Law enforcement officers detained Igor Guzhva, editor-in-chief of major Ukrainian online newspaper Strana.ua, in the late evening of June, 22, 2017. Yuriy Lutsenko, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, announced the news on Facebook.
According to the Prosecutor’s General Office, Igor Guzhva demanded and received a bribe amounting to 10,000 USD for not publishing compromising information on a Ukrainian politician. However, no videos or photos of Guzha actually receiving a bribe have been published (Ukrainian Prosecutor General has published photos of money). Alsom a day after, on June 23, Larysa Sarhan, who represents Prosecutor's General Office, published videos of Igor Guzhva allegedly "demanding a bribe". In the video a man who looks like Igor Guzhva is speaking to an unknown person. Based on their dialogue, they are negotiating the sum of money which they want to prevent the publication of some articles. They don't speak about any specific materials. Guzhva himself denies all the accusations and claims that somebody twice offered him a bribe in return for deleting from the website some critical publications about the leader of the Radical Party Oleh Lyashko.
Screenshot from Yuriy Lutsenko's facebook page
On June, 23 Larysa Sarhan, the press-secretary to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine informed the press that Igor Guzhva demanded 20,000 USD from the MP for non-disclosure of information and was detained after receiving 10 thousand dollars from the “victim.”
“The pre-trial investigation revealed that the head of the online publication, conspiring with someone who introduced themselves as his personal assistant, demanded that a People’s Deputy of Ukraine hand over cash to the sum of 20,000 US dollars for not disclosing information to the media about his personal life and political activity,” she said.
Larysa Sarhan reported that the secret investigation lasted three months, and, on the eve of 22 June 2017, Igor Guzhva was detained “after cash to the amount of 10,000 US dollars was transferred from the victim via an intermediary to the head of the online publication."
Guzhva's lawyer, the former Minister of Justice under fugitive former President Yanukovych, Elena Lukash. Photo: Dariya Hirna, Hromadske
"In fact, Guzhva was kidnapped. Now he is being taken to Volodymyrska 15 [the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior in Kyiv–ed.]. As I understand, on suspicion of taking a bribe," Guzhva's lawyer, the former Minister of Justice under fugitive former President Yanukovych, Olena Lukash, reported this.
She also expressed her belief that the court's decision to conduct an investigation into the office of Strana.ua was "a gross violation."
Igor Guzhva told the Ukrainian News Agency that the investigation relates to the Ukrainian Radical Party MP, Dmytro Linko’s attempt to bribe Strana.ua to get rid of the publication.
In his comment to Hromadske, Dmytro Linko denied appealing to the editorial board of Strana.ua but said that there was a situation in which people from the media blackmailed him. Due to the fact that the investigation is still ongoing, Dmytro Linko could not comment further.
The spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, Larysa Sarhan, told Hromadske that Igor Guzhva was detained whilst receiving a bribe.
“It is not a search but an arrest whilst receiving a bribe,” Sarhan said.
Earlier, the deputy editor-in-chief of the online newspaper, Strana.ua told Hromadske that law enforcement officers came to search their editorial office.
Igor Guzhva is a journalist, who, according to open sources, previously headed the media conglomerate Multimedia-Invest Group, which includes the newspaper Vesti, the online publication Vesti.ua and the radio station, Radio Vesti, which were criticized in Ukraine for their pro-Russian position.
Igor Guzhva launched the publication Strana.ua in February 2016. Former employees from the media conglomerate Vesti (the newspaper, website, radio station of the same name, the magazine Vesti-Reporter and the TV channel UBR) formed the core media team. He was in charge of Vesti until February 2015.
Igor Guzhva referred to himself as the owner of Vesti, however, the media company was linked to Oleksandr Klimenko, the former Ukrainian Minister of Revenues and Duties under the fugitive former president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Vesti was founded in 2013 and maintained a critical stance on the Euromaidan protests. After Igor Guzhva allegedly sold the media conglomerate in February 2015, Oleksandr Klimenko’s common law wife, Olha Semchenko, became the head of the conglomerate.
From 2003-2012, Igor Guzhva was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Segodnya (Today), whose shareholder was Ukraine's richest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov's company, SKM Holdings.
In 2014, there was a criminal investigation against Igor Guzhva for tax evasion by the newspaper Vesti. The court still hasn't reached a verdict on this case.
That same year the Ukrainian Security Services opened a criminal case against the magazine Vesti.Reporter for publications that threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The case is still open but it has not yet been taken to court.
Igor Guzhva referred to both cases as attempts to pressure his subordinates at the publication and himself specifically as editor-in-chief.
In April 2017, he stated that the third criminal case against him was also due to tax non-payment.
//Translated by Sofia Fedeczko, Eilish Hart