Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said on April 16 he saw no evidence of crimes in recordings implicating Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky in alleged corruption in what Lutsenko’s opponents interpreted as an attempt to whitewash Kholodnytsky.
Meanwhile, Kholodnytsky’s dismissal amid the corruption scandal is being delayed indefinitely.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine on April 4 released audio recordings in which Kholodnytsky is heard pressuring anti-corruption prosecutors and courts to stall cases, urging a witness to give false testimony, and tipping off suspects about future searches. The Kyiv Post has also obtained a document on Kholodnytsky’s alleged wrongdoings that was sent to the High Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors.
Kholodnytsky confirmed that the tapes were authentic but said they were “out of context,” claiming that their meaning would be different if the NABU had published entire conversations instead of fragments.
At the same time, Kholodnytsky has not delivered on his earlier promise that he would suspend himself from his job while the criminal case against him was ongoing.
Lutsenko has asked the High Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors to fire Kholodnytsky for violating rules of prosecutorial ethics, but the commission refused to tell the Kyiv Post when it would consider the issue, claiming that the information is confidential.
Lutsenko also claimed that he had heard no evidence of crimes in the recordings.
Both Oleksandr Lemenov, an anti-corruption expert at the Reanimation Package of Reforms think-tank, and a source at the NABU who was not authorized to speak to the press disagreed with Lutsenko, seeing his rhetoric as an effort to save Kholodnytsky as a government loyalist while keeping him on a tight leash. They said Kholodnytsky had been recorded committing crimes such as abuse of power and leaking investigative secrets.
NABU Chief Artem Sytnyk has asked the High Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors to bring criminal charges against Kholodnytsky.
Lutsenko said, however, that both he and Sytnyk believed that Kholodnytsky had violated prosecutorial ethics.
Lutsenko said Kholodnytsky had gone on vacation after the corruption scandal. Kholodnytsky said later on April 16, however, that he had been on vacation for four days and was already back at work.
Lutsenko added that Kholodnytsky’s first deputy Maksim Hryshchuk had become the acting chief anti-corruption prosecutor during Kholodnytsky’s vacation.
However, Lutsenko said he had also assumed some of Kholodnytsky’s duties, such as the signing of notices of suspicion for some suspects, during the vacation.
Reanimation Package of Reform experts believe Lutsenko will use the corruption scandal as an excuse to get direct control over the NABU, which will paralyze its work.
Only the prosecutor general or deputy prosecutor general can file a notice of suspicion for lawyers, mayors, judges and jury members, according to the law.
This means that, unless appointed a deputy prosecutor general, Hryshchuk will not be able to bring charges against these categories of officials but Lutsenko and his deputies will be able to do so. Moreover, only the prosecutor general and his deputies can select prosecutors for specific cases, transfer cases to other prosecutors and authorize searches for judges and lawyers.
So, unless Hryshchuk is appointed as deputy prosecutor general, Lutsenko will be able to block NABU cases by selecting loyal anti-corruption prosecutors and refusing to authorize searches for judges and lawyers, as well as major notices of suspicion, said Volodymyr Petrakovsyi, a law enforcement expert at the Reanimation Package of Reforms.
Sytnyk told the Kyiv Post that he did not rule out the risk of Lutsenko using the Kholodnytsky case for his political purposes but hopes his bureau and anti-corruption prosecutors will be able to continue their anti-corruption drive.
Last year, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the NABU started investigating a criminal case against Kholodnytsky. Bugging devices were installed by the NABU in an aquarium in Kholodnytsky’s office in early February.
On Feb. 7, Kholodnytsky told his deputy Volodymyr Kryvenko not to carry out investigative actions and not to prosecute Odesa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov in a Hr 100 million embezzlement case.
Sytnyk said that Kholodnytsky had leaked information to suspects in the Odesa case.
Kholodnytsky has also pressured his first deputy Hryshchuk to change charges against a suspect in the graft case that involves the Lviv Armor and Tank Plant, and Hryshchuk refused, Sytnyk told the Dzerkalo Tyzhnya newspaper.
