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6 Need-To-Know Things About Ukraine’s Controversial Prosecutor General
26 May, 2017

Yuriy Lutsenko has been in politics almost half his life and throughout Ukraine’s independence, having joined to the Socialist party in 1991. Last year, despite lacking a law degree or background in law-enforcement, he was appointed the country's Prosecutor General. On the day of his appointment he announced that he would, “be in the Prosecutor General’s office for 1 and half to 2 years,” and immediately declared that his main task was to change the “Prosecutor General’s burial ground” and restore the Prosecutor’s office to a “real advocate of the people and state”.

Anastasia Krasnosilska, an expert from Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre, told Hromadske “We do not see any major successes from Prosecutor General Lutsenko.” Although PG Lutsenko promised to radically change the work of the Prosecutor General’s Office, he has not acted accordingly. Inaction on the Prosecutor General’s part has led to cases against Yanukovych and his cronies for economic crimes not being submitted to court, and lost Ukraine the opportunity to recover millions of dollars in assets frozen in the European Union. Furthermore, “hollywood style” arrests of high-profile officials have not resulted in any cases being sent to court. In the words of Krasnosilska, “Prosecutorial reform in Ukraine has failed.”

The Prosecutor General of Ukraine heads the system of official prosecution in courts known as the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. His responsibilities are the organization and leadership of pre-trial investigations, supporting public prosecution in the courts and representating the state’s interest in the courts, according to the law. Following the Maidan Revolution and sweeping anti-corruption reform, it now shares anti-corruption functions with the newly-created Anti-Corruption Bureau. Both are expected to lead the way for Ukraine getting rid of one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

Yuriy Lutsenko has repeatedly met with leaders of parliamentary factions and urged them to make necessary decisions regarding legislative changes (Petro Poroshenko Bloc MP Ihor Kononenko (left), Leader of the “Fatherland” party, Yuliya Timosenko (right)). Photo Credit: Vladyslav Musiienko/UNIAN

However, as heavy criticism and contoversy from local civil society and international anti-corruption watchdogs mounts, Hromadske analyses the six main developments marking Lutsenko's time in the Prosecutor General’s Office.

THE TOP CASE: TRYING UKRAINIAN FUGITIVE PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH

Before Lutsenko started at the Prosecutor General’s Office, he promised to start court proceedings against Ukrainian fugitive President, Viktor Yanukovych. After the Maidan Revolution in 2014, his three predecessors tried to do this, but never managed to bring the case against the ex-president to court.

Even before he came into office, Lutsenko already had a plan for how to do this; to try the fugitive president in absentia. For this, the law needed to be changed. Whilst he was head of the president’s faction, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, he was able to convince his colleagues that this amendment was necessary. Finally, on the day of his succession to the Prosecutor General’s Office, MPs approved it as well.

Lutsenko does not hide the fact that he is in regular contact with influential MPs. He also has a potential means of influencing them. At least 15 deputies are defendants in criminal cases in the Prosecutor General’s Office. This year, Lutsenko has managed to deprive two MPs of their immunity – Oleksandr Onyshchenko and Vadim Novinsky. However, the court is in no hurry to impose criminal charges against them. He has not specifically named the other defendants.

November 25, 2016 Viktor Yanukovych (centre) testified in court via video conference from Russia, where he was in hiding. Photo Credit: EPA/Roman Pilipey

Lutsenko’s critics say that the Prosecutor General’s unusual behaviour is not doing his office any good. Ukrainian MP, Serhiy Vlasenko is convinced that Lutsenko’s repeated statements about President Yanukovych’s guilt will allow the defence to try and prove that the case against the ex-president is politically motivated.

“With all respect to Yuriy Lutsenko, the Prosecutor General’s Office’s main task in the Yanukovych case is not just to bring some kind of charge against him, but to make it so no one doubts the objectivity and transparency of the process,” the MP said, after which he added that Lutsenko shouldn’t resort to loud statements.

