Yuriy Lutsenko, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, has never concealed the fact that he is a “politically-appointed Prosecutor.” He came to the Prosecutor General’s Office from the parliament. For that reason, the applicant requirements had to be changed. But the Prosecutor General thinks that this does not hinder his professional duties.
Photo credit: EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY
But politics does get in the way, it seems. A clear example happened in December when the Prosecutor General was not afraid to thwart an operation involving the FBI. This incident almost cost Ukraine its brand new visa-free regime with the European Union.
Nearly a month ago, on May 12, we marked two years since Yuriy Lutsenko’s appointment as Prosecutor General of Ukraine. He announced another motion to strip MPs of their immunity and he is awaiting a court verdict on the extrajudicial trial for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
The Favorite of His Sins
Lutsenko views himself as a crisis manager who wants to “reform the Prosecutor General burial ground.” While being appointed to the post of Prosecutor General, he said that he is not here for “fame or easy life.” He also announced that he would stay in the position for more than 1.5-2 years.
Lutsenko’s first year in the office was dedicated to the criminal proceedings against fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych. To kick off this process, he had to convince MPs to change the law – twice. The trial against Yanukovych was supposed to increase Lutsenko’s popularity. But it didn’t.
Photo credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN
At the start of December 2017, a sociological survey, which examined Lutsenko’s popularity rating, produced disappointing results. Only 5% of people surveyed rated the Prosecutor General’s work positively. Lutsenko himself admits that his work does not evoke enthusiasm within society.
“Why is society not applauding? Because there are no ‘big fish’ among the PGO’s 1,692 convictions,” Lutsenko explained in an interview, adding that “according to the law, the two newly-formed anti-corruption agencies – the National Anti-corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) – have exclusive monopoly on the cases against the top officials.”
Later that month, Lutsenko decided to try and change the situation. PGO employees, together with the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), arrested NABU agents under the auspices of an investigation into corruption within the State Migration Service. These agents were accused of provocation of bribery against the first deputy chief of the State Migration Service Dina Pimakhova.
Photo credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN
Lutsenko used these arrests to hit back at NABU head Artem Sytnyk and SAPO head Nazar Kholodnytsky. Together with the head of the SBU Vasyl Hrytsak, he went to parliament to convince MPs of the incompetence of the anti-corruption agencies’ leadership. His arguments worked and MPs registered a draft law simplifying the resignation process for the heads of NABU and SAPO.
In response to Lutsenko’s accusations, NABU director Artem Sytnyk stated that, by arresting a NABU agent under cover, the SBU and the PGO thwarted an operation that his detectives were carrying out in conjunction with the FBI. “And who allowed an operation by a foreign intelligence service to take place on Ukrainian territory?” Lutsenko retorted.
So why was the FBI interested in a corruption case in the State Migration Service of Ukraine?
The Iranian Investigation
The answer to this question can be found in officially published recordings of a conversation between Pimakhova and a NABU agent under the name Serhiy Titunkov.
According to the field legend, Titunkov was working at Arab investment company Mubadala and was trying to obtain a Ukrainian passport for an Iranian citizen with Pimakhova’s help. Titunkov told the State Migration Service first deputy chief that this Iranian was a merchant who needed a Ukrainian passport to register his business in Ukraine, despite having never visited the country before.
“They just need a passport. For what? So that Iran... All these sanctions… They want to do business with him.... He trades with China,” Titunkov told Pimakhova, adding that this Iranian was not the only person interested in such a deal. She agreed to issue the passport in exchange for $30,000.
The conversation between the NABU agent and Pimakhova actually confirms the possibility that a channel allowing Iranian citizens to bypass international UN sanctions exists in Ukraine. For example, the sanction banning export of products from the oil refining industry.
But why were NABU agents interested in the Migration Service’s passport issuing as opposed to places with larger amounts of corruption? And why did they choose a story of an Irani businessman to expose Pimakhova?
Consequences of Corruption
In July 2017, the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the European Union came into effect. Having bought a Ukrainian passport, someone could now enter EU countries without any problems. Corruption relating to issuing passports could result in the EU allowing terrorists into its countries. In particular, members of Islamic State – an organization, which regularly takes responsibility for terrorist acts committed in EU countries.
According to Hromadske’s interlocutor, NABU concerned themselves with the activity of the Migration Service on the advice of the FBI. In an official statement, the FBI noted that it was working with NABU as part of a Memorandum of Understanding on a temporary, rotational basis.
But countering terrorism actually falls under the SBU’s remit. NABU could not come out with a story about potential terrorists, so instead they went with the “Iranian story,” which also highlighted the potential international risks of Ukrainian corruption.
Photo credit: Mykhailo Palinchak/POOL/UNIAN
One of the country’s top officials – who attended a meeting with US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch the night NABU’s fate was decided – stated that it was specifically thanks to this incident that Yovanovitch succeeded in stopping high-ranking officials from changing the legislation on NABU:
“This posed the threat of abolishing the visa-free regime with the European Union. If, god forbid, it turned out that an explosion in a European country was carried out by someone who had entered Europe on a Ukrainian passport, we would have been deprived of the visa-free regime.”
The US embassy did not comment on this to Hromadske. They only noted that they continue to support the work of NABU. At the time, information that representatives of EU institutions had “hinted” to the Ukrainian authorities that the visa-free regime would be suspended if they decide to simplify the procedure for dismissing the heads of the anti-corruption agencies circulated through the media.
Following official statements from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and a meeting with the US ambassador and the parliament leaders, the situation was reversed. The draft law on the simplifying the dismissal procedure for NABU and SAPO heads was now withdrawn from parliament.
Yuriy Lutsenko also reconciled with Artem Sytnyk before the end of 2017 seeing as he could no longer fight him. “Mr. Sytnyk and I came to the conclusion that this conflict was harmful for us as leaders, for our departments, and, most of all, for the country. Lessons have been learned from this,” Lutsenko said.
Divide and Conquer
Dina Pimakhova resigned from the Migration Serviceof her own accord on March 21.
NABU continued its investigation into foreigners obtaining Ukrainian passports. On April 24, NABU detectives detained SBU counterintelligence officer Oleksandr Karamushko. His job was to expose foreigners living illegally in Ukraine on counterfeit documents. However, according to the investigation, Karamushko himself was involved in “running a protection racket” for illegal foreign nationals in Ukraine.
Photo credit: Oleksandr Prilepa/UNIAN
Karamushko is accused of accepting bribes in exchange for looking the other way for 16 illegal migrants who received Ukrainian passports.
Meanwhile, Sytnyk has now become Lutsenko’s ally in the fight against the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office Nazar Kholodnytsky. NABU detectives accuse him of disclosing information on criminal proceedings to the suspects in those cases. Procedural guidance in this case is carried out by the prosecutors from the Prosecutor General’s Office.
However, all of this did not succeed in increasing Lutsenko’s popularity. According to a sociological survey carried out by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in April, 60% of Ukrainian citizens rate the work of Prosecutor General negatively.
/By Maxim Kamenev
/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko