Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov has been accused of hiring personnel to spy on journalist Mykhailo Tkach and the camera crew of Schemes: Corruption in Details, an investigative program jointly run by local television station Pershyi and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. government funded broadcaster.
The journalists claim these activities are aimed at obstructing their work.
They allege that since September 2018, suspicious vehicles have been consistently following them as they work. These incidents have happened in central areas of Kyiv, on the city’s outskirts, and near the Zhulyany airport, according to the editorial team of Schemes which published video evidence.
The vehicles that follow the team belong to security firm Delta-Donbas LLC, in which Akhmetov is the largest stakeholder.
"The editorial team is convinced that such actions are aimed at obstructing media activities. After all, we have repeatedly reported about connections of oligarch Akhmetov, and how he kept his positions during the post-Maidan government. We continue to record his non-public contacts with top state officials", states Schemes.
"The editorial team makes this fact public, because, firstly, true intentions of these people are unknown. And secondly, there is hope that after this the pressure will stop and our journalists will be able to continue to perform their professional duties freely, in particular, to investigate connections of Akhmetov with Ukrainian top state officials", stated Natalie Sedletska, the chief editor of the investigative program.
Lawyers representing the journalists argue that based on the recordings, they see signs of interference in journalistic activities, which is a criminal offense in Ukraine.
"When the journalistic team does its work and conducts the journalistic investigation or shoots it, such constant spying may be some kind of moral psychological influence in order to prevent shooting of the particular material", stated Taras Shevchenko, the director of the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law.
"You can send the appeal classified under part two of the article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which foresees influence on the work of journalist aiming at obstruction of his professional activity", states Lyudmyla Pankratova, the lawyer of the Regional Press Development Institute.
Schemes has sent a request to the press service of Rinat Akhmetov inquiring about the incidents. There has not yet been a response by Akhmetov at the time of this article’s publication.
Earlier in 2016, Schemes documented Akhmetov – the richest person in the country – visiting President Petro Poroshenko at night. He also secretly visited the Prime Minister at the same time with Oleh Lyashko, the leader of one of the parliamentary factions, within the same month.