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Corruption Watch: September 13, 2005

13 September 2005, Volume 5, Number 12
Kyiv, home of the Orange Revolution, was first thrown into shock by the resignation of Oleksandr Zinchenko, the head of President Viktor Yushchenko's administration, on 5 September. The repercussions of this resignation led to a major crisis and the dismissal of Yuliya Tymoshenko's government on 8 September.

Long-time Yushchenko supporter Yuriy Yekhanurov was appointed acting prime minister and instructed to form a new government.

Zinchenko accused two members of Yushchenko's closest entourage, Petro Poroshenko, the head of the National Security and Defense Council (and godfather to one of Yushchenko's children), and Oleksandr Tretyakov, Yushchenko's top aide, of "corruption."

As an example of Tretyakov's alleged corrupt activities, Zinchenko cited Tretyakov's membership on the supervisory boards of Oshchad Bank, one of Ukraine's largest banks, and of Ukrtelekom, the state-owned telecommunications giant.

He also charged that Tretyakov plays a "controlling role" in the oil-and-gas sector. Tretyakov had earlier been named by critics as the person lobbying for a continuation of earlier schemes in the gas sector that were being investigated by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).

Ukrainian experts contacted by RFE/RL believe that Zinchenko's charges have more to do with conflict-of-interest issues than the blatant corruption of the era of former President Leonid Kuchma.

There is a lack of clear legislation on conflict of interest in Ukraine, and earlier in 2005, for instance, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych was accused of lobbying his wife's business interests. Zvarych did not resign.

Yushchenko accepted Zinchenko's resignation immediately and appointed Oleh Rybachuk, the deputy prime minister for European integration, to replace him.

Zinchenko did not accuse Poroshenko of any specific corrupt activities, but limited himself to criticizing him of staffing his apparatus with people "close to him" and "blockading the president from meeting with people" who were hostile to Poroshenko.

Soon after Zinchenko's accusations were aired at a Kyiv press conference, the SBU announced that it would investigate his charges.

Poroshenko resigned on 8 September, as did Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Mykola Tomenko. Tomenko had not been accused of anything, but explained his resignation by claiming that Tretyakov and Poroshenko had formed a shadow government and that a "Byzantine system of management" had evolved.

Tomenko blamed the two men, along with parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and the leader of the Our Ukraine faction in parliament, Mykola Martynenko, of blocking public hearings in parliament on the killing of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Interfax on 8 September quoted Tomenko as telling a press conference that if nothing had changed following the previous day's late-night talks between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko, "then it's evident the scenario of some people stealing, and other people resigning" would continue.

As the resignations began coming in, parliament voted to deprive some members of the Yushchenko administration of their seats in parliament. According to Ukrainian law, executive-branch officials are not allowed to sit in parliament.

Poroshenko had delayed submitting his resignation and this had led to charges that he was trying to maintain his parliamentary immunity from prosecution. He eventually submitted his resignation.

However, on 8 September, after he resigned from the National Security and Defense Council, Poroshenko tried to reverse his decision to leave parliament -- but parliament rejected this bid.

The same day, Yushchenko announced that he was dismissing the government and named Yuriy Yekhanurov acting prime minister, ordering him to take charge of forming a new government. He also said that he had accepted Poroshenko's resignation and had suspended Tretyakov while the SBU investigated the charges against him.

Yekhanurov, born in Yakutiya in present-day Russia in 1948, is a Buryat by nationality and is presently the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional administration and a member of the presidium of the parliament.

The conflict in the Ukrainian presidential administration has been brewing for some time, as has been the broader conflict between Tymoshenko and Poroshenko. Over the past few months, the two have exchanged disagreements publicly and Yushchenko has unsuccessfully tried to maintain peace within the ranks.

The major issue dividing the two sides were the delineation of responsibilities between the cabinet and the National Security and Defense Council. Tymoshenko charged that Poroshenko was attempting to take too much power and this was leading to confusion, especially in such matters as energy policy.

In August, Poroshenko announced unilaterally that he would go to Moscow to negotiate with Russia on gas prices and supplies. Critics close to Tymoshenko charged that Poroshenko was not qualified to do so.

