Vice Governor Sentenced For 2004 Election Fraud

MUKACHEVO, Ukraine -- A high-ranking official involved in the wave of fraudulent elections that led up to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution at the end of 2004 has been sentenced to prison, but the closed court proceedings and the lack of information about the fine print of the sentence casts the justice promised by President Viktor Yushchenko and his Orange allies in doubt.

Mukachevo Castle

Just over two years ago, Ukraine and the international community were stunned by the the April 18, 2004 repeat mayoral elections in the otherwise sleepy western Ukrainian town of Mukachevo.

Mukachevo’s election was widely interpreted as a dress rehearsal for Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, in which large-scale fraud and voter intimidation ignited the massive nationwide protests known as the Orange Revolution in November and December of that same year.

The distressing cocktail of vote rigging, scare tactics and outright violence in Mukachevo not only blurred the distinctions between criminal gangs, law enforcement agencies and election officials, but also ranked the election among the worst in independent Ukraine’s recent history.

Over two years later, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (PGO) announced that the district court in Mukachevo sentenced a former deputy governor of Transcarpathia Region to five years imprisonment on June 30 for his role in falsifying the results of the Mukachevo’s mayoral election.

However, the PGO’s July 3 press release did not provide detailed information about the court’s decision, name the convicted former deputy governor, or reveal what statutes of the criminal code he violated, apparently because of confidentiality requirements in Ukraine’s court system.

Moreover, according to the release, the sentence stipulates that the first year of his prison term be “postponed.”

In early 2004, Mukachevo and all of Transcarpathia Region had become a fierce battleground between the then oppositionist Our Ukraine bloc led by Viktor Yushchenko and the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united) led by the former head of the presidential administration under former President Leonid Kuchma – Viktor Medvedchuk.

Candidates from these two political factions battled not once, but twice, for the mayor’s seat: on June 29, 2003 during an election held after Viktor Baloha, (current emergencies minister) vacated his seat to become a member of parliament following the 2002 parliamentary elections, and again on April 18, 2004, after a lengthy court battle and a decree by then President Leonid Kuchma declared the June 29 elections illegitimate.

The April 18 repeat election pitted Our Ukraine’s Viktor Baloha against the SDPU(united)’s Ernest Nuser. Unofficial vote tabulations and exit-poll results gave Baloha a commanding lead over Nuser, with a margin of over 5,000 votes.

The exit-poll conducted by Democratic Initiatives (DIF), in conjunction with SOCIS, the Kyiv International Institute for Sociology, “Social Monitoring”, the Razumkov Center and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), showed that Baloha received 62.4 and Nuser obtained 29.99 percent of the vote. With a 60 percent response rate, 1,694 voters participated in the poll, which was enough to guarantee the validity of the results, according to DIF’s April 18, 2004 press release.

Nonetheless, a series of violent attacks by locals toughs (with their uniform closely-cropped hair and black leather jackets) on polling stations throughout the day and during the vote count, as well as drastic changes made to the protocols at the polling stations and the district electoral comission, rewrote the results of Mukachevo’s mayoral election, and Nuser was announced the winner at about 4:30 a.m., by the very same margin of 5,000 votes.

The election results were robustly criticized both in Ukraine and abroad.

Mukachevo attracted national and international attention not only because of the mobilization of hired thugs, who were involved in scuffles with observers, people’s deputies and journalists on voting day, and ransacked polling stations at night during the count, but also because the involvement of regional and local government officials and law enforcement in the orchestration of election fraud appeared to reach unprecedented levels.

In 2004 and 2005, a number of high profile criminal investigations were opened in connection with the Mukachevo elections.

In 2005, just a few months after Yushchenko had been sworn in as president, the PGO announced that it had opened a criminal case against former deputy governor of Transcarpathian Region Viktor Dyadchenko on April 26.

According to its April 28, 2005 press release, the PGO alleged that Dyadchenko, as a government official involved in organizing the elections, “deliberately made false changes to the protocols submitted by the polling station committees.” The PGO also charged that the former deputy governor had abused his position of power by forcing the heads of polling station commissions to make changes to already formulated protocols – the document that officially reports and records the result of the vote.

Furthermore, the PGO alleged that the group organizing the elections, of which Dyadchenko was a part, stole (and later destroyed) the ballot papers and protocols from the offices of the city executive committee, with the intent to cover up evidence of vote fraud.

The former chief of Mukachevo’s city police, Valeriy Dernoviy, was also detained in April 2005 pending an analogous set of charges, according to the same PGO news item from April 28, 2005.

Another high-profile criminal case was opened against Ivan Chubirko, then deputy to Mukachevo’s city council, on August 10, 2005, on allegations of giving bribes to heads of polling station commissions to ensure the victory of SDPU(united) candidate Nuser.

According to Yevhen Poberezhniy, vice president of CVU’s board of directors, the sentencing of the former deputy governor “is notable because they got to a high-level official, one who himself did not carry out rigging, but was involved in the technical organization of the process…which is why this case, in my opinion, sets a much more important precedent.”

Ukrainian law, however, curtails the amount of information available regarding court rulings – information must be presented in a way that does not identify the person who is the subject of the case. Therefore, although quite a number of criminal cases have been opened regarding the Mukachevo elections, information regarding the results of these investigations is not accessible to the public.

In a 2005 publication entitled, “Criminal Accountability for Violating Voting Rights,” Prof. Mykola Melnyk notes that the same holds true for criminal cases opened regarding the 2004 presidential election.

He wrote that an analysis of judicial practice in criminal cases opened based on evidence of violations during the 2004 presidential election shows that in most cases investigations and court hearings were limited to those who had directly carried out fraud – that is, the average polling station commissioner.

“The organizers and instigators of these violations were, as a rule, considered ‘persons not identified by the investigation’ and thereby avoided responsibility envisaged by legislation,” he wrote.

During the Ukrainian parliamentary election on March 26, 2006, the pro-Russian SDPU(united) didn’t overcome the three percent hurdle and so is no longer represented in the country’s Verkhovna Rada.

Source: Kyiv Post