Ukraine Attacks Europol Over Organised Crime Report

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukraine's ambassador to the EU has said a major police report was wrong in concluding that visa-free travel could help organised crime gangs to operate inside the union.

Shipping containers: Europol says Odessa, Ukraine is a hotspot for cocaine and heroin smugglers.

Writing in a brief note emailed to press on Thursday (5 May), Kostiantyn Yelisieiev said the study, put out by Europol one day earlier, "undermines the impartial and objective nature" of the joint police body in The Hague.

"It is not acceptable, and I expect that this unfortunate mistake will be corrected by Europol. I urge the Europol to revise its statements."

Yelisieiev did not deny that Ukraine has a problem with organised crime.

But he said the European Commission has in the past given more positive assessments of its efforts to improve law and order and indicated that any worries should be handled through its strategic agreement with Europol instead of being aired in public.

"Europol statements are not consistent [with EU commission findings] and might prejudge future assessment to be conducted by the European Commission in the framework of visa liberalisation dialogue with Ukraine," he noted.

The Europol study says south east Europe is a hub for smuggling arms, drugs and people into the union.

It adds that the Ukrainian port of Odessa is at the centre of a new Black Sea route for cocaine and heroin traffickers.

It also says Ukrainian gangs play a big role in Europe's €10 billion-a-year illegal cigarettes market.

"The projected introduction of a visa-free regime for Ukraine may itself facilitate trafficking via the Black Sea route," it warns.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has made stability and the rule of law his top domestic priority, launching a purge on allegedly corrupt politicians such as former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Privately, Ukrainian diplomats admit that Russian and Ukrainian organised crime groups have tentacles reaching to the top of its political and business establishment.

One of the country's richest men - the gas, media and pharmaceuticals tycoon Dmitry Firtash - himself told US diplomats that he started out in business under the patronage of the Russia mafia.

Firtash later denied making the comments, which came to light in a WikiLeaks cable.

On the related issue of corruption, Transparency International last year put Ukraine in 134th place in its world ranking, behind countries such as Belarus and Sierra Leone.

A 2006 study by Global Witness said Yanukovych's current energy minister, Yuri Boiko, oversaw "hair-raising" accounting practices at the state-owned firm Naftogaz between 2002 and 2005.

Ukraine unilaterally dropped visa requirements for EU citizens six years ago and often complains about disrespectful treatment of Ukrainian nationals and red tape at EU consulates.

The EU commission last year gave it an Action Plan for reforms leading to visa-free travel. But there is little prospect of a breakthrough in time for the Euro 2012 football championship in Kiev.

Source: euobserver