As Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko promised several months ago, investigators have finally targeted the very top figures from the previous government. Police have summoned former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and former presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk for questioning over several graft cases. Earlier the police got hold of Yanukovych’s close ally, Donetsk regional council head Borys Kolesnykov, charging him with extortion (see EDM, April 11), and a friend of Medvedchuk, former Trans-Carpathian governor Ivan Rizak, who is suspected of official abuse (see EDM, May 18). Both are now in prison, awaiting verdicts from the courts.
President Viktor Yushchenko was the first to signal to Yanukovych that he might become the next target of corruption investigators. Speaking on live television on May 12, Yushchenko said that the National Olympic Committee — headed by Yanukovych — had embezzled the hryvnia equivalent of $20 million. The Olympic Committee denied the charge the following day, yet on June 1 Yanukovych tendered his resignation from the committee over “persecution” for his decision last year to “award Olympic champions from the state’s reserve funds.”
On May 26 the Interior Ministry delivered its first serious blow against Yanukovych, summoning him for questioning over alleged illegal donations of almost $1 million to the airport in his hometown of Donetsk. According to the police, the sum was transferred to Donetsk, apparently on orders from Yanukovych, last year. But because the Donetsk airport is a municipal property, it may not be financed from state coffers. Another blow came the following day, from the western Ivano-Frankivsk region. The local police summoned Yanukovych to explain why and how a plot of land in a local nature reserve had been sold to him. Speaking to journalists on May 31, Yanukovych admitted that he had indeed bought a tract near Ivano-Frankivsk for his “ailing mother-in-law” in 2000, but she refused to leave Donetsk, and the plot has remained unused ever since.
Yanukovych, however, offered no comment on the accusations that the tract was illegally taken from a nature reserve. Nor did he offer any comment on the Donetsk airport deal. Moreover, he failed to turn up for questioning either on the airport case on May 30 and June 2, or on the land-misappropriation case on June 1. Yanukovych explained that he had not received a proper summons, and that calls to appear for questioning released through the mass media are not legally binding. The head of the Kyiv city anti-organized crime directorate, Valeriy Heletey, explained to journalists that no written summons had been sent to Yanukovych “because he travels a lot,” so his exact whereabouts were unknown, and it had been decided to inform him about the questioning via the media. He threatened to have Yanukovych escorted for interrogation by the police if he continued to ignore the summons.
But instead of going to the police, Yanukovych flew to Moscow, which had firmly backed his presidential bid last year. Moscow has recently become a refuge for former Ukrainian officials wanted by the police, such as former Odessa mayor Ruslan Bodelan and the former manager of Kuchma’s office, Ihor Bakay (see EDM, April 15). Yanukovych spent at least four days in Moscow, and his press service reported that he was meeting Russian politicians, drumming up support for “the wave of indignation rising across the country” over the detention of his ally Kolesnykov. It is unclear which wave of indignation Yanukovych meant, unless it was the pathetic march of his supporters in Kyiv on May 19 (see EDM, May 23), and a rally near the Donetsk Court of Appeals on June 3, in which 150 people participated.
Along with Yanukovych, Ivano-Frankivsk investigators on May 27 also invited former presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk to explain “the illegal allocation of land” for the construction of a recreation facility in the Carpathian Mountains. And on June 1, the Interior Ministry summoned him and his crony, energy and media tycoon Hryhoriy Surkis, for questioning over the construction of a training facility in Trans-Carpathian Region for the Dynamo Kyiv soccer club, which is controlled by the Surkis family. The investigators believe that funds for the project were taken from the state budget. Medvedchuk chose Yanukovych’s line of behavior: he did not turn up for questioning either, explaining that he did not receive a proper summons. Medvedchuk also denied that he or his family have ever owned land plots in either Ivano-Frankivsk or Trans-Carpathia. In a separate statement, he accused the authorities of neglecting the legal principle of presumption of innocence and of “brainwashing” ordinary Ukrainians by portraying “the opposition forces as the bad guys.”
Yanukovych and Medvedchuk are indeed in great trouble politically, as the official accusations of corruption may irrevocably taint their reputation ahead of next year’s parliamentary polls.
(UNIAN, May 13, 30, June 1; AP, May 26; Ukrayinska pravda, May 31, June 1; Interfax-Ukraine, Channel 5, June 2; Ostro.org, June 3)