LINKS TO UKRAINIAN OLIGARCHS AND PRESIDENTIAL BUSINESS INTERESTS

One of the main reasons of the fall of Lutsenko's predecessor, Viktor Shokin, was his inability to prosecute alleged corruption within close presidential circles. Some of the main complaints Shokin received from activists were about the work of the department of criminal investigations against state property led by Volodymyr Hutsulyak. Activists claimed that two MPs from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and close associates of the Ukrainian president, Ihor Kononenko and Oleksandr Hranovskiy, oversaw the work of the department and prevented it from effectively investigating corruption cases. Both MPs publicly denied the allegations.

Neither the GPU or the Presidential Administration has commented on relations between Yuryi Lutsenko (right) and Petro Poroshenko (left). Photo Credit: Vladyslav Musiienko/UNIAN

After taking over the job, Prosecutor General Lutsenko created a new department for criminal investigation in the sphere of economics and appointed Hutsulyak to lead it. In August 2016, scandal befell Hutsulyak’s subordinates once again. They were detained by National Anti-Corruption Bureau. As it turned out, the Bureau started checking their work. Lutsenko tried to resolve the situation. He suggested that the detentions be reviewed by the Security Service of Ukraine, which, similiarly to the Prosecutor General office, is also under direct control of Presidential Administration. After this, the scandal over the detentions was hushed up. The activists continue to blame Lutsenko for the fact that two MPs from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc were able to control the work of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

STAFF MANAGMENT AS A MAIN FAILURE OF PG LUTSENKO

Lutsenko cites staff management as one of the main failures of the Prosecutor General’s office. Last year he did not carry out a wide-scale purge in his office and he admits that during his time in office he has dismissed “a little over one hundred people” out of the few thousand working at the Prosecutor General’s Office.

At the same time, Hromadske’s sourсes in diplomatic circles say that, a few months ago, four consultants from the FBI came to the Prosecutor General’s Office to consult Ukrainian law-enforcement on the issue of President Yanukovych and the money he stole from the state. They showed staff at the Prosecutor General’s Office how to track the movement of stolen funds over different jurisdictions and find out its corrupt origin. However, after a few months, the FBI stopped working with the Prosecutor General’s Office as they did not see any progress in the way they operated. The Americans decided to cease consultation and return to the US.

IS PG LUTSENKO A "PRESIDENTIAL PUPPET"?

Petro Poroshenko let it slip during his last press-conference that the reform of Prosecutor’s office was done under his control. To what extent does Prosecutor General Lutsenko depend on the president who appointed him to that role? After all, dependency was one of the main failures for the previous Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin.

In May of last year, parliament approved President Petro Porosehnko’s appointment of Yuriy Lutsenko as Ukraine’s General Prosecutor. Photo Credit: EPA/Roman Pilipey

Neither those related to Lutsenko and the president, nor co-workers at the Prosecutor General’s Office, or their colleagues at the Presidential Administration wanted to comment officially. However, during unofficial communications, Prosecution Office staff say that the president, with whom Lutsenko prefers not to quarrel, is not always pleased with the work of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

RETURNING STOLEN MONEY TO THE STATE BUDGET

Apart from the Yanukovych case, another sign of the effectiveness of his work, is the fact that Lutsenko himself is determined to return around 1.9 billion USD (52 billion UAH) to the state budget. The largest part, around 1.5 billion USD (39 billion UAH), was confiscated from companies the Prosecutor General linked to fugitive President Yanukovych and his team

According to Lutsenko, the Prosecutor General’s Office has adopted the practice of making deals with suspects in investigations. The prerequisite for this is payment of compensation to the state budget.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Yuriy Lutsenko is the first prosecutor in history of Ukraine to give the date of his resignation on the day he was appointed. He promised that he would leave the Prosecutor General’s Office no later than 2018. However, a year later, Lutsenko is now avoiding confirming the resignation date. He refused to give a direct answer to Hromadske’s question on when he would resign from the Prosecutor General’s Office:

“There's still time. It will depend on the implementation of plans”.