The Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, headed by Nazar Kholodnytsky, said on July 12 it had closed the embezzlement case against Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s son Oleksandr Avakov and the minister’s ex-deputy Serhiy Chebotar.
Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky claimed the decision in the case, which is being investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and overseen by his department, had been made independently from him.
“When I’m dissatisfied (with prosecutors’) decisions, my subordinates respond that I’m pressuring them,” Kholodnytsky told the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper. “The NABU wanted independent prosecutors – so here you go.”
A NABU source who was not authorized to speak to the press told the Kyiv Post the bureau detectives believe that Kholodnytsky, who has been accused of blocking and sabotaging NABU cases, had reached a deal with Avakov and other top officials that he would stay on his job in exchange for closing the Avakov case, the source said.
The same source had also told the Kyiv Post in June that Kholodnytsky had been planning to close the Avakov case.
Kholodnytsky’s deputy Volodymyr Kryvenko on July 12 denied the accusations, saying that the decision in the Avakov case had been made independently from Kholodnytsky.
The Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors will consider on July 26 whether to reprimand or fire Kholodnytsky due to audio tapes according to which he pressured prosecutors and judges to stop cases against high-profile suspects and tipping off other suspects about planned searches.
Kholodnytsky confirmed that the tapes were authentic but said they had been taken “out of context.”
“(The closure of the Avakov case) is another attempt by Kholodnytsky to prove to the main corrupt scumbags that he’ll protect them from the NABU,” Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, said on Facebook. “Kholodnytsky’s inner circle will be kicked out of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office along with him. I hope that sooner or later these scumbags will end up in one prison cell.”
Oleksandr Avakov and ex-Deputy Interior Minister Chebotar discuss an allegedly corrupt deal to supply backpacks.
Oleksandr Avakov, Chebotar and IT firm Turboseo’s CEO Volodymyr Lytvyn are accused of embezzling Hr 14 million in a case related to the supply of overpriced backpacks to the Interior Ministry. The suspects deny the accusations and believe them to be a political vendetta by the NABU.
The investigation against Avakov and Chebotar had already been completed and had been expected to be sent to trial but anti-corruption prosecutor Vasyl Krychun had resumed and closed it.
The anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said on July 12 Lytvyn had pled guilty to fraud and document forgery and given testimony that Oleksandr Avakov and Chebotar had not been involved in the scheme. This version contradicts the video footage investigated by the NABU in which Chebotar and Oleksandr Avakov negotiate the corrupt deal.
“Order 2,000 (backpacks) for us,” Chebotar said, according to the video.
“Will you give me a prepayment?” Oleksandr Avakov asked.
“No, we can’t give you a prepayment, you gotta supply them before New Year’s Day,” Chebotar said.
“And if I supply 100 items now, will you give me a prepayment?” Oleksandr Avakov said.
“For 100 items? We’ll give you all the money then,” Chebotar replied. Subsequently they negotiate the price.
Shabunin and the NABU source described Krychun, who closed the Avakov case, as a staunch loyalist of Kholodnytsky.
Shabunin said Krychun gets the biggest bonuses from Kholodnytsky. The anti-corruption prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, Krychun has also closed the bribery case against Svyatoslav Protas, head of the State Health Inspection Service, the abuse of power case against lawmaker Oles Dovgiy and the embezzlement case against Ruslan Zhurilo, acting CEO of United Mining and Chemical Company and an ex-deputy CEO of the Eastern Ore Dressing Plant.
Meanwhile, a member of the Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors has prepared a report confirming that Kholodnytsky violated prosecutorial ethics and recommending that he be reprimanded, according to leaked fragments of a report published by the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper on July 2.
The report is seen by anti-corruption activists as an attempt to save Kholodnytsky as a puppet of the authorities instead of firing him. Kholodnytsky’s office and the Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
In March Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko asked the Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors to consider firing Kholodnytsky. NABU Chief Artem Sytnyk also asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to bring charges against Kholodnytsky, but they have not done so.
On the tapes published by the NABU, Kholodnytsky was recorded obstructing corruption cases against Odesa Mayor Hennady Trukhanov; Natalia Korchak, the former head of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption, People’s Front lawmaker Georgii Logvynskyi, and other powerful figures.
Kholodnytsky has blocked all NABU cases since the tapes were released, Shabunin said. The NABU source told the Kyiv Post that Kholodnytsky is now obstructing the NABU’s activities even more than ever.
Kholodnytsky has denied the accusations of sabotaging NABU investigations.
Meanwhile, another video has been leaked to YouTube from the same footage from Chebotar’s office.
In the video, Chebotar, the Interior Ministry’s State Secretary Oleksiy Takhtai and state firm Spetsvervis CEO Vasyl Petrivsky, an ex-aide to Avakov, in Chebotar’s office negotiate a corrupt deal to sell sand at a rigged auction.
In the video, Chebotar implicates the minister himself in the deal, saying that Avakov is also aware of the scheme and is worried that the sand has not been sold yet.
Avakov claims the video is a fake.
However, Petrivsky has already pled guilty and has been convicted to a suspended prison term in a theft case for the sand sale scheme described in the video.
According to Ukraine’s court register, the video was recorded by the Security Service of Ukraine and has been recognized as genuine.
Oleksiy Takhtai, the Interior Ministry’s state secretary, ex-Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Chebotar and state firm Spetsvervis CEO Vasyl Petrivsky discuss a corrupt scheme to sell sand.
In another video being investigated by the NABU, Avakov’s deputy Vadym Troyan and Chebotar discuss corrupt revenues from the traffic police and extorting money from businesspeople.
Troyan’s house was searched in July as part of a bribery case. The Security Service of Ukraine and prosecutors said that three associates of Troyan had been arrested for extorting a Hr 1.5 million bribe, while he had nothing to do with the bribery. The statement was seen by Troyan’s critics as an effort to let him escape punishment.
Troyan denied the accusations of wrongdoing, while Avakov claimed the Troyan video was a fake.