The Pechersky district court in Kyiv on April 12 sentenced Valery Ivashchenko, who was acting Minister of Defense from June 2009 until April 2010, to five years in jail. This is despite the European Union’s warnings that more persecution of ministers from the former government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (2007-2010) would put into question Ukraine’s European integration. Ivashchenko has been the fourth imprisoned former top official from Tymoshenko’s government. Like Tymoshenko, former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and former Environment Minister Georgy Filipchuk before him, Ivashchenko was indicted under the same Article 365 of the Criminal Code “for excess of authority,” inherited from Soviet law, which President Viktor Yanukovych himself had admitted was outdated (see EDM, April 10).
Ivashchenko was arrested in August 2010, long before Tymoshenko, Lutsenko and Filipchuk. The Prosecutor-General’s Office holds Ivashchenko responsible for the illegal sale of the Defense Ministry’s shipyard in the Crimean port of Feodosia. According to prosecutors, he approved the shipyard’s bankruptcy and subsequent sale to a private company. This scheme has been widely used in Ukrainian privatization. The shipyard reportedly came under the ownership of a company linked to a people’s deputy from Tymoshenko’s party (Rosbalt, August 31, 2010; Ekonomicheskie Izvestia, April 13). The deputy in question, Andry Senchenko, has denied any involvement in the affair.
The court said that while the shipyard’s market value amounted to the equivalent of $9 million, it was sold for a little more than $2 million so the state was defrauded of the difference in price. Ivashchenko claimed that evidence in the case against him had been fabricated by former Deputy Defense Minister Ihor Montrezor and former Deputy Prosecutor-General Vitaly Shchetkin in revenge for demoting Montrezor in 2009. Ivashchenko’s lawyers have the right to appeal within two weeks, but they are pessimistic about the outcome (Kommersant-Ukraine, April 13).
Former Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko (2005-2007), who is a prominent opposition leader, has said that Ivashchenko’s case has obviously been one of score-settling as many other officials who had been involved in the Feodosia shipyard affair had not even been questioned, let alone punished (Ekonomicheskie Izvestia, April 13). Commenting immediately after Ivashchenko’s arrest in 2010, Hrytsenko, who used to work with Ivashchenko, had opined that Ivashchenko was a person who could take a wrong decision under pressure (Rosbalt, August 31, 2010). Unlike Tymoshenko or Lutsenko, Ivashchenko has never been active in politics. As a person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ivashchenko has been made a scapegoat for somebody else’s corrupt decisions. It is telling that the court decided not to punish Ivashchenko by property confiscation as is usually the case when somebody is indicted for corruption.
Selective justice is too obvious in Ivashchenko’s case. The US Embassy in Ukraine released a statement on April 13 expressing its “deep disappointment in this latest example of selective justice” and calling for Ivashchenko’s release taking into account the state of his health (Ukrainska Pravda, April 13). Ivashchenko’s spinal problems forced him to lie down rather than stand during the hearing of his verdict. He also reportedly has problems with his thyroid.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton expressed her disappointment as well. Ashton said that in spite of repeated calls for Kyiv to comply with international standards of fair trial, Ivashchenko’s trial demonstrated significant shortcomings as far as law and procedure was concerned. Ashton also expressed concern over the April 5 sentencing of Filipchuk to three years in jail. She stressed that respect for the rule of law was crucial to Ukraine’s political association and economic integration with the EU (UNIAN, April 13). The EU last December put off the signing of an association and free trade deal with Ukraine over Tymoshenko’s indictment. Lutsenko’s indictment on trumped-up charges in February strengthened the positions in Europe of those who believe that Ukraine’s ruling class is not ready for integration with the EU (see EDM, April 2). If Ivashchenko and Filipchuk are not freed any time soon, their indictments will be two more nails in the coffin of Ukraine’s European integration.
Meanwhile, Javier Solana, Ashton’s predecessor as the EU’s foreign policy chief, has called Ukraine one of the biggest frustrations of his life. He said he was not sure whether Ukraine and Georgia would ever become part of the EU. Solana, who took an active part in the talks between the government and the opposition during the anti-Yanukovych Orange Revolution in 2004, regretted that the Orange period was very short. While Tymoshenko remains in prison, former President Viktor Yushchenko is sitting at home having lost his political clout; at the same time, their arch rival Yanukovych, who lost the 2004 election, is running the country. Solana described Ukraine’s political class as immature and weak and the political institutions as shaky (RFE/RL via Ukrainska Pravda, April 14).