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Ukraine's anticorruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytskyy, has been accused of assisting officials suspected of corruption to avoid prosecution.

The U.S. ambassador to Kyiv has called on Ukrainian authorities to fire the country’s special anticorruption prosecutor and tackle its corruption problem.

Marie Yovanovitch made the calls in a speech given in Kyiv on March 5, less than four weeks before Ukraine holds a crucial presidential election, with the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, trailing in the polls.

Western officials have repeatedly voiced frustration that Poroshenko has not done enough to root our rampant corruption.

Yovanovitch’s speech, which echoed that frustration, was notable not only for its timing, but also its bluntness, from a foreign diplomat.

In her speech, Yovanovitch said that the chief of the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Nazar Kholodnytskyy, should be replaced to ensure the integrity of the anticorruption institutions.

The government's efforts have "not yet resulted in the anticorruption or rule-of-law reforms that Ukrainians expect or deserve,” the U.S. ambassador said.

U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch
U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch

"Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases," she also said.

Kholodnytskyy has been accused of assisting officials suspected of corruption to avoid prosecution.

Speaking to several media outlets on March 6, Kholodnytskyy refused to comment on what he called "interference into another country's internal affairs."

In July 2018, Ukraine's Disciplinary Commission for Prosecutor's Qualification (KDPK) rejected a request by the Prosecutor-General's Office to fire Kholodnytskyy and ruled to reprimand him.

Yovanovitch made the critical remarks a day before U.S. Undersecretary of State David Hale's visit to Kyiv, during which he is expected to discuss Ukraine's anticorruption efforts, among other things.

Last month, the Constitutional Court overturned a law criminalizing illicit enrichment, raising concerns about the Ukrainian government's resolve to fight endemic corruption.

After the ruling, the National Anticorruption Bureau announced that it was forced to close 65 corruption cases under investigation.

Last week, a Ukrainian media outlet published an investigation into alleged embezzlement schemes in the country's military industry that involved members of President Petro Poroshenko's inner circle.

Referring to the report, Yovanovitch called for a complete audit of a state-owned military procurement company and greater transparency for defense contracts.

Western officials say corruption hurts Ukraine's chances of throwing off the influence of Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and backs separatists whose war with Kyiv has killed about 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Poroshenko was elected in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea and is hoping to secure another five year term in the March 31 election. Polls show him trailing comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy by about 9 percentage points and barely ahead of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

With reporting by UNIAN, AP, RBC, Focus, and
Tajik Opposition Activist: 'I Was Kidnapped In Moscow'
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A prominent Tajik opposition activist says he was abducted, tortured, and forced to appear in propaganda videos before being released amid international pressure on Dushanbe over his case.

Sharoffidin Gadoev made the remarks in a videotaped statement released on March 5, three days after he arrived safely in Europe following what rights groups say was a harrowing ordeal in his home country.

“I was kidnapped in Moscow. I was kidnapped illegally by the Tajik government,” Gadoev, a member of the banned Group 24 opposition movement, said in the video posted on YouTube:

He thanked journalists, human rights groups, and Western governments and diplomats for their efforts to secure his release and return to the Netherlands, where he has refugee status.

“If it hadn’t been for your efforts, I would still be there in captivity,” Gadoev said in the video, shared by the Europe-based opposition National Alliance of Tajikistan.

He said he would reveal more details about his treatment on March 7.

Gadoev, who fled Tajikistan in 2012, resurfaced there in February after a trip to Russia.

Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow said on March 4 that Gadoev told him he had been seized by Russian police and handed over to Tajik authorities, who brought him to Dushanbe by plane.

"Now, we know that there was so much violence used against him that when he arrived in Dushanbe [from Moscow], his clothes were soaked with blood," Swerdlow told RFE/RL.

Swerdlow said Gadoev told him that when he tried to call for help at a Moscow airport, Tajik security officers severely beat him and taped his mouth so that he could not shout.

In an interview published on March 6 by the Prague-based Akhbor news agency, Gadoev said that he was given a stark ultimatum by the Tajik authorities in Dushanbe.

“The Tajik security services gave me three choices: They would kill me, or jail me for some 25 years, or I would cooperate with them. To save my own life, I chose the third option,” Gadoev told Akhbor.

And in an interview published on the Eurasianet website on March 6, Gadoev said that he met with the head of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) “several times” and was told that “we should reinstitute Group 24 inside Tajikistan.”

“I was to become the leader of this group and to create the illusion of an opposition inside the country. We were to be under the direct control of the authorities and we were not to criticize the president or his family,” he said.

Another task for him was to “support” Rustam Emomali, President Emomali Rahmon’s eldest son and mayor of Dushanbe, in the presidential elections scheduled for 2020.

Tajik authorities have claimed that Gadoev, 33, returned to the country voluntarily on February 15. They posted a video that shows Gadoev criticizing the opposition and urging other activists to follow suit and return to Tajikistan.

But Gadoev told Akhbor that the video was made under duress.

“All those videos and photos [issued by Tajik authorities] were staged. I was surrounded by officials at all times and was doing what they instructed me to do,” he said.

“One of their conditions was for me to relocate from Europe," the activist said, adding that he was offered $2 million to keep silent "about what did they do to me in Dushanbe.”

On February 19, the National Alliance posted a video it said was recorded ahead of his trip to Russia:

In that undated footage, Gadoev warned that “if I suddenly appear on the Tajik television or some YouTube channel saying that I have returned of my own accord, you must not believe it.”

He also said in the video that he was traveling to Moscow to meet with officials from Russia’s Security Council to discuss “some problems that have occurred in Tajikistan [and] the situation of Tajik labor migrants."

In his interview with Eurasianet, Gadoev said he was invited by “a person close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.”

He did not name that person.

On February 21, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said Gadoev had been arrested in Tajikistan on suspicion of “criminal activities,” an allegation linked to his past business activities. Tajik authorities never announced his arrest and have not commented on the Dutch statement.

Tajik officials have also not commented publicly about Gadoev’s return to Europe, which was announced by the National Alliance on March 2 with a video showing him at the Frankfurt airport alongside Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1992, has long been criticized for his government's crackdown on dissent.

Group 24 was labeled as “extremist” in October 2014 and banned after it called for antigovernment protests in Dushanbe and other cities.

The IRPT, long an influential party with representatives in the government and parliament of the Central Asian country, was labeled a terrorist group and banned in 2015.

Dozens of IRPT officials and supporters have been prosecuted and many of them imprisoned, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

IRPT founder Umarali Quvatov was assassinated in Istanbul in March 2015.

With reporting by Akhbor and

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