Some critics have charged that Moscow was lobbying on behalf of Poroshenko and were adamant in refusing to deal with Tymoshenko, who had frequently accused the Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom of corruption in the transfer of gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine and Russian oil companies of price-fixing in Ukraine. (Roman Kupchinsky)

Acting Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov said on 6 September that claims by Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General's Office that the Andijon unrest was planned by Islamic militants at a terrorist base in southern Kyrgyzstan are groundless.

"Nobody was trained by any extremist groups or instructors on the territory of Kyrgyzstan [for alleged terrorist activities] and there is no such opportunity in the country. Therefore the accusations [by Uzbek prosecutors] are baseless," Isakov said. "We think that they are trying to blame somebody else for their own bad work."

Isakov's statement was the first reaction of the Kyrgyz government to accusations Uzbek authorities made in late August.

On 26 August, Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman of the Uzbek prosecutor-general, told RFE/RL that a group of "criminals had training in making and using explosive devices, conducting military operations, and learned martial arts with foreign instructors in a desolate military base located in the Teke village near the Kyrgyz city of Osh in January-April 2005." Their goal, Ortiqova said, was to overthrow the constitutional order in Uzbekistan.

Earlier this week, investigators of the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office reported the same "findings" to an Uzbek parliamentary commission.

They also said that another 60 trained and armed militants composed of Kyrgyz citizens broke into Uzbekistan "by taking two border guards hostage and directly took an active part in the acts of terror on the night from 13 to 14 May."

Isakov said the military training base in Teke, which belongs to the Defense Ministry, is still functioning and no strangers are allowed there.

Kyrgyzstan's Security Council on 6 September also denied the Uzbek authorities' allegations.

Vyacheslav Khan, deputy head of the Security Council, said the Uzbek side's accusations were baseless and "Kyrgyzstan's special services and law-enforcement agencies have no proof" that any terrorist base exists in southern Kyrgyzstan. Khan added that the Security Council was ready to consider documents Uzbekistan's government could provide to prove accusations.

But Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov's reaction was different. He said the accusations were not groundless "to some degree" due to the weakness of border protection and the ease of acquiring fake documents.

"Regarding the accusations that some militants who took part in the Andijon events were Kyrgyz citizens, my answer is that, to some degree, this claim is justified because there have been cases when citizens of our country, as well as noncitizens, have acquired Kyrgyz passports by paying bribes. There have been such cases in the past," Kulov said.

Kulov, who was speaking to the BBC's Kyrgyz Service, did not clarify whether such cases occurred in the recent past, as Ortiqova claimed, or a few years ago when the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan raided southern regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 1999 and 2000.

Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Erkin Mamkulov said on 7 September that "Kyrgyzstan has never been a base for terrorists" and that Uzbek authorities should look for the reasons for the Andijon unrest in Uzbekistan itself. He also said Kulov's statements to the BBC were misinterpreted.

Ruslan Baibolsunov, an Osh-based military analyst, said some bases may exist in the country's mountainous regions that are hard to control. But he said that Teke couldn't have been a home for the Andijon "terrorists."

"If they would have said it [a terrorist base] was based high in mountains, let's say in Alay or Nookat, it would sound little more truthful," Baibolsunov said. "But this statement of the Uzbek prosecutor's office can only be understood as an attempt to damage Kyrgyzstan's image and undermine its authority."

The Teke villagers and some Andijon protesters mentioned in Ortiqova's statement as "terrorists trained in Teke" denied the accusations as well.

Vyacheslav Khan of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the Uzbek authorities complained about possible terrorist activities in the past and the two countries' investigators from the prosecutor's office visited the suspicious sites.

"They went there. After examining everything they found out that there was an abandoned shooting range," Khan said. "They also found out that it was based on Uzbek territory. [Uzbekistan] admitted it. Therefore we are very surprised to hear that your [Uzbek] Prosecutor-General's Office stated in your Majlis [parliament] that terrorists were trained in southern Kyrgyzstan."

He also rejected Ortiqova's statement that 60 Kyrgyz citizens received military training and broke into Uzbekistan before the Andijon uprising on 13 May.

Kulov, for his part, said Kyrgyzstan's new government has begun paying "special attention" to strengthening porous borders in order to prevent any further attempts to destabilize the situation in "neighboring countries." (Gulnoza Saidazimova, with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek and Kyrgyz services)