Ahead of parliamentary elections in 2012, Ukrainian President Yanukovych has initiated a number of high-profile corruption investigations against opposition leaders. While few Ukrainians consider the defendants to be angels, most understand the clear signs of hypocrisy and political motivation behind the trials, says Natalia Sedletska
Since President Yanukovych came to power almost 16 months ago, the opposition has been virtually wiped out. Criminal cases are being brought against members of the Yushchenko government, but is this Yanukovych’s fight against corruption? Or are these cases politically motivated? This question is no longer debated inside Ukraine, but an examination of the various cases highlights some basic common factors and gives pretty clear indications how the question should be answered.
Czech asylum for Bohdan Danylyshyn
The current most high profile case, which represents a stinging slap in the face for the Ukrainian authorities and the law enforcement system, is, of course, that of the former Minister of the Economy, Bohdan Danylyshyn. The day criminal charges were brought against him he fled the country to Europe. Six months later he was granted political asylum in Prague. The Czech Republic officially argued its decision by saying "the criminal case against the applicant was politically motivated by revenge for his previous activities."
In granting asylum to a member of the Ukrainian opposition, the Czech Republic has effectively demonstrated that, in its opinion, the "anti-corruption activity" instigated by the Office of the Prosecutor General amounts to political persecution. Interestingly, there are reports in the media that President Yanukovych is godfather to the son of the Prosecutor General, Viktor Pshonka.
The reaction of the Ukrainian authorities to Danylyshyn being granted asylum deserves special attention. Firstly, the speakers of the pro-government Party of the Regions declared that this was clear evidence of Tymoshenko’s corrupt connections with European officials. Then it got worse. In May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine expelled two Czech diplomats from the country, accusing them of espionage! A small number of people consider this is simply revenge for the granting of political asylum to Danylyshyn.
"Since President Yanukovych came to power almost 16 months ago, the opposition has been virtually wiped out. Criminal cases are being brought against members of the Yushchenko government, but is this Yanukovych’s fight against corruption? Or are these cases politically motivated?"
The former Minister of Economy had, it’s true, been charged with inflicting damage on the national budget to the tune of more than $2 million. He was accused of twice giving the go-ahead for public procurement contracts using the “procurement from one participant” procedure i.e. without holding a tender. The investigation decided that the Minister had acted in his own interests and violated the law.
But the new government itself is involved in widespread abuse of the “procurement from one participant” rule. For example, absolutely all infrastructure products and services for Ukraine’s part of the "Euro 2012" football championship are being purchased using state funds without holding a single tender! Twenty billion hryvnias ($2.5 billion) have been specifically allocated to the “procurement from one participant” procedure. Numerous investigative reports indicate massive abuse and corruption in the Euro-2012 procurement. These reports lead directly to the inner circle of the President, but no one has yet been punished. This, of course, constitutes the selective application of justice.
The wave of political migration to the West did not stop with Danylyshyn. Other members of Tymoshenko’s government too are on the run. The former Head of the State Committee for Material Reserves, Mikhail Pozhivanov, has surfaced in Austria. He is accused of being involved in the embezzlement of $4.5 million’s worth of state property (grain). Taking a leaf from the book of his companion in distress, Pozhivanov has already asked Austria for political asylum. This procedure can take years in Austria; in the meantime Pozhivanov is living and working in Vienna.
The position of Tymoshenko’s other associates, who made no attempt to escape and are now behind bars, is much less enviable.
The following members of the opposition are currently in jail (and this is an incomplete list): Anatoly Makarenko, former Head of the Customs Service, Igor Dydenko, former Deputy Head of NJSC “Naftogaz Ukraine”, Yuri Lutsenko, former Interior Minister and Anatoly Ivashchenko, former interim Minister of Defence.
All are accused of abuse of office and embezzlement of state funds. However, some details of the case of former Internal Affairs Minister, Yuriy Lutsenko, serve to show the extent to which these persecutions are really politically motivated.
