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"There is Sufficient Evidence in Handziuk Case" – Ukraine’s PG Irina Venediktova
5 May, 2020
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Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova at the hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020 Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

The case of Kateryna Handziuk, criminal charges against activist Serhiy Sternenko and whether there are any agreements with Petro Poroshenko, threats from Andriy Portnov and advisers who failed certification – Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova spoke about all this, as well as her undeclared apartment, derailed judicial reform and more, with hromadske.

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You’ve just gotten back from a meeting of the Provisional Investigatory Commission (PIC) of Parliament on attacks on activists. The Handziuk case has now caused a major scandal, most of all, by the father of the murdered activist and his representatives. On November 4, Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised that all the paymasters and those responsible for the death of Handziuk would be found. On [April 27], prosecutors reported that the pre-trial investigation was completed and the case was being transferred to court. Now the materials are already open to the defense and to other parties. Representatives of the victims' side claim that there were still three months remaining, and without completing all investigative activities, the case was submitted to court. Why was there such a rush?

There was no rush. We did not change the group of prosecutors on Handziuk at all, only [former deputy PG Viktor] Trepak quit and another deputy took his place. All the other 20 prosecutors in the group remain, and not a single prosecutor was changed.

I did attend a PIC today. I brought the documents and showed how groups of prosecutors were forming and what has been done since March 16, when [Oleksiy] Levin was extradited, what activities took place and what investigative experiments, cross-questioning, and the additional interrogations, etc. Indeed, everything the investigation could do – they did.

READ MORE: Suspected Murderer of Kateryna Handziuk Extradited to Ukraine

Nothing more could be done in three months?

I don't like that people say the case is closed and that it sometimes comes from MPs. Going to court and closing a case are completely different things. When the prosecutor directs the indictment to court, it means that the prosecutor is fully prosecuting the case.

You appreciate that the prosecutor's office has more responsibility in this high-profile case, more pressure from society than anyone else. We understand that each of us, each of our actions in this case will be viewed under a magnifying glass.

Why are you submitting it to court three months before the case is completed?

Because there is every reason to believe that the evidence to the indictment, including specifically to the paymaster, is sufficient. And that’s key, we could hold back for another three months, but prosecutors and investigators believe they have gathered enough evidence to prosecute.

Did Oleksiy Levin give any testimony?

Look, I'm not the prosecutor in this case...

But you said that you were at the PIC and reported on everything that had been done.

I have no right to disclose it. I discussed with the prosecutors before the PIC what I can say on the air. I won’t hype it up, I won’t run around calling out names. I am a mature, responsible person who heads an institution. Unless I am a prosecutor in the case, I will not give you any declarations, hype, etc. just to look good.

I'm not asking you about the content of this testimony. I am asking whether Oleskiy Levin testified?

Do you want direct testimony against Vladyslav Manger? He did not testify directly against Manger. But the evidence the prosecution has is sufficient.

READ MORE: State Official Suspected in Kateryna Handziuk’s Killing

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

Why is it that Manger's side is satisfied that the case has gone to court and Handziuk's side is not satisfied?

What makes you think Manger's side is satisfied?

They have been preparing for this for a long time. And the first thing lawyer [Dmytro] Ivchenko wrote after the briefing was "excellent".

When my prosecutors and investigators came to study the documents at the time, there was a completely different reaction, and this different reaction lasted for two hours. I want to tell you that prosecutors believe that the evidence is sufficient. During this time, during the 40 days that have passed since March 16, many different investigative and procedural actions have been taken after Levin's extradition. Certainly enough.

READ MORE: Kateryna Handziuk's Father Calls on Zelenskyy to Keep PG Riaboshapka

Why was the announcement of the completion of the pre-trial investigation made on Vladyslav Manger's birthday?

I do not keep track of birthdays. Prosecutors had planned to do so from Monday (April 27), given the short week. As you know, lawyers will now get to know the case. Given 55 volumes, it will take two to three weeks. Prosecutors and investigators do not pay attention to any dates that other people do. They are guided by their logic.

It's genuinely funny and it's perversion and manipulation to say that the prosecutor's office makes birthday presents. This is not a story of pre-trial investigation at all, it is a story of some speculation and manipulation.

Negative reaction from Handziuk and positive reaction from Manger. Does this not make you doubt that prosecutors did the right thing?

I do not follow Manger's side in the case. Prosecutors assert that they have sufficient evidence to take an active position in the prosecution in court. I trust the prosecutors in this case. I have no reason to consider any of them dishonest and unprofessional.

READ MORE: Husband of Murdered Activist Handziuk Blames Kherson Officials During Emotional Interview

As far as I know, these are all prosecutors-contractors. Because on April 21, you disbanded the department that handled procedural management...

This has nothing to do with this case. This is a normal process, we had many departments that duplicated functions – now they have been optimized. Prosecutors have not had their status changed.

They are in an outside capacity now.

Some, not all. In a procedural status, a prosecutor is a prosecutor.

But he is in limbo.

We do not have prosecutors in limbo. They are regulated by orders and human resources. This is now happening on a large scale and is not just about this case. It was the same when I was in the State Bureau of Investigations, when the Maidan department came from the Maidan division, but all the investigators worked and performed their functions. Just as now, prosecutors are working and performing their functions. There are – and there will be – no signs that this will affect their procedural status.

So a coincidence? It happened on April 21. According to Handziuk family’s lawyer Yevhenia Zakrevska, the position of prosecutors has changed after that. Two weeks ago, they claimed that a number of investigative actions had to be taken and that they were not yet ready to complete the pre-trial investigation. Then this happens and prosecutors are changing their position.

Pressing a prosecutor by blackmailing them about their work is just impossible. It seems to me it’d be better to ask each of the prosecutors in this group of prosecutors.

How sincere will they be in their answers?

I have no reason to believe that they will be insincere. Communicate, look them in the eye, because prosecutors in the group will be responsible for this case, and I personally as the head of the institution. So far nothing has happened to shout "betrayal". We have already been demonized.

In order to avoid such manipulations, we are ready to speak openly about it. Prosecutors came out for a briefing and answered questions, then went to ICTV for "Freedom of Speech", came to a briefing outside the Prosecutor General's Office, today they were at the PIC.

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

How do you explain such a negative reaction of activists from the "Who ordered Katya Handziuk?" initiative, lawyers and representatives of [activist’s father] Viktor Handziuk?

I have an explanation and I have a clear position on this, but I cannot express my subjective assessment and emotional attitude. I believe that all the assessments will be given by the time when we reach one stage or another.

You said that prosecutors and you are responsible. Are you ready to resign if it becomes apparent that prosecutors did not do enough in the Handziuk case?

Many raise the issue of my resignation. Let's raise this issue when there are grounds for it. I accept responsibility. I can guarantee you that I am always open to dialogue.

If Manger or Levin are found not guilty in the case?

I am responsible for what is happening in the prosecutor's office. For our part, we will do our utmost to ensure that our indictments stand in court. But I am not responsible for the court's decision.

The case of [Odesa activist Serhiy] Sternenko has now receded into the background. You have already announced that he will be served with charges. The last time you spoke about this, you already mentioned the mandatory Article 115 "Premeditated murder". Why has this not happened and when will it?

It was about forensics. In response to questions from Ukrayinska Pravda, I said that, based on the tests, it seemed like it. Then [journalist] Natasha Vlashchenko asked the same question a fortnight later.

And there you said that there would be charges soon.

No, I said that, given that this was a single proceeding, Sternenko had several assaults, already had indictments in the courts for other assaults, but this is proceeding 1215, it is about an attempted attack on him and his actions. Therefore, with Vlaschenko I said that prosecutors and investigators were resolving these issues comprehensively.

So there will be charges?

I will say no more. A pre-trial investigation is ongoing.

You gave a specific answer to Ukrayinska Pravda.

Regarding forensic materials. After this examination, three additional spot examinations were assigned. So if you want a specific answer right now, let the investigator and the prosecutor decide. Let's wait. When I was responding to the UP, it was a response to the materials of the comprehensive examination, which took place on April 3.

I am asking you for a specific answer.

The direct procedural act will give you a specific answer. When we see investigators and prosecutors working, they are indeed working. No prosecutor can tell you this at this stage.

I'm being invited for interviews a lot right now, but I'm telling everyone that I'm a boring person because I won't create hype, I won't interfere with the work of investigators and prosecutors.

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

Is it true that the position of the leader of the prosecutor group, Andriy Radionov, is such that there is no criminal culpability?

I’m struggling to say what conclusion he is making, I did not understand his position.

With regard to the group of prosecutors in this case: on November 4, a group of prosecutors were appointed; then on January 15, they were already changed; then on March 20, a group of prosecutors was replaced again and Radionov headed this group. Prior to that, he was not in the prosecutor group and immediately joined the group on March 20 as the group leader. Today I met him personally.

It should be understood that the materials of this proceeding were being examined and returned with the forensic tests on April 3. So there were some statements then, now there are others. Thus, in order to avoid any manipulation, time should be allowed.

So you didn't talk to him outside the PIC? You don't know his position?

