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5 High-Stakes Cases of Ukraine’s (Outgoing?) Prosecutor General
6 November, 2018
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Photo credit: UNIAN

Yuriy Lutsenko has held the position of Prosecutor General of Ukraine for almost two and a half years. In this time, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) have initiated a number of high-profile cases, including state treason cases against both the fugitive ex-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and MP Nadia Savchenko, who, according to the PGO, supposedly attempted to overthrow the Ukrainian parliament.

On November 6, Lutsenko announced that he will offer resignation. Hromadske has gathered five of the cases the Prosecutor General is likely to remembered for, if he actually does resign.

1. The “Main One”: Against Yanukovych

Before Lutsenko was appointed as Prosecutor General, he promised that he would kick start legal proceedings against former president Yanukovych. Three of his predecessors – Viktor Shokin, Vitaliy Yarema and Oleh Makhnitsky – had all tried to do this, but were unable to the bring the case against Yanukovych to court.

Photo credit: Oleksandr Kosarev/UNIAN

Even before he began in the role, Lutsenko had a plan to do this by trying the ex-president in absentia. Yanukovych stands accused of state treason, aiding the Russian authorities, deliberate acts aimed at altering the state borders of Ukraine established within the Constitution and carrying out an aggressive war.

Under these charges, Yanukovych faces up to 15 years imprisonment.

READ MORE: Yanukovych vs Ukraine, Explained

At the current stage in the case, Yanukovych’s lawyers are trying to persuade the court that Yanukovych fled the country due to a coup d’etat. On November 19, the former head of state will have the chance to present his closing statement in court.

2. The Nadiya Savchenko Case

On March 22, 2018, Lutsenko personally came to the Ukrainian parliament to present MPs with a 20-minute video. The videos shows eight special forces officers communicating with Savchenko and Head of Ukraine’s Officer Corps Prisoner of War Exchange Center Volodymyr Ruban, in which they discuss a plan to overthrow the parliament. According to the publicly-released recording, in November 2017, Ruban himself suggested to the special forces officers carry out a terrorist attack.

READ MORE: Who Is Volodymyr Ruban, The Prisoner Swap Organizer Arrested on Terrorism Charges?

An arsenal of weapons was then brought to the military unit from the occupied territories. In the video, the soldiers explain how to use the weapons. Ruban devised a three-stage plan for a future terrorist attack.

Photo credit: UNIAN

According to Lutsenko, the soldiers, having understood Ruban and Savchenko’s intentions, went to the Ukrainian Security Service. They had already caught those involved on camera.

“The investigation has irrefutable evidence that Nadia Savchenko personally planned, personally recruited [people] and gave instructions on how to carry out a terrorist attack in [the parliament] hall. [She planned] to destroy two seat boxes in parliament with two grenades, shell the dome of the parliament from mortars, and finish those who would survive from automatic weapons,” Lutsenko announced in parliament.

READ MORE: Ukraine Arrests MP Nadiya Savchenko On Terror Charges

On August 1, 2018, law enforcement completed the pre-trial investigation into Savchenko and the former negotiator Ruban. Savchenko is accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional system, an attempt on the life of the President of Ukraine, preparing a terrorist attack, promoting the activities of a terrorist organization and illegal arms possession. These charges could amount to life imprisonment for Savchenko.

On March 23, Savchenko was detained for two months without the possibility of bail.

At the end of October, her arrest was extended to January 23.

3. Amber Lawmakers

One Monday evening in a restaurant in the Ukrainian capital, a man hands over $200,000 to another man. This is when employees of the National Anti-corruption Bureau turn up. The recipient of the money was the bodyguard of Ukrainian MP Boryslav Rozenblat. And the money – his boss’ bribe.

Detectives then arrested six more people: two bodyguards, an aide to an MP and even “anti-corruption figures” from the Deputy Control group. They are all suspected of criminal schemes connected to illegal amber mining.

Photo credit: UNIAN

The key figures in this case are two MPs from the governing coalition.

The first one is Borys Rozenblat from Petro Poroshenko Bloc. According to the investigation, he received a $200,000 bribe through an intermediary on the promise the he would influence certain officials, who would then issue special permission to mine amber.

The second figure is Maksym Poliakov from the People’s Front party. The investigators state that he was an accomplice in the amber scheme. According to Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), Polyakov received $7,500 via his assistant to introduce a draft bill, which would ensure changes to the Tax and Customs codes.

The Prosecutor’s Office suspect MPs Polyakov and Rozenblat of receiving funds and lobbying the interest of a foreign company named Fujairah, which mines amber. The two parliamentarians face up to 12 years behind bars.  

On July 18, 2017, a district judge in Kyiv set bail for Rozenblat at seven million hryvnias (around $250,500).

On October 20, 2017, the court re-ordered Rozenblat to wear an ankle bracelet. The day before he had been caught allegedly attempting to board a flight to Cologne.  

4. Access to Journalists’ Phones

On September 4, 2018, the news broke that the Pechersk district court in Kyiv had given the Prosecutor General access to information from journalist and and editor-in-chief of the Schemes program Natalie Sedletska’s phone. At the request of the GPO, the court gave permission to access information about calls and text messages from Sedletska’s phone provider for a period of 17 months – from July 2016 to November 2017 – as well as location information from the phone.

Photo credit: Yalta European Strategy forum

The PGO made this request as part of a case involving NABU director Artem Sytnyk, who is suspected of disclosing state secrets, and in which Sedletska is a witness. The case was submitted on November 16, 2017, after a audio recording appeared on the Obozrevatel website, in which a person with a voice similar to Sytnyk’s tells journalists “details of several resonant cases.” In particular, information on wiretapping in the case of former prosecutor Konstiantyn Kulyk, Yanukovych’s stolen money, and the case regarding former MP Mykola Martynenko.

According to the investigation, Sytnyk could have disclosed information, which led to violations of personal privacy, secret correspondences and so on. 

However, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) stated that, at the time, the Schemes program was conducting a number of investigation into high-profile Ukrainian officials, including Prosecutor General Lutsenko himself. RFE/RL were outraged by the court decision, and so were a whole host of journalists and civic organizations. They stated that this decision “creates a dangerous precedent media, as well as violating Ukraine’s international obligations.”

On September 5, Sedletska wrote on Facebook that Lutsenko had invited her to a closed meeting. However, she refused to attend explaining she is against private meetings like that. Instead, RFE/RL invited Lutsenko to appear live on air to discuss the issue. He refused.

Sedletska was not the only person whose information the GPO had access to, spokesperson to the PGO Andriy Lysenko told Hromadske this during a live show. Another court decision was later taken regarding Novoye Vremya journalist Kristina Berdynskykh.

READ MORE: Journalists Outraged by Ukrainian Court’s Decision to Allow Access to Muckraker’s Phone

Lutsenko was forced to explain why the PGO had access to journalists’ phones during the Yalta European Strategy forum, which took place mid-September in Kyiv. BBC journalist Stephen Sackur commented on the court decision, stating that it was a “signal to all journalists and all citizens in Ukraine that journalists are not protected from the ‘system.’”  The Prosecutor General responded that, after the off-record meeting with journalists

“If I had any other option to establish the date of the event, I would have never even resorted to this minimal intrusion into the confidentiality of journalists. But I am the Prosecutor General, who has to carry out an investigation and establish the date of the event,” he said.

5. The Last One? Kateryna Handziuk’s Murder

On July 31, 2018, activist and city council advisor Kateryna Handziuk was attacked with acid near the entrance to her apartment block in Kherson, southern Ukraine. She received 30% burns to her body. She died on November 4.  

On August 3, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced that a suspect in the case had been detained. However, he had an alibi, so was therefore released after spending 19 days in pre-trial detention.  

READ MORE: Ukrainian Activist and Whistleblower Official Dies After Acid Attack

Lutsenko went to visit Handziuk in hospital, where he stated that the main reason she was attacked was her active civic stance, which “prevented various officials, businessmen, bandits from engaging in illegal activities.”

However, at the end of September, while commenting on the slow progress of investigations into attacks on activists, Lutsenko said that exposing these attacks is further hindered by the “total hatred towards the government” that these activists have.

READ MORE: Acid Attack in Southern Ukraine: What Happened?

“Uncovering crimes is not a factory conveyor belt, where we have to find both the perpetrator and the person who ordered the crime. Unfortunately, fault not only lies with the poor quality work of law enforcement, but also on the atmosphere of total hatred towards the government, which some civic activists create.”

After Kateryna Handziuk’s death, representatives from the Coalition for the Protection of Civil Society and number of other civic and human rights organization demanded the resignation of both Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko