As leadership has changed at Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, many former officials who fled Ukraine amid accusations of corruption after the Orange Revolution have nothing to fear. Criminal cases against them are being closed one by one. The Orange leaders cry foul, saying that this means a restoration of the old regime.
Representatives of the ruling coalition, which is led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, are saying that most of the high-profile investigations launched by the Orange team in 2005 were purely political, so justice is being restored. Meanwhile, people from the Orange team are becoming the targets of corruption investigations themselves.
Criminal cases have been closed against the former manager of former president Leonid Kuchma’s office, Ihor Bakay, Deputy Interior Minister Mykhaylo Kornienko told Komsomolskaya pravda on February 22. Bakay was one of the main targets of the anti-corruption campaign launched after President Viktor Yushchenko came to power. He fled to Russia and obtained Russian citizenship. In 2005-2006 the Orange authorities insisted that Russia should extradite Bakay.
Another former official who has nothing to fear is Volodymyr Satsyuk, a former deputy chief of the Security Service (SBU). In June 2005, then Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced that Satsyuk was wanted for abuse of office and fraud. It is widely believed that the mysterious poisoning of Yushchenko in September 2004 was committed at Satsyuk’s country house. Satsyuk has reportedly been hiding all this time. On March 2, the Prosecutor-General’s Office announced that the criminal cases against Satsyuk had been closed due to the absence of material evidence.
Other former officials who may soon be officially cleared of charges include former Sumy governor Volodymyr Shcherban and former Odessa mayor Ruslan Bodelan. Shcherban fled Ukraine in 2005 for the United States, where he was briefly imprisoned for visa irregularities. He returned to Ukraine in November 2006 (see EDM, November 10, 2006). On February 26, the spokesman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office, Oleksy Bebel, announced that Shcherban should soon be cleared of corruption charges, including abuse of office, tax evasion, and extortion.
Bodelan, who was charged with official abuse in 2005, has become a Russian citizen. He is now a top manager at the St. Petersburg seaport. Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko, reporting to parliament on February 23, said that Bodelan was no longer wanted by the police.
The report by Tsushko, who replaced Yuriy Lutsenko as minister last December, was a sensation. He said that Lutsenko had pursued political aims by accusing former top officials of corruption. He also accused the Ukrainian branch of Interpol of lying about the number of officials on the international wanted list. The chief of Ukrainian Interpol, Kyrylo Kulykov, denied Tsushko’s accusation and resigned the same day.
In his report to parliament, Tsushko also accused his predecessors of replacing highly qualified policemen in top positions with people who had no professional experience, of financial violations amounting to embezzlement, and of illegal covert operations, such as wiretapping.
Speaking at a press conference on the same day, Lutsenko denied Tsushko’s accusations and said that he would sue Tsushko. Lutsenko said that Tsushko was “whitewashing the mafia” and “betraying the 15 years that he spent in the opposition to Kuchma.” Ironically, Lutsenko and Tsushko spent many years in the same Socialist Party, which was in a staunch opposition to Kuchma. Lutsenko left the party last year to protest its joining the ruling coalition with Yanukovych. Now Lutsenko is an advisor to Yushchenko, and he leads a pro-Yushchenko movement, People’s Self-Defense.
The situation with another ally of Yushchenko, former chairman of Naftohaz Ukrainy national oil and gas company, Oleksy Ivchenko, looks more serious. The Prosecutor-General’s Office opened a criminal case against him, Deputy Prosecutor-General Tetyana Kornyakova said on February 28. She said that under Ivchenko, who chaired Naftohaz in 2005-2006, the company’s top managers illegally received bonuses, used charter flights to transport their families on Christmas, and transferred funds to a company linked to Ivchenko.
Ivchenko denied Kornyakova’s accusations, accused her of executing a political order, and threatened to sue her for libel. Ivchenko is protected from prosecution by parliamentary immunity, but Segodnya, a newspaper close to Yanukovych’s party, reported that it may be easily lifted, as the ruling coalition has enough votes in parliament for that. Ivchenko is the leader of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, which is allied with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine.
The serious corruption accusations flying between the camps of Yushchenko and Yanukovych for the past two to three years have not raised the public approval ratings of either of the two. But it is the public image of the law-enforcement agencies that are often used as a political tool that probably suffers at the most.
(Komsomolskaya pravda Ukraina, February 22; Obkom.net.ua, February 23; ProUA.com, February 26; Ukrayinska pravda, February 27; Interfax-Ukraine, Ekonomicheskie izvestiya, March 1; Segodnya, March 1, 2)