No. Different prosecutors voiced their positions. As for me as head of the institution, I stand by the fact that in high-profile cases we should not change the group of prosecutors. The person who joined on March 20, with the materials at that time under examination, but already on March 24, a report appears from him demanding the change to the National Police. It is a strange story.

Did he file a report to change the jurisdiction to the National Police?

Yes.

Do you object to a change of jurisdiction?

Yes, I am against it. I believe that the Security Service of Ukraine will handle this, and I have no reason to doubt their actions, professionalism, integrity and desire to close the case in the short term. Because the prosecutor's office has to make sure that each case is completed quickly enough. This case was opened in 2018, now it’s 2020, two years is a long enough term.

Until a certain moment, we got the impression that you were also considering a change of jurisdiction to the National Police. Because on March 25 you had a meeting with the participation of Arsen Avakov, the leadership of the National Police, and after that the official announcement, published on the website of the Prosecutor General's Office, sounded as if the authorities agreed to conduct investigative and procedural actions in a number of high-profile proceedings, including about the murder of Ivan Kuznetsov. This is the man who died during the third attack on Sternenko. It sounds like you are coordinating some investigative actions with the police.

This quotation is correct. It sounds really weird. We talked about a lot of high-profile cases, including this case; it was discussed, this case was twice with the National Police, so we discussed the actions that were taken with the law enforcement agencies. But no actions after that to change the jurisdiction were taken. Therefore, you can interpret things differently. But after various actions by the Deputy Prosecutor on changing the jurisdiction, we did not change it.

Is there any new evidence on the involvement of the National Police or the Interior Ministry in the attacks on Sternenko?

I am not in the group of prosecutors. There is secrecy of the pre-trial investigation. I cannot publicize such things because of the law.

As soon as your interview with the UP came out, some of the civic activists on Sternenko's side started calling you [lawyer, former deputy head of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential administration Andriy] Portnov's friend. On the other hand, Andriy Portnov started attacking you in a rather vulgar form and is doing it regularly. Did you communicate with him afterward?

No.

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

One thing Portnov accuses you of is that there are still no charges signed against the fifth president, Petro Poroshenko. And this is surprising, because Poroshenko's first charges left the SBI under [former head] Roman Truba last November, and during your brief term as acting director of the SBI, there were also several charges. And now the prosecutor general, including you, have not signed them.

I cannot comment on the level of culture and emotional state of other people. And it will never be this way. We are all different. We all have different ways of expressing our thoughts. Therefore, the emotionality of any of the activists is not my business.

As to charges, I have already answered this question twice after becoming prosecutor general.

READ MORE: Cases Against Poroshenko: What Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigations is Looking Into

The last time was two weeks ago. Maybe something has changed?

Well, if something were to change, I would speak out and say. Because those charges we talked about were joint draft cases. After that, nothing has come from the SBI that would make the prosecutors come and say: alright, we are ready to visit you here, Mrs. Venediktova, get involved.

This situation, which seems in limbo, gives rise to the assumption that there is some political bargaining, that there is an agreement: Venediktova does not sign charges to Poroshenko, and European Solidarity votes for the land market, for example.

I can not comment on this. I have no connection whatsoever with European Solidarity or with people who influence European Solidarity.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Parliament Passes Land Market Law

You may have been asked by the President's Office, for example: hold your...

No, I was not asked from the President's Office either.

Pavel Sheremet's case, where – god knows how much time – Andrii Antonenko, Yulia Kuzmenko and Yana Duhar have been in custody. The latest information came from the Prosecutor General's Office that the evidence collected was not sufficient to take the case to court. What evidence is being collected now?

Again, I would like these issues to be discussed with prosecutors who are in the group of prosecutors. With us, in one way or another, law enforcement agencies must work synergistically, as one system. Therefore, I will not give an assessment of any law enforcement agency.

Then don’t. Is evidence being collected?

Of course. Evidence is being collected, investigators are working, prosecutors are working. So we will see how much work they have done. I told Ukrayinska Pravda it would take two months. We’re already one month in, I think.

READ MORE: Sheremet's Murder Case: Investigation Names Organizer

It is just likely that there are now people in custody who are absolutely innocent.

Let's see what the court will say. Let's see what prosecutors in the case will say.

So you expect the indictment of these three will head to court?

I can't say that. The prosecutor who signed the charge sheet, was dismissed on the assessment during the reform process. Of course, I do my best to make sure that they do everything right. The issue here is that one must investigate everything to the max and only then sign the indictment. There must be sufficient evidence.

