The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has opened criminal cases against Minister of the Interior Yuriy Lutsenko and businessman Davyd Zhvania. Both were among the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to power. Since 2007, Lutsenko has headed the populist People’s Self-Defense bloc (NS), while Zhvania has been the NS’s main financier. Yushchenko apparently suspects the NS, a junior partner in Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS), of excessive sympathy to Tymoshenko, who is no longer Yushchenko’s ally, but a bitter rival. Lutsenko and Zhvania have accused Yushchenko of political persecution.
It is suspected that Zhvania, who was born in Georgia, committed fraud when he applied for Ukrainian citizenship in 1999. Lutsenko, prosecutors suspect, flew his family to summer resorts at taxpayers’ expense. He also faces criminal charges for punching Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky in the face (see EDM, January 31).
In the short term, this means that Zhvania will hardly get the post of chairman of the Anti-Monopoly Committee, to which he has been nominated by the Tymoshenko government, and that Lutsenko will probably lose the ministerial post. In the long term, this may result in an early parliamentary election, as there is a high chance of Lutsenko’s NS quitting Yushchenko’s NUNS thereby breaking up the ruling coalition. This would supply Yushchenko with legitimate grounds to dissolve the legislature, which failed to form a clear majority and has been blocking many of his initiatives.
On May 15 Yushchenko’s legal advisor Ihor Pukshyn instructed the PGO to check how Zhvania obtained Ukrainian citizenship. On May 17 Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko launched a criminal case against Zhvania. Medvedko said that it is suspected that Zhvania has been residing in Ukraine not since 1991, as he reported when he applied for Ukrainian citizenship in 1999, but since 1996. Zhvania denied this.
Lutsenko got into trouble immediately after Zhvania. On May 24 Zerkalo Nedeli quoted NS representatives as saying that the presidential secretariat was going to dismiss Lutsenko from the government with the PGO’s help. On May 26 Lutsenko was summoned to the PGO for questioning. He learned that the PGO viewed the January 2008 incident, when Lutsenko punched Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky in the face after a meeting with Yushchenko, not as an “infliction of light bodily injury” as had been announced earlier, but as “official malfeasance.” In the former case, Lutsenko faced a fine, but now he may face a prison term. This means that he will most probably have to step down as interior minister for the period of the investigation.
The PGO also suspects that Lutsenko flew with his family to holiday resorts in 2005 at taxpayers’ expense. Earlier, former Transport Minister Mykola Rudkovsky faced a similar charge. The newspaper Segodnya quoted a source in parliament as saying that an ad-hoc investigation commission found that Lutsenko had flown his family on vacation “on about 20 occasions in 2005.” The commission will report its findings to parliament in early June, the source said.
Lutsenko is used to having problems with the law. This is not the first time that he has been accused of using government aircraft for private purposes. Moreover, in 2006 and 2007 he was accused of lobbying to secure a contract for his wife’s employers to sell communication services to the police, of illegally giving pistols as presents to his political allies and of holding an Israeli passport, thus violating the ban on dual citizenship. Lutsenko denied all those accusations and won the respective court cases.
Davyd Zhvania launched an offensive against Yushchenko. Speaking in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, he said that Yushchenko wanted to replace the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc with the Party of Regions of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the ruling coalition. According to Zhvania, Yushchenko wanted to make the chief of his secretariat, Viktor Baloha, prime minister instead of Tymoshenko. The NS refused to back this plan, so Yushchenko decided to “punish” NS leaders, according to Zhvania. Yushchenko apparently suspects Zhvania of involvement in his mysterious poisoning in September 2004.
In his another interview with Ukrainska Pravda, Zhvania claimed that Yushchenko’s wife Kateryna, who was granted Ukrainian citizenship in 2005, had kept her U.S. citizenship, and that Yushchenko’s children also held U.S. travel documents. Dual citizenship is a crime in Ukraine. Kateryna Yushchenko’s press service promptly denied Zhvania’s accusations.
Zhvania told Inter TV that the PGO had launched the cases against him and Lutsenko because NUNS had disobeyed Yushchenko’s orders to back Chernovetsky’s party in the May 25 mayoral and city council elections in Kyiv. Zhvania and Lutsenko managed NUNS’s campaign in the election. Exit polls have shown that NUNS will not make it into the council, while Chernovetsky won the mayoral election, and his party will have the largest caucus in the city council. Zhvania accused Yushchenko and Baloha of undermining NUNS’s campaign. Zhvania forecast that Yushchenko would abandon NUNS and rely on Baloha’s party, United Center, instead (ICTV, May 20; Ukrainska Pravda, May 20, 23; Zerkalo Nedeli, May 24; Channel 5, Inter TV, May 26; Segodnya, May 27).