What About The Bandits?

KIEV, Ukraine -- One of the rallying calls of the Orange Revolution was “Put the bandits in jail!”

Yushchenko during 'Orange Revolution'

Most Ukrainians may not have understood the finer points of what they’d been called on to defend on the freezing streets of their capital in late 2004, but they had an intuitive understanding that ever since their country gained independence, a small group of well-connected people – call them oligarchs or mafia – had bled the state dry at the expense of everyone else.

Now, as this week’s front-page article in the Post points out, Ukrainians’ trust in those who promised them a just society a year-and-a-half ago is not much higher than it was in the former regime of President Leonid Kuchma, which seemed to represent everything that was wrong with the authorities.

Does anyone remember Serhiy Kivalov, who headed the country’s Central Electoral Commission during the 2004 presidential elections, widely condemned as fraudulent by everyone but the Russians?

Kivalov was never charged for the mass vote rigging that took place under his nose, but Yushchenko’s new interior minister, Yury Lutsenko, publicly called on Kivalov to show up for questioning about another criminal case. Kivalov eventually returned from Moscow and was promptly instated as the rector of a legal academy in Odessa.

How about former governor of Sumy Region Volodymyr Shcherban? After the Orange Revolution, Lutsenko and Prosecutor-General Sviatoslav Piskun, who Yushchenko had left in place since the Kuchma days, accused Shcherban of abuse of office and extortion, prompting him to flee to the U.S., where he was soon detained for visa violations.

Kyiv threatened to extradite the former governor, but it turns out that Shcherban still enjoyed local deputy immunity from prosecution under a law that has since been annulled.

Shcherban had been a member of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine faction, with which he was elected to parliament in 2002, before joining a pro-Kuchma faction and being appointed governor.

Is Shcherban one of the bandits Yushchenko and Co. had referred to?

Then there was the governor of Kyiv Region – Anatoliy Zasukha. Like Shcherban, he also disappeared when the people from Maidan came to power.

Shcherban is still in the U.S., but recent rumors have it that Zasukha has already come home, as the PGO dropped its case against him in May, citing the same deputy immunity law: Zasukha served as governor and head of the Kyiv Regional Council concurrently, which is illegal.

Top cop Lutsenko has threatened to open another criminal case, which unfortunately will have to be prosecuted by the same prosecutor that cancelled the first one, Oleksandr Medvedko.

Like his predecessor Piskun, Medvedko is more closely associated with the political parties that supported Kuchma and Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych, who opposed Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential elections.

Zasukha’s wife Tatiana is also a Regions lawmaker, which means she also can’t be prosecuted, although Interior Ministry reports from last year suggest that she helped her husband flee the country.

The governor of Donetsk, Borys Kolesnikov, was one of the few officials under the Kuchma regime who actually ended up spending time behind bars, but he has been released and now also a has seat in the new parliament, also with the Regions party.

Kolesnikov was released by freshly elected Regions lawmaker Piskun. As Yushchenko continues his public duel with former Orange ally Yulia Tymoshenko, the Regions party is increasingly mentioned by Our Ukraine faction members as a possible coalition partner.

And how about Ihor Bakai, former head of Ukraine’s state oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny and more recently in charge of managing lucrative state property under Kuchma?

It was in this last position that Bakai allegedly bilked the state out of almost a billion hryvnias before fleeing to Russia, where he supposedly now has citizenship.

Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin has pledged to defend Bakai against extradition. But this isn’t the only friend Bakai has: During a recent media interview, Bakai counted close Yushchenko ally Petro Poroshenko among people with whom he has good relations.

All these ‘cases’ raise an important question. If none of these people hounded and jailed by the government and put or kept in place by the president are bandits, then just who did Yushchenko mean when he promised to jail the people’s persecutors a year-and-a-half ago?

What about those bandits?

Source: Kyiv Post

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