Moreover, Kholodnytsky has refused to sign some notices of suspicion for some cases for one-and-a-half or two years, Sytnyk said.
Such cases include those concerning power company Cherkassyoblenergo, which is co-owned by oligarch Kostyantyn Grigorishin, and railway monopoly Ukrzaliznytsa, he added.
Kholodnytsky also ordered anti-corruption prosecutor Maksym Kravchenko to transfer several embezzlement cases against agribusiness tycoon Oleh Bakhmatyuk to another law enforcement body. The cases also involve alleged abuse of power by National Bank of Ukraine and State Fiscal Service officials.
In one of the recordings, Kholodnytsky told Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, head of Transparency International Ukraine, that he would not prosecute Natalia Korchak, a top official of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption, and refused to authorize a search warrant against her.
On Feb. 9, Kholodnytsky also told People’s Front lawmaker Georgii Logvynskyi that he had his criminal cases under control and would warn him about investigative actions that would be taken against him.
Logvynskyi is under investigation for allegedly embezzling Hr 40 million at a firm called Belvedere Ukraina and Hr 18 million at Bank Stolytsya. Meanwhile, Deputy Justice Minister Natalia Bernatska, (maiden name Sevostianova), and Borys Babin, the Ukrainian government’s former representative at the European Court of Human Rights, are under invetigation over allegedly abusing their powers by promoting Logvynskyi’s interests in the implementation of a European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in a case called “Zoloty Mandarin Oil vs Ukraine.”
Serhiy Kozachyna, an anti-corruption prosecutor in charge of the Logvynskyi cases, told Kholodnytsky that he wanted to sign a notice of suspicion for Logvynskyi. Kholodnytsky told Kozachyna that the Logvynskyi cases should be delayed or closed for political reasons.
Another case discussed by Kholodnytsky in the recordings is against Oleksandr Bohachyov, an aide to Radical Party lawmaker Oleh Lyashko.
According to the investigators, Bohachyov, in collusion with Ilya Dikov, the mayor of the city of Vishneve in Kyiv Oblast, offered an apartment in the city’s Akvareli-2 housing complex as a bribe to Health Minister Ulana Suprun in exchange for equipment for the Vishneve city hospital.
Lemenov and lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko said that Kholodnytsky had received an apartment in the Akvareli-2 housing complex. Lemenov said this could also be interpreted as a bribe, while Kholodnytsky denies the accusations of corruption.
On March 1, Kholodnytsky warned Serhiy Kaftya, a suspect in the Suprun case and a deputy CEO of Akvareli Development Holding, about searches, and urged him to give false testimony by hiding the alleged fact that Dikov had demanded that he allocate an apartment for Suprun.
Kholodnytsky also ordered his deputy Kryvenko to intimidate Dikov.
Moreover, Kholodnytsky ordered Kryvenko to call on Lyudmila Sheremetyeva, head of the Solomyansky Court, and her deputy Taras Oksyuta not to consider the search motions in the Suprun case.
Meanwhile, Lemenov told the Kyiv Post Kholodnytsky had been trying to block the NABU cases into ammonia shipping company Ukrkhimtransamiak and market research firm Derzhzovnishinform. Kholodnytsky denies the accusations.
In 2016 then-Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius accused President Petro Poroshenko’s top ally and lawmaker Ihor Kononenko of influencing Ukrkhimtransamiak and Derzhzovnishinform.
Meanwhile, Tamila Ulyanova, a lawyer for judge Hennady Pidberezny, claimed on April 16 that Kholodnytsky had told Pidberezny he was ready to close a criminal case in exchange for a $300,000 bribe. Pidberezny himself has been charged with offering a $300,000 bribe to Kholodnytsky.
When Kholodnytsky was the first deputy chief prosecutor of Crimea in 2014 to 2015, prosecutors of the Crimea prosecutor’s office were arrested and investigated over allegedly extorting a bribe for releasing a suspect. A source who was not authorized to speak to the press said that Kholodnytsky was implicated in the case.