READ MORE: Why Investigative Outlet Slidstvo Has Doubts About Announced Sheremet Murder Suspects

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

You’ve mentioned a prosecutor who failed the certification. I recently wrote a request for public information and received a list of your full-time advisers. Among the 10 full-time advisers, there are five prosecutors who did not pass the certification, who were cut by the certification committee. How come? Do you somehow reject the prosecutor's office cleanup?

No, why not? Look, advisers, they don't return to the prosecutor's office.

They are full-time [employees]. They are at least getting a paycheck there.

As advisers, of course. But these are counselors in the executive support service and these are my advisers.

Well, that is, you are advised by prosecutors who have been found by the commission to be not sufficiently virtuous or qualified.

This is what the commission has acknowledged, and I think these people are just qualified enough for me. And as advisers, I will listen to their opinions.

So you reject the reform that was?

No, by no means. I am continuing this reform. Moreover, I already have reports of hearing of prosecutors in the regions, by April 30 regional prosecutors who did not pass the first and the second stage of certification should be released as per my decrees. So how can I not support reform? I support this reform.

READ MORE: Ukraine's Judiciary Reform: 5 Things to Know

So you support in one area, but not in another?

Absolutely not. A prosecutor is a person with direct procedural status. An advisor is a person who only provides me with certain information, some kind of assessment because of his or her professionalism, their experience. And then I think about how to use this information. Because I have many deputies, and each of the deputies gives me some advice, some information, some vision. I hear everyone, but then I make the decision. The same situation with advisers.

But do you understand the paradox of this situation?

No.

There is a staffing committee that says, "they are dishonest or unqualified." And there is you who says, "no, these people are qualified enough to advise, or virtuous enough to advise."

I have no doubts about the commission. The commission determines their activity in the prosecution bodies. But now, as a result of the commission's work, people are getting reinstated in their positions, following the results of these interviews. Therefore, again, I will not give anyone an assessment.

I choose advisers for myself. And I think that I have the right to get some of the information from these people because of their extensive work experience. I don't see a problem here.

A week ago, the investigative journalism program “Skhemy” (‘Schemes’) published material indicating that you live in an apartment in Kyiv that is missing from your declaration.

Look, I have a full explanation of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption in this regard. In general, I have good lawyers. Therefore, my full financial status, which should be in the declaration, reflects absolutely everything. Trust me. We've checked this a hundred times.

The 2019 declaration was filed according to law. Everything that is present there is defined there correctly. Let’s draw a line there and take 2020. Because the “Skhemy” program relates directly to this 2020 apartment. And again, the question concerns me living a certain period in the apartment. If that period of time falls into the reporting period or if my condition changes or I acquire something.

If I purchase something expensive, I will show it immediately in the declaration within a very short period of time. If this is not a change of property, you will see it all in the declaration filed by April 1, 2021.

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

On December 31 last year you were in Kyiv. What apartment did you use in the morning, I apologize if it sounds too intimate...

On December 31, I was in Kharkiv, celebrating the New Year with my family.

It’s just in the comments among the questions a former employee of the SBI wrote that you were at work on December 31.

On December 31, I was at home. I don't remember, maybe I was [at work] in the morning. I don’t remember exactly. But on December 31, I celebrated the New Year with my children in Kharkiv.

Is this apartment your property or are you renting it?

This apartment is not my property and this is enough of an answer.

The question is, do you spend money to rent it?

You know perfectly well that the boundaries of privacy and publicity are always blurred in public. Therefore, I will keep my privacy. Each additional word raises new questions. And these questions will violate the legitimate interests of others. Because journalists will call, come, interrogate.

Генеральна прокурорка України Ірина Венедіктова в студії hromadske, Київ, 30 квітня 2020 року

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Irina Venediktova in hromadske studio, Kyiv, April 30, 2020. Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin / hromadske

A question from our reader Viktor Fomin: What is the prosecutor general's view of the failure of the judicial reform proposed by the President, as Irina Venediktova was concerned with the drafting and adoption of judicial reform laws? [...] It is said that the Constitutional Court partially derailed the judicial reform initiated by the Office of the President of Ukraine.

This bill, which for me personally was a challenging bill because I brought it to the committee as head of the committee, and it was very difficult for me to implement it because I had an absolute philosophy of how I view judicial reform.

It was a bill by Rouslan Riaboshapka. Judicial reform was then carried out by me. I had a lot of comments on this bill, there were comments that were removed during the dialogue, these were questions about lustration, for example, they gave up on such things. So we worked with him to ensure the model would be adopted. So, of course, it is very painful for me and it is a pity that we have lost a huge opportunity to fill the courts with judges.

READ MORE: The Legacy Left by Former Prosecutor General Rouslan Riaboshapka