Powerful suspects escape justice on Lutsenko’s watch

KyivPost 1
Popular on social media

Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, appointed in May 2016, has few achievements to boast about.

Far from having made breakthroughs in fighting high-profile crime, powerful suspects, such as oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Dmytro Firtash; Yuriy Boyko, leader of the 43-member opposition faction in parliament; Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, ex-Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky and many others, have escaped justice during Lutsenko’s time as the nation’s top prosecutor. Lutsenko, who commands an army of 10,000 people in the

Prosecutor General’s Office, claimed in December that 1,534 people had been convicted for corruption in 2017.

However, according to an investigation by Nashi Hroshi, an anti-corruption project, only 91 lower-level suspects were sentenced to prison terms for graft in 2017, and only 16 of them are serving jail time after losing their appeals.

To be fair, nobody expected much from Lutsenko when Poroshenko appointed him to the job, replacing the obstructionist Viktor Shokin. Lutsenko was not a lawyer and had no prosecutorial experience. His one shining qualification appeared to be his loyalty to the president, whose 135-member faction in parliament he headed.

Below is a list of Lutsenko’s dismal lack of achievements — with more than a whiff of scandal — in nearly two years on the job:

Viktor Yanukovych Status: Charged, on trial in one case

Fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovych is currently on trial in absentia in a high treason case for urging Russian troops to invade Ukraine. Yanukovych was overthrown by the 100-day EuroMaidan Revolution, fleeing to Russia on Feb. 22, 2014.

Lutsenko has presented the case as a major breakthrough, while the lawyers for more than 100 demonstrators slain during the revolution view the trial as a publicity stunt.

Lutsenko said in February that the in absentia case against the suspected organizers of the EuroMaidan murders, including Yanukovych, would be sent to trial after the high treason trial against Yanukovych is completed.

So far, not a single in absentia corruption case against Yanukovych and his top officials, and not a single in absentia case against the organizers of the EuroMaidan murders have been sent to trial.

Yanukovych and almost all of his top officials have been taken off Interpol’s wanted list due to Lutsenko’s negligence, critics say, while European Union sanctions on many of them have been removed.

These in absentia cases can’t be sent to trial because Ukrainian authorities have failed to bring Ukrainian law on such trials in line with international law, according to Sergii Gorbatuk, head of the in absentia investigations unit at the prosecutor’s office.

Igor Kolomoisky Status: Under investigation

The Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating National Bank of Ukraine officials and ex-PrivatBank executives over alleged bank fraud, but no one has been charged yet.

The bank, which was owned by tycoon Igor Kolomoisky, was nationalized at the end of 2016. In January a report by forensic auditor Kroll uncovered a “largescale and coordinated fraud” scheme that emptied $5.5 billion from the bank’s vaults when it was controlled by Kolomoisky.

In December, Kolomoisky was photographed meeting with Lutsenko in Amsterdam, and Lutsenko’s opponents suspect the two reached a secret deal to let the oligarch off the hook. Kolomoisky and Lutsenko deny the accusation.

Dmytro Firtash Status: Under investigation

Austrian authorities arrested Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash in 2014 after a U.S. federal court issued an indictment accusing him of bribing Indian officials in exchange for uranium mining licenses. Austria has so far refused to extradite Firtash, who has steadfastly denied wrongdoing.

In 2011, a firm linked to Firtash and his partner Serhiy Lyovochkin bought state telecommunications giant Ukrtelecom for $1.3 billion. The firm was the only bidder and its owners were unknown at the time, which triggered a scandal.

Firtash has also been accused of siphoning massive amounts of the nation’s wealth by selling Russian and Turkmen gas in Ukraine through shady intermediaries.

In 2015, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, overseen by the Prosecutor General’s Office, also opened an embezzlement case against executives of Firtash’s chemical firm Ostchem. However, Firtash himself has escaped being charged in Ukraine.

Arsen Avakov Status: Unclear

The National Police, under the supervision of the Prosecutor General’s Office, has investigated a video in which ex-Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Chebotar, Interior Ministry state secretary Oleksiy Takhtai and state firm Spetsvervis CEO Vasyl Petrivsky, an ex-aide to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, are seen negotiating in Chebotar’s office a corrupt deal to sell sand at a rigged auction in 2014.

The footage was recorded by the Security Service of Ukraine and has been recognized by the courts as genuine. In the video, Chebotar says that Avakov is aware of the deal and is worried that the sand has not been sold yet. Petrivsky pleaded guilty and was convicted in a theft case for selling the sand.

According to critics, the fact that the video was investigated by the Interior Ministry’s National Police constitutes a conflict of interest. A source who was not authorized to speak to the press told the Kyiv Post that the police had closed the case, but the newspaper has gotten no official response to inquiries about its status.

