Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has replaced Prosecutor-General Sviatoslav Piskun with Oleksandr Medvedko. Piskun was too close to former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is set to be Yushchenko’s most dangerous rival in the parliamentary election next March. Furthermore, Piskun failed to solve a single major crime ascribed to the regime of former president Leonid Kuchma. Piskun’s successor, Medvedko, may be the ideal choice for Yushchenko at the moment. He is ostensibly apolitical. Also, he worked in Donetsk Region for 20 years, so he may be privy to many secrets of the “Donetsk clan,” which has been a hard nut to crack for Kyiv investigators since the Orange Revolution.
Yushchenko fired Piskun on October 14, then on October 26, Piskun sued Yushchenko hoping that the courts would reinstate him. There had been a precedent: during the Orange Revolution last year, a court in Kyiv ruled that then-President Leonid Kuchma had dismissed Piskun illegally in 2003, and Piskun triumphantly returned to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which he had headed in 2002-2003. But Ukrainian courts are often guided by political necessity rather than precedent, and it is the president’s constitutional right to dismiss the top prosecutor. Piskun’s chances of returning to the Prosecutor-General’s Office look pretty slim.
On October 31 Yushchenko asked parliament to approve Medvedko as new prosecutor-general, which it did on November 3, by 303 ballots, far more than the 226 needed. Five out of the Ukrainian parliament’s 15 factions refused to back Medvedko. The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc was expected to disapprove of Medvedko, as Tymoshenko disagreed with Piskun’s dismissal from the start, and apparently still hopes for his reinstatement. Her bloc’s allies — United Ukraine and Reforms and Order — predictably supported her.
The otherwise pro-Yushchenko Ukrainian People’s Party refused to back Medvedko because, according to the influential Zerkalo nedeli, they took offense at Yushchenko for not picking their man — Volodymyr Moysyk — for prosecutor-general, as Yushchenko had initially planned. And the Socialists said they did not back Medvedko because they were not convinced by his previous performance. Medvedko reportedly took part in investigating several sensational murders, including those of Donetsk MP Yevhen Shcherban in 1996, former central bank chairman Vadym Hetman in 1998, Kyiv journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, and Donetsk journalist Ihor Alexandrov in 2001. None of those crimes has been properly solved.
Medvedko’s participation in the investigation into Alexandrov’s murder is his weakest point. Segodnya has quoted Henadiy Vasylyev, who was prosecutor-general in 2003-2004, as saying that he dismissed Medvedko from the post of deputy prosecutor-general in 2003 for botching that investigation. And the muckraking Obkom website claimed that Medvedko was the author of a theory that initially led the Alexandrov case nowhere; a vagrant was indicted, later found innocent, and then died under mysterious circumstances. Eventually a Donetsk Region-based businessman with criminal links was charged with commissioning Alexandrov’s assassination.
But Yushchenko pins his hopes on Medvedko. Meeting him after the voting in parliament, Yushchenko instructed Medvedko to properly investigate the Gongadze murder and to look into the allegations of vote rigging during last year’s presidential election. He also asked Medvedko to scrupulously investigate his own September 2004 poisoning, which is still a puzzle.
Unlike Potebenko — and Medvedko apparently positions himself as his polar opposite — Medvedko does not hurry with promises. Meeting parliamentary faction leaders prior to the voting, he cautiously remarked that the Prosecutor-General’s Office would do what is needed to solve high-profile cases within a legal framework. Asked about the Gongadze case, which Piskun had pledged to solve quickly, Medvedko limited himself to saying he “very much hopes for a positive result.” What Medvedko has promised is being apolitical, impartial, and restrained in public statements, qualities that Piskun lacked. The Prosecutor-General’s Office “should not share its theories with the public; instead, it should inform the public about results,” Proua website quoted Medvedko as telling the deputies.
It may not be easy for Medvedko to be apolitical. Too many factors link him to Donetsk, which is home to Yushchenko’s key political opponents — the Party of Regions of his election rival Viktor Yanukovych. Medvedko worked in top prosecutorial positions in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk from 1980 till 2002, when Piskun picked him for the post of his deputy. To all appearances, the Donetsk team does not particularly like Medvedko, who must have been a first-hand witness to the emergence of the “Donetsk clan.” In 2003, Prosecutor-General Vasylyev, who used to be Donetsk chief prosecutor, fired him from the Prosecutor-General’s Office. And the Regions parliamentary faction did not want to vote in Medvedko’s favor till the very last moment. They changed their minds, reportedly, after they were promised some concessions, and when it became clear that Medvedko would be approved anyway. It remains to be seen what those concession are.
(1+1 TV, October 26; Interfax-Ukraine, October 31; Segodnya, November 2; Korrespondent.net, Obkom.net.ua, Proua.com, UNIAN, November 3; Zerkalo nedeli, November 5)