Expensive medals for Police Day
Lutsenko is accused of illegally granting privileges to his driver and purchasing expensive medals for the Police Day celebrations at an alleged charge to the budget of 100,000 USD. Lutsenko is one of the most vociferous members of the opposition and has already spent five months behind bars awaiting trial. The former Minister went on hunger strike in protest against his detention, which he considers unlawful, as his legal right to give a written undertaking not to leave the city or the country was ignored. After a month without food, Lutsenko was admitted to hospital with complex medical problems. At the hospital he was kept under multi-level surveillance more suitable for a serial killer or a fanatical terrorist. The money spent on paying the people to guard Lutsenko day and night is hardly less than the amount the government is accusing him of spending.
Government officials most definitely should be punished for their abuse of office. Massive criminal cases against those who stole public property are certainly supposed to instil fear into those who are in control of spending public money. However, the current government is only putting its political enemies behind bars!
One simple example. Just recently Ukrainian journalists discovered that Energy Minister, Yuriy Boyko, had overpaid 150 million (!) USD on the purchase of an oil and gas drilling platform for the Black Sea. In order to achieve this, a “dummy” was created – an intermediary company (registered in Cardiff, Wales), which concluded the 150 million mark-up deal. It bought the rig in Singapore for 250 million USD and sold it to Ukraine for 400 million USD! The company is registered offshore, and there is ample evidence that someone from Ukraine was involved in its creation (the website of the intermediary company has a Ukrainian hosting domain, for instance).
With this one deal the management of Ukraine’s fuel and energy complex has inflicted damage on the state budget of not 100 thousand USD, nor even two or five million, but 150 million USD! One might wonder if a criminal case was instituted, but the answer is no! Minister Boyko continues going to work and managing the budget as he used to before. And the saddest part is that he will continue doing so.
Viktor Yanukovych’s strategy
In this light the prosecution of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko looks even more unconvincing. We will not examine the charges brought against her (the most serious of the four criminal cases concerns her abuse of office during the signing of a gas deal with Russia in 2009). Suffice it to say that six months ago all the experts agreed that imprisoning Tymoshenko would only increase her popularity rating, so no one would dare touch her; today the arrest of the opposition leader seems not only quite possible, but imminent. The leader of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc attends the Prosecutor General’s Office for interrogation almost every other day. She has given a written undertaking not to leave Ukraine: she is not permitted to visit Brussels or Strasbourg, as the authorities are trying to pin something on her for her work on the European scene.
The arrest of the Ukrainian opposition leader will, of course, provoke a wave of resentment from European institutions. Nevertheless, the President and his Party of the Regions are now concerned with a more pragmatic task, the parliamentary elections to be held in Ukraine in autumn 2012.
Everyone understands Viktor Yanukovych’s main strategy is absolute power: he wishes to have an absolute parliamentary majority, so at least 226 seats out of 450 have to go to the members of his Party of the Regions. This is the stated aim of all Yanukovych’s cronies. The Prosecutor General’s Office has been chosen as the main tool for achieving this goal. Convicts cannot stand for election, which explains the avalanche-like campaign of persecution against the opposition in Yanukovych’s first year in office. All investigations against members of Tymoshenko’s team must be concluded before the start of the pre-election campaign is announced.
"Everyone understands Viktor Yanukovych’s main strategy is absolute power: he wishes to have an absolute parliamentary majority, so at least 226 seats out of 450 have to go to the members of his Party of the Regions."
Could the persecution of the opposition, Tymoshenko's arrest and selective justice bring people out on to the streets? Maybe. However, there will most probably be no revolution, no protests. Not just because society has caught the lingering germ of political apathy, but largely because it knows nothing. Yanukovych’s team has stitched up the mass media channels that are under their control and all the cutting edge truth has been removed from the screens of the central TV channels. It has gone back to the internet, where it was before the Orange Revolution.
Viktor Yanukovych has such tight control over all information that he has every chance of not only getting his majority in Parliament, but also staying for a second presidential term.