Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 199

Petro Poroshenko, a Yushchenko ally and former head of the National Security and Defence Council

The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office closed a criminal case against former National Security and Defense Council (NRBO) secretary Petro Poroshenko on October 20. This was the only case launched against a member of President Viktor Yushchenko’s inner circle following the accusations of corruption against his team in early September and the subsequent dismissal of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose allies had leveled the accusations.

Caretaker chief prosecutor Serhy Vynokurov closed the case against Poroshenko, officially, due to the absence of corpus delicti, less than a week after Yushchenko dismissed Sviatoslav Piskun from the post of prosecutor-general. This move was obviously ill timed, as accusations are now mounting against Yushchenko of covering up for his crony (Poroshenko is the godfather of one of Yushchenko’s children). Yushchenko’s rivals from Tymoshenko’s camp also claim that he fired Piskun for opening the case against Poroshenko.

Ironically, Yushchenko had to task a Tymoshenko ally, Piskun, with investigating the corruption accusations leveled against his team. Thus on September 20, Piskun reported that five criminal cases had been opened against NRBO officials, but not against Poroshenko personally, he stressed. Then Piskun attended the debates on Ukraine at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where he was harshly criticized for mishandling the investigation into the September 2000 murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. After that, Piskun’s dismissal was only a matter of time, as the Gongadze case is a very sensitive issue for Yushchenko, who last spring promised that it would be solved within a few months.

But on October 10, Piskun sensationally charged Poroshenko with “hampering a legitimate business activity of two companies constructing a building,” a crime carrying a 5-10 year prison sentence. The case centered on a scandal-ridden construction project in Kyiv. A high-rise residential building, whose construction was launched under former president Leonid Kuchma, dominates the right bank of the River Dnieper in Kyiv, dwarfing the nearby historic landmark, the Monastery of the Caves, an imbalance that apparently violates building codes. Shortly after coming to power, Yushchenko promised to check the site and reportedly pledged to demolish it if courts ruled that the building was unlawful. Poroshenko claimed that in March the construction companies offered him a bribe in order to save the skyscraper, which, he said, he indignantly refused and “sent them packing.” But the companies offer a different story, claiming that Poroshenko demanded a share in the project in return for allowing the construction to continue — a charge that Poroshenko repeatedly denied. But this charge served as the basis for the criminal case against him.

Yushchenko sacked Piskun on October 14 without explanation, which was probably a mistake. Yushchenko’s foes and their media might have interpreted subsequent developments differently, had he openly blamed Piskun for mishandling the Gongadze case or for failing to punish the officials who were involved in election rigging last year. On October 19, Tymoshenko’s right-hand man, former Security Service (SBU) chief Oleksandr Turchynov, released a statement for the media, saying that Yushchenko had urgently ordered Vynokurov to close the case against Poroshenko. Turchynov forecast that the criminal case would be “closed quietly today or tomorrow.”

The case was closed the following day, just as he predicted. Speaking in an interview with Segodnya, Vynokurov denied that he was ordered to do so by Yushchenko. And Poroshenko told a news conference on October 22 that a court had cleared him of the charge on October 21. But this will not prevent rumors and new allegations about Poroshenko’s influence on Yushchenko from spreading. Piskun told Inter channel that he would sue Yushchenko for firing him, which, he claimed, was illegal. But Piskun made a point of not directly accusing Yushchenko, suggesting that Yushchenko was prompted to fire him by people from his entourage “who are dishonest and indecent.” He also insisted that there was no reason to close the case against Poroshenko.

Piskun’s story was fully in line with the myth portraying Yushchenko as a weak, indecisive, and easily manipulated character, which media outlets linked to Tymoshenko have contributed to spreading since long before the Orange Revolution. And Poroshenko, who was Tymoshenko’s main rival in the under-the-carpet struggle for the post of prime minister after the revolution, has been demonized as the eminence grise manipulating Yushchenko behind the scenes. These myths have only been fuelled by the speed of the recent developments involving Poroshenko: October 10 – the prosecutor-general charges Poroshenko with corruption; October 14 – Yushchenko fires prosecutor-general without explanation; October 20 – the caretaker chief prosecutor closes the case against Poroshenko; October 21 – a court clears Poroshenko.

(Ukrayinska pravda, September 20, October 3; Inter TV, October 5, 10, 20; UNIAN, October 19; Segodnya, October 21; Channel 5, October 22)