Several prosecutors and courts recently decided high-profile cases in favor of individuals who were prosecuted when President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in 2005. At the same time, the Donetsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office and the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which is controlled by individuals hailing from Donetsk, are threatening prominent members of the Yushchenko team with imprisonment. They have re-opened closed criminal cases involving at least two of Yushchenko’s allies. Yesterday’s plaintiffs are becoming today’s defendants and vice versa.
Yushchenko’s allies say this is political score settling. Their opponents, however, maintain that justice is being restored. They are using to their advantage the fact that many of Yushchenko’s allies lost their immunity from prosecution by resigning from parliament in order to make it possible for Yushchenko to call an early parliamentary election. Ironically, a call for the full cancellation of the deputy immunity is one of the main slogans of the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc and of their allies, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. Their opponents, the Donetsk-based Party of Regions (PRU), have only grudgingly obeyed Yushchenko’s early election decree, and they are in favor of preserving parliamentary immunity.
On July 19 the Supreme Court upheld a PGO appeal against the closure of a criminal case against Oleksy Ivchenko, the leader of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) and a long-time ally of Yushchenko. The PGO suspects that Ivchenko embezzled state funds when he chaired the state-controlled oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrainy in 2005-2006.
The PGO opened the criminal case against Ivchenko last February. At that time Deputy Prosecutor-General Tetyana Kornyakova told the media that top Naftohaz managers had illegally received bonuses and used charter flights for private needs. A district court in Kyiv closed the case, but now the PGO has re-launched it. KUN has described this decision as a “provocation.” A political analyst close to Yushchenko’s team, Vadym Karasyov, suggested that this move was in line with the PRU election strategy of portraying Yushchenko’s people as poor managers. Ivchenko was elected to parliament in 2006, so he only recently acquired immunity from prosecution.
Simultaneously, the PGO has resumed investigating a criminal case involving Andry Shkil, a former people’s deputy from Tymoshenko’s bloc. Segodnya, a newspaper linked to the PRU, reported this case under the headline “Andry Shkil May Face 12 Years in Prison.” Shkil is suspected of having masterminded a clash with police near the office of then-president Leonid Kuchma in March 2001, when he was one of the leaders of the opposition movement “Ukraine Without Kuchma.” According to Segodnya, it was PRU member Vladyslav Zabarsky who suggested in a letter to the PGO that Shkil’s case should be resurrected as he had lost his deputy immunity.
On July 19, the Donetsk Region Prosecutor’s Office released a statement saying that businessman Viktor Pinchuk, who in 2005 accused former Donetsk Region Council chairman Borys Kolesnykov of extortion, is wanted by police. The prosecutors said that Pinchuk is suspected of giving false testimony in Kolesnykov’s case. Kolesnykov currently manages the PRU’s election campaign.
Pinchuk accused Kolesnykov of extortion and abuse of power. Based on Pinchuk’s testimony, Kolesnykov was arrested in April 2005, but he was released after several months in prison as the PGO ruled there was no evidence of a crime. Pinchuk waged a media war on the “Donetsk clan.” He founded Anti-Corruption Fund and published a book, Donetsk Mafia, in which he accused Kolesnykov and his friend, Donetsk tycoon Renat Akhmetov, of crimes. A court in Donetsk banned the book as libelous. In a statement released on July 25, Pinchuk asked Ukrainian Ombudswoman Nina Karpachova for protection, complaining that Donetsk courts had seized all his property at Kolesnykov’s request. He said that Kolesnykov was guided by “personal revenge.”
Yushchenko has lost a defamation suit against a company whose billboards carried a cartoon of him dressed in a Nazi uniform ahead of his visit to Donetsk during his presidential campaign tour in October 2003. On July 20 a district court in Donetsk dismissed Yushchenko’s suit against the Plazma advertising company. Yushchenko in early 2005 asked the law-enforcement bodies to investigate Plazma’s activities, and he sued Plazma last November. Yushchenko is going to appeal, according to one judge.
Meanwhile, a “museum of Orange Revolution victims” is about to be opened in Luhansk, a PRU stronghold. Ukraina, a TV channel linked to Akhmetov, has reported that separate exhibitions in the museum will be about former transport minister Heorgy Kirpa and former interior minister Yuriy Kravchenko, who “died tragic deaths.” Both committed suicide when Yushchenko came to power. The museum has plans to tour throughout Ukraine, Ukraina said.
(Ostro.org, July 19, Segodnya, 15 minut, Glavred.info, July 20; UNIAN, Kommersant-Ukraina, July 23; proUA.com, July 25; Ukraina TV, July 26)