Serhiy Kurchenko Status: Charged

In 2014 Sergiy Kurchenko, a top ally of Yanukovych, was charged with embezzling Hr 5 billion. In 2017 the Prosecutor General’s Office confiscated $1.5 billion after breaking up an alleged corruption scheme run by Kurchenko. The secret confiscation ruling was published by Al Jazeera on Jan. 10. According to the decision, Poroshenko’s personal banker Makar Paseniuk and his former central bank chief Valeria Gontareva brokered for the offshore firms involved in the graft scheme. They deny any wrongdoing.

Lawyers and anti-corruption activists have argued that the ruling does not contain any evidence or legal grounds for the confiscation, and may result in Ukrainian authorities returning the confiscated funds to the offshore firms that held them.

About a dozen low-level suspects have concluded plea bargains with prosecutors in the Kurchenko case. Gorbatuk believes that they played a minimal role in the scheme, while most of the key perpetrators escaped punishment.

Prosecutors have also concluded plea bargains in the Kurchenko case with former Deputy Economy Minister Oleksandr Sukhomlyn and Andriy Koshel, CEO of Kurchenko’s SEPEK firm. The content of the plea bargains is unclear because they have been made secret, in violation of the law, according to Vitaly Tytych, a lawyer for the families of slain EuroMaidan protesters.

Serhiy Kurchenko, a top ally of then President Viktor Yanukovych, attends a Metallist football club event in Kharkiv on June 27, 2013.

Serhiy Klyuyev Status: Charged

In 2015 parliament stripped Serhiy Klyuyev, an ex-lawmaker from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, of immunity from prosecution, and he promptly fled from Ukraine. He is suspected of embezzling Hr 15 billion.

The case has seen no progress since then. In March the European Union lifted the sanctions it had imposed on Klyuyev.

Yuriy Boyko Status: Under investigation

Opposition Bloc leader Yuriy Boyko is being investigated for alleged embezzlement. In May, the reformist lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko published the text of what he says is a draft parliament motion to strip Yuriy Boyko of his immunity from prosecution. Boyko could then have been arrested and put on trial in a case, which involves alleged embezzlement of $700 million during the sale of natural gas. However, Leshchenko said the motion was blocked by Lutsenko, who denies this.

Boyko is also under investigation in a separate case involving the embezzlement of $400 million during the purchase of oil and gas offshore drilling rigs.

Gorbatuk told the Kyiv Post Boyko was likely to be charged when the case was being investigated by his unit. But he said it was illegally taken away from him in 2016 in what he sees as an effort to help Boyko escape prosecution.

In March parliament lifted lawmaker Yevhen Bakulin’s immunity from prosecution in the oil rigs case after he fled Ukraine, but Boyko himself was not charged.

In 2017 Oleksander Katsuba, an ex-deputy CEO of Naftogaz Ukraine, concluded a plea bargain in the oil rigs case, getting no jail time but paying Hr 100 million to the budget.

However, the losses attributed to Katsuba are much bigger — Hr 12 billion.

Mykola Zlochevsky Status: Case closed

In 2016 the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a Hr 1 billion tax evasion case against Burisma Group, which is controlled by Yanukovych’s Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky.

However, prosecutors closed the Zlochevsky case in January 2017, with Burisma paying just Hr 180 million to the budget.

Before the case was closed, journalist Olga Vasilevska published what she claimed to be photos of top Poroshenko ally and lawmaker Ihor Kononenko meeting in Vienna with Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky’s Burisma group has supplied natural gas to firms owned by Poroshenko and his top allies Kononenko and Oleh Gladkovsky, according to Radio Liberty’s Schemes investigative show.

Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a fugitive lawmaker charged with theft, claims that Zlochevsky paid about $80 million to Poroshenko to unfreeze Burisma’s assets in Ukraine. Poroshenko and Zlochevsky deny the claim.

Oleksandr Lavrynovych Status: Charged, on trial

Ex-Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych is the only Yanukovych-era top official who is currently on trial for graft. Lavrynovych was charged in 2015 with embezzling Hr 8.5 million, and his case was sent to court in 2016.

Yuriy Ivanyushchenko Status: Case closed

Yuriy Ivanyushchenko, an influential ex-lawmaker from the Party of Regions, was removed from the wanted list in 2016 by a Kyiv court, and in 2017 the Supreme Court closed its case against him, citing inaction by prosecutors. Ivanyushchenko was accused of embezzling 72 million Swiss francs and Hr 170 million.

Yuriy Kolobov Status: Case closed

Prosecutors also ended a corruption case against Yanukovych’s Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov, saying the terms for the investigation had expired. It was closed by a court in February. Kolobov had been charged with embezzling Hr 220 million.

Then Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov attends a meeting of then President Viktor Yanukovych’s Public Humanitarian Council on Oct. 31, 2013. The graft case against Kolobov was closed in February.

Found a spelling error? Let us know – highlight it and press Ctrl + Enter.