Addressing yesterday a session of the government’s Coordinating Committee to Combat Corruption and Organized Crime, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma decried the "emergence of a criminally-tainted economic elite which no longer contents itself with the wealth it has accumulated, but uses that wealth in a grab at political power." According to Kuchma, the ongoing electoral campaign provides evidence that "organized crime circles work through political parties as a cover and as an instrument to ultimately legalize their gains… Certain parties are turning into politicized criminal groups which seek to manipulate a deceived electorate."
Without naming those parties, the president clearly alluded to one of them in deploring the slow and ineffective investigation into the "gas deals" concluded not long ago by government-protected firms. The "criminal" profits from those deals "are now being thrown into the electoral campaign of those who would like to put the whole country into their pocket," Kuchma said. (Ukrainian agencies, February 16)
The allusion is to the Hromada party of Pavlo Lazarenko, Prime Minister in 1996-1997. Hromada leaders are reported to have amassed windfall profits through gas deals with Russia, backed by government credits and handled by the United Energy Systems company the same leaders control. Lazarenko and Hromada are now campaigning aggressively in the hope of winning a significant number of parliamentary seats and a role in government after the elections. The authorities recently suspended Hromada’s newspaper on the basis of legal technicalities.
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