wave of vi­o­lence en­sues.”

Sot­nyk said that Ukraine’s post-EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion po­lice, pros­e­cu­tors and courts were shield­ing each other.

“The po­lice, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice and courts act as a sort of an or­ga­nized crime group,” Sot­nyk said. “They work to­gether and cover up for each other… In the re­gions, the lead­er­ship of law en­force­ment agen­cies has not been re­placed.”

Gandz­iuk her­self ex­pressed sim­i­lar thoughts in a video ad­dress she made from her hospi­tal bed in Septem­ber.

“I look bad now, but at least I’m be­ing treated by good Ukrainian doc­tors,” the heav­ily ban­daged ac­tivist said. “And I know for sure that I look bet­ter than jus­tice and the rule of law in Ukraine, be­cause they’re not be­ing treated by any­one.”

Nu­mer­ous at­tacks

Ac­cord­ing to the Hu­man Rights In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, 31 of the ac­tivists at­tacked af­ter the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion were in­volved in ex­pos­ing cor­rup­tion, 23 pro­tected the en­vi­ron­ment, and 15 de­fended hu­man rights. Lawyers, vol­un­teers help­ing the army, and LGBT ac­tivists were also among those at­tacked.

In the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the po­lice have found sus­pected hit­men — but not those who or­dered the killings — in half of the cases, said Tetiana Pe­chonchyk, head of the Hu­man Rights In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

But in 90 per­cent of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into non-lethal at­tacks on ac­tivists, no sus­pects were found at all, she added.

“I see here two main rea­sons. First, cor­rup­tion, which pen­e­trates ev­ery­thing in the coun­try… and then ho­mo­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia,” Pe­chonchyk said.

“The at­tacks are usu­ally com­mit­ted by some crim­i­nal or half-crim­i­nal groups linked to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, busi­ness peo­ple, or law en­force­ment. And peo­ple who dare to op­pose them and ex­pose cor­rup­tion and crim­i­nal­ity are the vic­tims.”

Ukraine also has a long list of un­solved mur­ders from be­fore the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion. More than 50 Ukrainian jour­nal­ists have been killed or have died un­der sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances since the coun­try be­came in­de­pen­dent in 1991.

The most high-pro­file of them was Ge­orgiy Gon­gadze, the edi­tor-inchief of the Ukrain­ska Pravda on­line news­pa­per, who was killed in 2000.

While ex-po­lice of­fi­cial Olek­siy Pukach was sen­tenced to life in prison for the mur­der in 2013, oth­ers im­pli­cated in the crime, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma, have never gone on trial. Kuchma de­nies be­ing in­volved in the mur­der.

Hor­rific at­tack

Gandz­iuk, a whistle­blow­ing mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial, died in a hospi­tal on Nov. 4 af­ter un­der­go­ing nu­mer­ous surg­eries fol­low­ing the acid at­tack on her in Kher­son on July 31. As much as 40 per­cent of her body suf­fered se­vere chem­i­cal burns.

Po­lice have ar­rested five peo­ple sus­pected of her mur­der — all for­mer war vet­er­ans from the Ukrainian Vol­un­teer Army, an off­shoot of the na­tion­al­ist Right Sec­tor group. Pho­to­graphs of one of them, Volodymyr Vasyanovych, show neo-Nazi tat­toos on his body.

All of the sus­pects have ad­mit­ted be­ing in­volved in the at­tack.

Gandz­iuk’s friends said on Nov. 5 that Igor Pavlovsky — an aide to Mykola Pala­marchuk, a law­maker with the 135-mem­ber Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc fac­tion — was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for al­legedly pass­ing money from the per­son who or­dered the at­tack to the per­pe­tra­tors. They said that the po­lice were cov­er­ing up for Pavlovsky and had helped him es­cape ar­rest.

The po­lice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Lut­senko later in­di­rectly con­firmed that in­for­ma­tion on Pavlovsky had been leaked, with­out nam­ing him, re­fer­ring to a leak of in­for­ma­tion that had oc­curred on Nov. 5.

Pavlovsky de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions, al­though he con­firmed that he knew Ser­hiy Torbin, one of the sus­pects, and that he had been ques­tioned by the po­lice in the case.

Lut­senko’s rant

The mur­der prompted the Verkhovna Rada to re­quest re­ports from Lut­senko, Na­tional Po­lice Chief Ser­hiy Knyazev, and head of Ukraine’s Se­cu­rity Ser­vice Va­syl Hryt­sak on Nov. 6.

Lut­senko said that 12 peo­ple were be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as hav­ing po­ten­tially or­dered the mur­der. None of them has been charged, how­ever.

He also lashed out at op­po­si­tion politi­cians and ac­tivists who have crit­i­cized law en­force­ment agen­cies for the lack of progress in in­ves­ti­gat­ing at­tacks on ac­tivists. He said that ac­tivists and law­mak­ers were us­ing Gandz­iuk’s death for their own pub­lic re­la­tions and po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

In an ex­ple­tive-laden rant, Lut­senko claimed that the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice and other law en­force­ment agen­cies were mak­ing a lot of progress in the cases.

Sev­eral law­mak­ers said Lut­senko had told Samopomich Party law­maker Ie­gor Soboliev to “suck his dick” and called him an “id­iot with brain di­ar­rhea.”

He also called the ac­tivists and law­mak­ers who had de­manded a fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der of lawyer Iryna Noz­drovska in De­cem­ber “a gang of scoundrels.”

Res­ig­na­tion

Mean­while, 77 civil so­ci­ety groups on Nov. 5 called for the res­ig­na­tion of Lut­senko and In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov.

