For Ukraine’s long-term hopes of joining the European Union, the fight against corruption has consistently proven to be the biggest challenge. Western creditors and governments have criticized the country for failing to establish rule of law, giving the Ukrainian government a powerful incentive to prove its credentials by showing its efforts in reforms.
While the Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman has been trumpeting the country’s progress on law and order (he declared to the German newspaper group Funke Mediengruppe that "A lot of things have happened, specifically in the struggle against corruption.”), the recent criminal case against People’s Will MP Oleksandr Onyschenko could be considered as proof, or possibly a PR tool coming along just at the right time - a good way to demonstrate the newly created anti-corruption bureau NABU efficiency.
The allegations against Onyschenko go like this: he’s accused of being at the head of a “gas scheme,” in which he allegedly embezzled 3 billion Hryvnias through Ukrhasvydobuvannia PJSC (Ukraine’s state-owned gas extractor).
These accusations were relayed by a document posted by Bloc Petro Poroshenko MP Serhiy Leschenko on Facebook few weeks ago.
Since then, the government seems to have made the case a priority. He has been first questioned by the NABU, which, according to him, did not submit any evidence of his involvement in criminal offenses related to gas production, Censor.NET reported.
But the government has become more aggressive in its tactics - last week, police raided the offices of Onyschenko’s attorneys in order to find information, in what could constitute a violation of legal privilege.
According to Censor, Onyschenko called it an example of intimidation, saying, “they are just walking on the first floor smashing windows”.
"Knowing that I have done nothing wrong, I will persuade the procedural committee and parliament not to support these trumped-up charges against me”
Unfortunately for him, on 19 June, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, Yuriy Lutsenko, proposed to press charges against him: 275 MPs of the Rada voted to make him eligible for legal liability regarding the allegations. Over three separate votes, they voted for Onyschenko’s prosecution, detention and arrest; and further on this 5 July, they finally voted to lift his parliamentary immunity.
Tymoshenko’s people raise controversy
According to the analysis of magazine EU Reporter, the case could be part of a phenomenon of deprivation of businesses, governed by President Poroshenko to actually perpetuate corruption and redistribute the capital seized among his business partners. Onyshchenko himself believes in a process set up in order to grab his assets.
Onyschenko has found an ally in Batkyvschyna party leader Yuliya Tymoschenko, who recently called the case a “raider process” from the time of Yanukovych in an interview on Channel 112.
“Onyshchenko is a public person, but how many of those who aren’t and faced with same deprivation?”
To her, the Onyschenko case is a parallel of what she experienced under Yanukovych. She recently told German Der Spiegel that the Ukrainian government still defends oligarchs’ interests, they all work together and own the majority of the economy and medias.magazine
She also went on to criticize the anti-corruption institutions which brought the case:
“NABU, Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office – all they are just illusions, they won’t touch real generators of corruption in the country. NABU depends on the country’s top leadership, they do orders: they closed the cases against Gontareva, against the Minister of Finance, against deputies of PPB (Petro Poroshenko’s Block), who stand at the head of corruption; they cover up corruption of who is in charge. All corrupt officials from the previous government were released. All the leaders of corruption sitting in senior positions in the government today.”
Kateryna Odarchenko, who is at the head of ‘PolitA’ (an Institute working for Democracy and Development in Ukraine) said,
“The scenario of Yanukovych is repeated to monopolize influence and power.”
Onyshchenko can also count on former Bloc Yuliya Tymoshenko parliamentarian Oleh Lyashko’s support, who has declared: “Tomorrow we will continue to block the rostrum and come forth with our demands on gas, corruption, offshore companies, and the rest.”
Evgen Vorobyov, a Kyiv-based political analyst, noted in a tweet that Onyschenko was rumored to be a funding source for Tymoshenko’s political party.
“It is just a ‘coincidence’ that Tymoshenko started blocking wrote on Twitter parlmt work after immunity of the MP rumored her party's financier was repealed,” Vorobyov
Therefore, this scandal is doubly interesting for the Ukrainian government: on one side, it gives concrete proof of the efforts made by the Ukrainian government regarding corruption, and on the other, he weakens a potential political rival.