Friday, January 25, 2008

There's Something Rotten In Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Orange Revolution gave Ukraine a new, pro-Western president - if not always an Orange prime minister.

President Victor Yushchenko (L) and Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko

But the Prosecutor-General's Office, which decides who gets put in jail, has remained steadily in the hands of Yanukovych's Blue, Donetsk clan since the days of President Leonid Kuchma.

Why this is so remains a matter of speculation.

If anyone knows the answer, however, it surely must be Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who rose to power during the heady days of late 2004 on a bandwagon of promises to clean the criminals out of power. It's the president who appoints the prosecutor-general in Ukraine.

In his campaign for the presidency, Yushchenko was opposed by outgoing President Kuchma and Kuchma’s chosen successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The prosecutor-general at the time was a man called Genadiy Vasylyev from Donetsk.

Vasylyev arrived in Kyiv together with clan leader Yanukovych in 2003, signaling to Ukrainians and the world that the corruption-ridden regime of Kuchma was passing the baton eastward - to the country's Russian-speaking industrial barons.

Vasylyev's predecessor, Svyatoslav Piskun, was a creation of Kuchma, but the fact that he later ended up aligning himself with Yanukovych's Regions party points to a remarkably closed circle of men in charge of prosecution.

Ukraine's current prosecutor-general, Oleksandr Medvedko, is also from Donetsk. He first came to power in 2005, when Yushchenko & Co. was in control of the presidency as well as the government.

Yushchenko didn't just win the 2004 presidential race on promises to fight corruption, as many a politician in sundry democratic countries has done. He, together with Orange icon Yulia Tymoshenko and other members of the opposition, had ridden a wave of national indignation toward Kuchma and his cronies, which was set off by the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Gonzadze's headless body was found in a wood outside Kyiv back in the fall of 2000. One of a string of 'unsolved' murders of journalists who dared to criticize the authorities in Kyiv, it soon led to national protests that helped make Kuchma into an international pariah.

Kuchma himself was implicated in the murders in a series of tapes released by the opposition.

Criticism of the way the murder investigations were conducted ended the career of Kuchma's long-standing, Sovietesque chief prosecutor Mikhaylo Potebenko, who was replaced by the equally ineffectual Piskun in 2002.

To this day, the Gongadze murder and other high-profile grisly crimes remain unsolved by an unbroken chain of prosecutor-generals loyal to Kuchma and/or Donetsk.

Yushchenko's rallying call during the Orange Revolution was: Put the bandits in jail. Instead, he kept Piskun in office for another year.

The order of Yushchenko's prosecutor-general's goes like this: Piskun, Mevedko, again Piskun and now Medvedko once more.

Observers have speculated that Yushchenko prevented any meaningful change in the Prosecutor-General's Office as a condition to receiving the presidency, thus guaranteeing the old guard that they wouldn't be prosecuted.

Others have suggested that Yushchenko has his own skeletons in the closet to hide.

Whatever his reasons, the fact remains that the Orange president has prevented a cleanup of the nation's top law-enforcement body, thereby making a mockery of justice.

Some of the prosecutor swapping under Yushchenko can be attributed to the president's struggle to restrain the power grab by Yanukovych, who returned as premier following the 2006 parliamentary election.

But even this upset in Orange rule is largely the fault of Yushchenko, who mistrusts the political ambitions of his Orange Revolution ally Yulia Tymoshenko.

It is Tymoshenko, returned as prime minister after early elections held last fall, who has finally raised the issue of ending the Donetsk clan's control over criminal prosecution in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko, who clearly has an eye on the presidency in 2009, publicly challenged Mr. Yushchenko to fire Medvedko.

Besides her unwavering stance against corruption in all spheres of government, Tymoshenko has personally been the victim of unbridled law enforcement. In 2001, after attempting to clean up the country's shady energy business, Kuchma had her jailed for a short time.

The fiery female politician has more than once bumped heads with Piskun, who holds the record for comebacks as top prosecutor.

And Tymoshenko isn't alone among Ukrainian politicians in her criticism of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

The Orange parties' other anti-corruption crusader, Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko, who is also a recent returnee to his job, says he keeps sending prosecutors cases but nothing is done with them.

In Ukraine, anyone unfortunate enough to get picked up by the police could be subject to torture or, more likely, a lengthy if not terminal stay in a remand center without trial.

But the so-called elite can easily avoid punishment due to their lawmaker immunity or ability to bribe judges.

In a travesty of justice, many check into hospitals, where they are protected under Ukrainian law, only to check out on the sly and flee the country with suitcases full of illegally earned cash.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has continually reiterated that Ukraine must reform its constitution, judiciary and criminal code.

Even more than Tymoshenko, President Yushchenko has been a staunch advocate of further integration with Europe through reforms.

Yet it's the president, or more recently his dwindling number of supporters in parliament, who are resisting Tymoshenko's latest assault on the Donetsk prosecutors.

Oles Dony, a lawmaker who openly opposed Tymoshenko's confirmation as premier even though the pro-presidential party he belongs to campaigned under a united Orange banner, announced on January 24 that the Orange majority in parliament was still divided on whether to vote Medvedko out of office.

Yushchenko himself is trying to find a legal loophole to avoid yet another embarrassment before his shrinking voter base.

"For now, the issue (of firing Medvedko) is a matter of procedure. You know that the president nominates and appoints the prosecutor, but the Ukrainian parliament decides dismissals," the president said.

This may be true, but Yushchenko has not even nominated a new top prosecutor, and everything about the way the president has acted on this issue over the past three years shows that he has no intention of breaking the Donetsk clan's hold over the Prosecutor-Generals' Office.

As for Medvedko, like many of his well-connected colleagues before him, he has checked into a hospital just to be on the safe side.

Maybe he suddenly fell ill? But something is definitely rotten in Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office, all the same.

Source: Eurasian Home

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