“I will go! I am fed up!” Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Sviatyslav Piskun declared during a call-in at the Fakty newspaper on Friday, June 17. “I think one should discuss things like that with the president before making statements,” President Viktor Yushchenko said, reacting to Piskun’s words on the same day. Piskun, who claims to have come closer than any of his predecessors to solving journalist Heorhiy Gongadze’s September 2000 murder, and who Yushchenko has entrusted with hunting down corrupt former top officials, is in trouble. His position has never been easy, as the forces defeated in the December 2004 presidential polls view him as a traitor, while many in Yushchenko’s team mistrust him for serving as chief prosecutor under the former president, Leonid Kuchma, in 2002-2003. Piskun has been attacked from many sides recently, and his sensational interview to Fakty may be a sign that he is succumbing to the enormous pressure.
In June “Ukraina kriminalnaya,” a muckraking website, launched an offensive against Piskun, running a series of articles accusing him of crimes ranging from running business activities, which is forbidden to state officials, to involvement in drug trafficking. The website also ran what it claimed to be the audio files and transcripts of secretly recorded conversations of Piskun with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst and “oligarch” Viktor Pinchuk. In one of the recordings, a voice resembling Piskun’s thanks somebody sounding like Herbst for moral support in 2003, when Kuchma fired Piskun, and promises to fire a local prosecutor for persecuting a certain religious activist. If the other recording is to be trusted, last year Piskun asked Pinchuk for help in reinstating him as chief prosecutor, and promised Pinchuk not to work against him in return when Yushchenko becomes president.
On June 8, commenting on the scandalous publication, Piskun said that he had been warned that the recordings would be made public if he refused to pay money for them ($100,000, Piskun would tell Fakty on June 17). Piskun said that he had informed Yushchenko about the blackmail. He called the recording involving Pinchuk “nonsense” and denied that the voice on the tape belonged to him. But he did not deny the conversation with Herbst, and on June 8 the Prosecutor-General’s Office (PGO) opened a criminal case “into the fact of illegal wiretapping of a telephone conversation” between Piskun and Herbst. Finally, in the June 17 interview with Fakty, Piskun admitted that the conversation with Herbst did take place. According to Piskun, the “faked” conversation with Pinchuk was published together with the “real” conversation with Herbst in order to make the former one sound trustworthy.
Either the president or parliament, according to the constitution, can fire the prosecutor-general. The Regions of Ukraine and United Social Democratic Party opposition factions in parliament, whose several representatives have been arrested on orders from Piskun (including Donetsk council head Borys Kolesnykov and former Trans-Carpathian governor Ivan Rizak, see EDM, April 11, May 18), have several times failed to put to vote in parliament a no-confidence motion against Piskun. They may be more successful next time, as the scandalous recordings are sure to make Piskun less popular. His conversation with Herbst was hardly a crime, but it will not go down well with the traditionally anti-American Communists, who control the second-largest faction in parliament. And if the scandalous conversation with Kuchma’s son-in-law Pinchuk really took place, the radical elements in the Yushchenko camp, such as the nationalists from the Ukrainian People’s Party and the populists from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, will never forgive Piskun.
The most recent blow to Piskun has come from the Security Service (SBU). In an interview that the Zerkalo nedeli weekly, published on June 18, SBU head Oleksandr Turchynov accused the PGO of obstructing plans to arrest SBU former deputy chief Volodymyr Satsiuk, who is suspected of involvement in Yushchenko’s poisoning. According to Turchynov, the PGO did not allow the SBU to arrest Satsiuk several months ago, but by the time the prosecutors eventually gave the go-ahead to detaining Satsiuk, the SBU had lost his whereabouts. It is widely known that Yushchenko was admitted to an Austrian clinic with serious poisoning last September shortly after a dinner with SBU officials at Satsiuk’s dacha.
Piskun is in trouble also because he has failed to justify the high hopes Yushchenko pinned on him. In early March Piskun announced that Gongadze’s murder was solved, but nobody has yet been sentenced, and it has not been found who ordered the policemen arrested in the case to kill Gongadze. No former top official has so far been punished for corruption, which thrived under Kuchma, neither has anybody been brought to book for the mass fraud during the first and second rounds of last year’s presidential polls.
(1+1 TV, March 2; Ukraina kriminalnaya (www.cripo.com.ua), June 7; Inter TV, Ukrayinska pravda, June 8; Fakty, Interfax-Ukraine, June 17; Zerkalo nedeli, June 18)