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Ukraine: Government Attempts To Get Grip On Corruption

A number of figures in the administration of former President Leonid Kuchma face charges (file photo) During the last two months of 2004, as the Orange Revolution was changing the face of the Ukrainian body politic, approximately $1 billion left Ukraine. Some of this money was reportedly private and some belonged to the Ukrainian treasury. The people responsible for transferring this money out of the country have been identified, according to a spokesman for the Ukrainian Interior Ministry (MVD), and investigations into the matter are under way, Interfax reported on 1 June.

This announcement was the latest in a series of statements made by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies on the promised postelection cleanup of corruption and crime in Ukraine. According to Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, some 18,000 criminal cases have been initiated by the MVD since the new government took power at the end of January.

Governors Arrested

The most widely publicized cases so far have been the arrests of two regional governors, Borys Kolesnykov from Donetsk Oblast and Ivan Rizak from Transcarpathian Oblast. Both men are in prison while investigations of their cases continue. Kolesnykov was arrested on charges of extortion while Rizak was charged with "inducing suicide." The Prosecutor-General's Office claims that he did so by harassing an individual to the point that the person committed suicide. Both men were known as supporters of former President Leonid Kuchma and their arrest has led the opposition to declare that they are being "politically persecuted."

In mid-June, Rizak's two assistants were also charged with crimes and put on a wanted list.

Another Kuchma-appointed regional governor, Volodymyr Shcherban from Sumy, has been indicted on a number of charges, including extortion, and is being sought by the police. He is alleged to have fled to Russia. Shcherban, originally from Donetsk, was the leader of the Liberal Party of Ukraine prior to being indicted.

Former SBU Deputy Sought

On 7 June, Interfax-Ukraine reported that the former deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Volodymyr Satsyuk, was being sought in connection with "grave crimes." According to Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, Satsyuk reportedly left Ukraine and an Interpol red alert will be posted for him.

Satsyuk has often been mentioned in connection with the poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko in 2004. The dinner party during which many suspect that dioxin was administered to Yushchenko took place in Satsyuk's summer home.

However, after the 7 June announcement, Interfax quoted a "source close to the investigation of the poisoning" as saying that Satsyuk was being sought for misuse of SBU funds and not in connection with the Yushchenko poisoning.

Former Official Sought In Gas Case

One highly visible case is that of Ihor Bakay, the former head of the presidential property-management department in Kuchma's administration. Prior to holding that position, Bakay was the head of Naftohaz Ukrayiny, the state oil and gas monopoly, from which he was forced to resign in 2001 after being exposed for having conducted a series of suspicious transactions. After leaving Naftohaz, Bakay was elected to parliament, though according to numerous parliamentarians, he only appeared once in the session hall -- to be sworn in.

Bakay was indicted in March on charges of defrauding the state of tens of millions of dollars in a series of illegal real-estate transactions and an Interpol warrant for his arrest was issued. At that time, Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, announced that Bakay had obtained Russian citizenship. Apparently Bakay had fled to Moscow during the 2004 election campaign and obtained citizenship, but it remains unclear if he received it in Kyiv from Chernomyrdin or in Moscow. Chernomyrdin has denied issuing Bakay a Russian passport.

The Ukrainian authorities have asked the Russian Foreign Ministry for Bakay's extradition to stand trial in Ukraine, but there has been no response to the request so far.

In May, Ukrainian Transport Minister Yevhen Chervonenko met with Bakay in Moscow. Chervonenko told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website that Bakay travels around Moscow freely, accompanied by armed bodyguards.

A number of other wanted Ukrainian suspects are believed to be hiding in Moscow, including former Odesa Mayor Ruslan Bodelan, former Interior Minister Mykola Bilokin, and former MVD General Oleksiy Pukach.

Pukach is wanted on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze, an Internet journalist killed in September 2000. Two other MVD officers have already confessed to taking part in the killing and are presently in jail in Kyiv.

Suspicion Falls On Former Administration

Former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych was asked on 1 June to appear for questioning by the Prosecutor-General's Office in conjunction with a case involving the improper use of state funds when he was prime minister. Yanukovych did not appear on the date he was requested to and was said by his office to be in Moscow. He did, however appear the following day.

The consequences of a possible indictment of Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of the Regions, could be disruptive for the government and might polarize Ukrainian society once again, since Yanukovych did obtain almost half the votes cast in the final round of the elections.

On 3 June, SBU head Oleksandr Turchinov was quoted by Interfax as saying that in 2004 alone, over 3 billion hryvnyas ($594 million) was stolen from the budget in different value-added-tax (VAT) repatriation schemes. The individuals and companies responsible for the different VAT rackets are being investigated, Interfax reported on 3 June. One such company allegedly involved in VAT schemes is the charitable foundation for children run by former President Kuchma's wife, Lyudmyla.

Another major investigation centers on the activities of the state-owned railways operated by the Transport Ministry. It's former head, Heorhiy Kirpa, was often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2004. Kirpa committed suicide during the election campaign.

The Transport Ministry was apparently involved in large-scale fraud and on 3 June Interfax reported that 13 managers of the railways company were facing charges.

Gongadze Case Casts Long Shadow

The most prominent case, however, remains that of Kuchma and his alleged involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Heorhiy Gongadze. Kuchma has been called in for questioning twice since leaving office. According to SBU head Turchinov, Mykola Melnychenko, Kuchma's former bodyguard who made secret audio recordings in the president's office, has agreed to be interviewed by the U.S. FBI. The FBI has also agreed to authenticate Melnychenko's recordings, specifically those passages where Kuchma is alleged to be telling his subordinates to "take Gongadze, turn him over to the Chechens," which could constitute an order to kidnap the journalist.

If the FBI authentications show the recordings to be genuine, Kuchma is liable to be arrested on kidnapping charges. It would be an event which many Ukrainians have waited five years for.

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