Ukraine’s Justice System unravelling

Tension is mounting both in Ukraine and abroad as Judge Kireyev’s verdict, due on 11 October, in the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, draws closer. The former Prime Minister and main rival in last year’s presidential elections, is effectively being tried for a political move which restored the gas flow to Europe in the winter of 2009.  Despite undoubtedly stern words, foreign diplomats, EU officials and others seem to be waiting a touch too passively. After all, the same meeting of PACE Foreign Ministers due to discuss the trial on Monday is set to extend sanctions against Belarus, among other things, adding 15 names to a blacklist against Belarusian officials. The latter has to a large degree been prompted by repressive measures against opponents of Lukashenko in the December presidential elections.


Sounding familiar?  So it should.


The Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights recently issued a second Monitoring Report in which it analyzed four disturbing prosecutions of former members of Yulia Tymoshenko’s government, including that of the former Prime Minister herself. All warrant attention, but one – that of ex-Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Lutsenko, has been unravelling before our eyes in a way that should send heads rolling.  The heads are intact, another application for a change to the restraint measure against Yury Lutsenko, in detention now since December 2010, rejected on Monday, 10 October, and the trial continues.


None of the charges against the former Minister involve any personal gain to himself. The accusations presently being examined by the court involve Lutsenko’s driver – Leonid Prystuplyuk.  Lutsenko is accused of having “exceeded his authority with grave consequences for the State” by having his driver employed within the MIA Department of Investigative Intelligence, getting him an MIA flat and an early enhanced pension.

Over the last few weeks EIGHT witnesses summoned by the prosecution have stated in court that they did not receive instructions from Lutsenko, and that in any case the employment of Leonid Prystuplyuk was entirely above board and standard practice.  A number of them have explained that any driver accompanying the Minister needs to have the same access to State secrets as the Minister, this being the reason for that particular department.  Nor, they say, was Prystuplyuk given special treatment.  All drivers of the Minister’s predecessors had been officially employed in the same department.  Thus far not one witness has suggested that the initiative to provide Prystuplyuk with a flat came directly from Lutsenko.  The pension issue has not yet been raised, yet surely follows from the general position held within the MIA. 


There have been very serious question marks over why Security Service strongmen should have arrested the former Minister and likely strong opposition candidate back in December last year, and why he remains in detention in October 2011 despite doctors from the Health Ministry recommending hospitalization. Not, of course, to mention the dubious grounds for remand in custody at all.


The last few weeks have highlighted a number of other concerns.  Last Friday, for example, saw two witnesses not only state in court that neither Lutsenko nor they had committed any offence, but actually testify that they had never told the investigators anything different.   The case of Valery Melnyk, former Aide to the ex-Minister is particularly disturbing. He accused the investigators of having distorted his testimony and also stated that he had been rung a few days before the hearing from the Prosecutor’s Office and advised what he should say in court.  He said that there had been two calls and he was told to say what he’d said during the interrogation.  He added that he had been phoned from that same number during the investigation.


These, to state the obvious, are extremely serious allegations and require no less serious examination. The obvious must be stated, unfortunately, since Lutsenko’s demand that the investigators be called in to explain themselves was rejected as “premature”, and Lutsenko remains in custody.


Stern words, and demands that the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko be “transparent” seem scarcely adequate, when the travesty unfolding bears so little relation to justice.



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