“I haven’t become anyone’s servant. I was and am independent. And an independent prosecutor cannot be pressed into service, he can only be fired,” said former Prosecutor General Rouslan Riaboshapka during his speech at the Ukrainian parliament, adding that he’s leaving in order to return.
He left the parliament hall without answering questions from MPs. After that, Parliament voted to recall Riaboshapka – the vote gathered 263 votes in favor.
Riaboshapka headed the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) for half a year. We look back at the impression he made during his tenure.
Reforming The Prosecutors
In January 2020, a sign reading "Generalna Procuratura" ('Procurator General's Office') was replaced by a sign reading “The Office of the Prosecutor General” on 13/15 Riznytska Street in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The relaunch of this government body was one of the steps to reform the prosecutorial service in Ukraine as a whole. Local prosecutors' offices are expected to be replaced with district-level ones, and regional offices will be bumped up to oblast level.
Another step in the reform was the recertification of current prosecutors (729 of which did not pass the recertification exam), as well as the hiring of new prosecutors via competitive hiring, as well as the firing of deputy Prosecutor Generals Serhiy Kiz, Dmytro Stolyarchuk, and Anatoliy Matios, who were left over from the tenure of the previous prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko.
The prosecutorial service also created a new department to supervise criminal activity conducted during armed conflict. This department will provide procedural guidance and supervision of pre-trial investigations in over 200 cases currently managed by the Security Service of Ukraine and the National Police.
“We’re talking about global and high-profile crimes, including the tragedies in Ilovaisk and Debaltseve, the catastrophe of flight MH17, the seizure of [the Autonomous Republic of] Crimea, the ‘sailors case’, as well as facts surrounding the outbreak and conduct of armed aggression from Russia, and the systematic torture and killing of captured Ukrainian military personnel and civilians,” stated the Prosecutor General’s Office.
By late February 2020, Riaboshapka announced the development of new legislation governing electronic judicial hearings, which are intended to significantly lower the amount of paperwork in court cases, speed up the movement of evidence and materials in criminal proceedings, and markedly decrease the workload of employees of the criminal justice system.
“Today I’ve presented this bill to the president. Once the presidential office processes it, we hope that the president will submit this bill for parliamentary consideration,” said the former Prosecutor General. According to him, this system is intended to become functional by the end of the year between the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Office (SAPO), and the High Anti-Corruption Court. By the end of 2021, the system is intended to be used by the entirety of the criminal justice system.
During his speech to Parliament on March 5, Riaboshapka noted that for the previous three months of the PGO’s work, they managed to accomplish something no one had done in the previous 28 years: “I don’t know what Parliament’s decision will be, but, not to pass this opportunity, I’d like to turn to people, to each and every Ukrainian. For the past 28 years, the Ukrainian prosecutorial service was an instrument of pressure and political repression. There are people in this hall that felt this for themselves. 28 years, this organization did not have any trustworthy people. For 28 years, the prosecutor’s office was a source of personal profit for a chosen few. We’re reforming the prosecutor’s office, and these reforms, I trust, have already left their mark on Ukraine’s history.”
One of the highest profile cases that will be remembered from Riaboshapka’s tenure is the murder of activist Kateryna Handziuk.
In February 2020, the prosecutor’s office announced the detention of a person suspected of organizing the murder in Bulgaria – Oleksiy Levin-Moskalenko. On February 21, a Bulgarian court allowed for his extradition, though Levin-Moskalenko’s lawyers have appealed the decision.
Additionally, in January, in the Kherson region, law enforcement officers, working together with the PGO, launched a massive special operation and opened new criminal cases against other suspects in the case – Serhiy Torbin and Ihor Pavlovskyi. They’re now being charged with creating the criminal group that led to the murder. Pavlovskyi was once against sent to prison.
“Finally we were able to make progress. The investigation was unblocked. We found Levin. Many of those who hid have been brought to justice,” said Riaboshapka. He’d earlier said that no one wanted to investigate the case of the murdered activist because the prosecutors on the case had changed.
Handziuk’s father noted the effectiveness of Riaboshapka’s work and sent a respective statement to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The Murder of Pavel Sheremet
In December of 2019, suspects were finally announced in the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet.
The suspects are currently military volunteers Andriy Antonenko, Yuliya Kuzmenko, and Yana Duhar. Kuzmenko and Antonenko are being held in pre-trial detention, while Dugar has been remanded to house arrest. But many groups have risen up in support of the suspects and call for their release.
At the same time, Riaboshapka stated that the suspects could just be accomplices, but the person or people who had ordered the murder still needed to be found: “Ukraine must hear who the initiator of this terrible crime is.”
Riaboshapka later admitted that the evidence in the case was not sufficient and the investigation needed to work on it.
The Corruption of Oleg Gladkovsky
In October 2019, the High Anti-Corruption Court confined the former deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleg Gladkovsky, to custody for two months, with the possibility of bail. Bail was set at around $427,000.
He is charged with malpractice in his professional capacity and misrepresentation of his declaration – a document where government officials are required to list all assets and income in a publicly-searchable database. Investigators say that Gladkovsky managed to worm his way into defense purchase contracts, where he included the purchase of trucks at inflated prices from a specific factory. This factory – a subsidiary of Bohdan Motors – has as its final beneficiary the same Gladkovsky. As a result, the government incurred losses of over $427,000. Gladkovsky paid his bail, and he was released.
The Corruption of Yaroslav Dubnevych
On October 31, Parliament stripped former MP Yaroslav Dubnevych of his parliamentary immunity. The MP is suspected of spending over $3.75 million via malpractice in a professional capacity. If he is convicted, he faces 7 to 12 years' imprisonment.
According to investigators, in 2015-2017, Dubnevych participated in government purchases for the state-owned railway, Ukrzaliznytsia, at inflated prices. This cost the government over $3.75 million. He was taken into custody, with bail set at $4 million, which Dubnevych paid.
The Euromaidan Shootings
In late December, the Court of Appeal changed the pre-trial detention measures for five ex-riot police officers suspected of taking part in the shooting of Euromaidan protesters in February 2014. The ex-officers were finally transferred to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange.
Prior to that, Riaboshapka had changed the prosecutors on the case to new ones. These new prosecutors didn’t protest the changes to the ex-officers' pre-trial detention measures. This caused a public outcry – activists went to the prison where the ex-officers were detained, in order to prevent them from being released.
Riaboshapka later explained that the ex-officers were not cleared of their ongoing criminal charges.
“We have to understand: the way the investigation has progressed has unfortunately not given the public answers to key questions. We have huge questions about the quality of the investigatory process. Part of the evidence has simply disappeared, and the investigators had self-sabotaged at other points,” explained the former Prosecutor General.
Riaboshapka ordered the elimination of the previous management of the Department of Euromaidan investigations, and their work was transferred to the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI). Riaboshapka also stated that after the dismissal of former Euromaidan prosecutor Serhiy Horbatiuk, the effectiveness of the investigation significantly improved.
Accusations Against Petro Poroshenko
At the start of March, rumors began swirling about a prospective case being prepared by the SBI against former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, though the PGO refused to go forward with announcing charges. Riaboshapka stated that the case contained issues that needed to be corrected and added that “no one ever [forced] him to sign the [charge sheet somehow and somewhere.]”
Additionally, the head of the ruling party faction in Parliament, David Arakhamia, believes that the fact that Riaboshapka did not sign the charge sheet against Poroshenko was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of his dismissal.
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Rouslan Riaboshapka prior to the start of a press conference at the Prosecutor General’s Office where he explained the current state of reforms. Kyiv, Ukraine, October 4, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/STEPAN FRANKO
Criticism and Support
Commenting on his dismissal, Ryiboshapka noted the politicization of the decision-making process and the "hysterics" of several MPs, including from the ruling Servant of the People party, Max Buzhanskiy.
“People decided that my work was negative even before the report of the Prosecutor General’s Office. Several of them only just finished school, but they already understand how the PGO works. They see that they can’t solve their problems in this prosecutorial service. They see that they can’t solve their problem in NABU. And when you have this sort of relationship, when NABU works with the PGO, this can lead to unpleasant results for some oligarchs and their henchmen, obviously, this is starting to cause some concern,” said Riaboshapka.
Once information about the possible dismissal of Riaboshapka began to enter the public consciousness, several organizations rose in his defense. They issued a statement saying that this is the first prosecutor general who began a total cleansing in the prosecutorial service as part of the reform process.
“This attempt to fire [Riaboshapka] only provides the desire to immediately stop any changes in the system. In particular, to stop the recertification of prosecutors of all levels,” reads the statement.
These organizations also noted that Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, currently the longest-serving interior minister who assumed the post in Poroshenko’s administration, remains untouched, as well as the heads of the National Police, and that discussion about the reforms in the Security Service of Ukraine have completely stopped.