“The bru­tal reprisal against Kateryna Gandz­iuk is an act of in­tim­i­da­tion of the whole civil so­ci­ety in Ukraine, of all ac­tive cit­i­zens who, in cities, towns and vil­lages, stand against cor­rup­tion and or­ga­nized

crime that have been en­trenched for decades,” they said.

“Cor­rup­tion, im­punity and lack of ef­fec­tive po­lice and pros­e­cu­tion re­form are the causes of the mass per­se­cu­tion and at­tacks on civic ac­tivists… And we also de­mand res­ig­na­tion of Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko and In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov, who sab­o­taged the re­form of law en­force­ment agen­cies in Ukraine.”

Lut­senko on Nov. 7 sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion to Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, but many saw it as a pub­lic­ity stunt rather than a se­ri­ous of­fer to quit. The par­lia­ment re­jected his res­ig­na­tion in a non-bind­ing and legally du­bi­ous vote on Nov. 6 even be­fore he sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion let­ter.

If Lut­senko is not bluff­ing, he may be try­ing to leave the job of pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral be­fore the 2019 elec­tions and thus es­cape re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fail­ures of the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice, Zlata Si­mo­nenko, a law en­force­ment ex­pert at the Re­an­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­forms, told the Kyiv Post.

In his turn, Avakov, who as inte- rior min­is­ter over­sees the Ukrainian po­lice, never com­mented on Gandz­iuk’s death. He ig­nored the calls for res­ig­na­tion as well.

An­other com­mis­sion

The Rada on Nov. 6 cre­ated an in­ves­tiga­tive com­mis­sion to mon­i­tor the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Gandz­iuk’s mur­der and other at­tacks on ac­tivists.

How­ever, Lut­senko said law en­force­ment agen­cies would not give any in­for­ma­tion to the in­ves­tiga­tive com­mis­sion, due to the fear of leaks.

Lut­senko’s re­fusal to give in­for­ma­tion to the in­ves­tiga­tive com­mis­sion may be an at­tempt to hide a lack of progress in the cases — such as the mis­match be­tween the de­clared num­bers of in­ter­ro­ga­tions and the ac­tual fig­ures, and the lack of in­for­ma­tion ob­tained from in­ter­ro­ga­tions, Si­mo­nenko said.

Given the high-pro­file char­ac­ter of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, shar­ing some of the in­ves­tiga­tive ma­te­ri­als with the com­mis­sion would be com­pletely le­gal and jus­ti­fied, Si­mo­nenko added.

A group of Gandz­iuk’s friends, who started a “Who or­dered Katya Gandz­iuk’s mur­der” Face­book page, wrote there they did not trust the com­mis­sion as they be­lieve most of its mem­bers are bi­ased in fa­vor of the govern­ment and are against a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sab­o­tage

Con­trary to Lut­senko’s claims, there is ev­i­dence that the Gandz­iuk in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been botched or even sab­o­taged.

The case was ini­tially clas­si­fied by po­lice as “hooli­gan­ism” de­spite it clearly be­ing an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

Gandz­iuk’s friends, not the po­lice, or­dered a foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion of the acid used in the as­sault, and ar­ranged for photofit im­ages of the at­tack­ers to be made.

More­over, the po­lice ini­tially ar­rested an ap­par­ent scape­goat, Mykola Novikov, as a sus­pect in the mur­der. Novikov was later re­leased af­ter Gandz­iuk’s friends car­ried out their own in­ves­ti­ga­tion and con­firmed his al­ibi.

Po­lice in­volve­ment?

The po­lice’s re­luc­tance to in­ves­ti­gate the mur­der led to spec­u­la­tion that In­te­rior Min­istry and po­lice of­fi­cials and their al­lies could be linked to the at­tack. In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Artem Shevchenko de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Un­der pub­lic pres­sure, Lut­senko trans­ferred the case from the po­lice to the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine in Au­gust. He said that the at­tack had been or­dered by “law en­force­ment and state of­fi­cials, with the help of sep­a­ratist or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers were among the main tar­gets of Gandz­iuk’s crit­i­cism. The sus­pected or­ga­nizer of the at­tack, Ser­hiy Torbin, is a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer.

In 2017, Gandz­iuk al­leged that Artem An­toshchuk, who then headed the po­lice depart­ment for eco­nomic crimes in Kher­son Oblast, had de­manded a kick­back of 3 per­cent of the city bud­get from the mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties. An­toshchuk de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Gandz­iuk had also been crit­i­cal of Kir­ill Stremousov, a pro-Rus­sian top of­fi­cial of the So­cial­ist Party, led by Ilya Kiva.

Kiva is a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cial and aide to Avakov, and is the cur­rent head of the In­te­rior Min­istry’s la­bor union.

Stremousov de­nied be­ing in­volved in the at­tack on Gandz­iuk, while Kiva first lashed out at the ac­tivist, ac­cus­ing her of cor­rup­tion, and then de­nied his party had been in­volved in the at­tack.

Gandz­iuk also ac­cused Vla­dyslav Manger, the head of Kher­son Oblast’s leg­is­la­ture, and Kher­son Oblast Gov­er­nor An­driy Gordeyev of be­ing be­hind an il­le­gal log­ging scheme. They too deny ac­cu­sa­tions that they were in­volved in the at­tack on the ac­tivist.

A pro­tester hangs por­traits of civic ac­tivists as­saulted all over Ukraine at a rally in front of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion in Kyiv on Sept. 27. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko re­ports on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der of whistle­blower Kateryna Gandz­iuk and at­tacks on other ac­tivists at the Verkhovna Rada on Nov. 6. Lut­senko swore, lashed out at his crit­ics and told one of the law­mak­ers to “suck his dick.” (UNIAN)

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