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Ukraine's Chief Prosecutor Offers Resignation Over Probe Of Deadly Acid Attack


Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko (file photo)
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko (file photo)

KYIV - Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko has told parliament he will offer his resignation amid public outrage over the handling of an investigation into an acid attack that killed anticorruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk.

But Iryna Herashchenko, first deputy parliament speaker, told lawmakers on November 6 that the governing coalition that includes President Petro Poroshenko's party would not support his resignation, and a vote later showed little backing for his departure.

Meanwhile, Mustafa Nayyem, a prominent critic of Ukraine's law enforcement authorities called the announcement a "lie" and a piece of politically motivated PR.

Less than five months before a presidential election, Lutsenko's surprise statement added to the turmoil over the death of Handzyuk, the victim of an assault that underscored the risks faced by activists and journalists who challenge those holding power in Ukraine -- and concerns about what government critics say is impunity for the authors of such attacks.

"Today, I will offer my resignation to the president of Ukraine, and you in parliament have to look into this issue," the chief prosecutor told lawmakers, adding that he wants parliament to address his resignation this week.

In a so-called "rating vote" after the chief prosecutor's announcement, only 38 of 332 lawmakers at the session voted to support his resignation.

Nayyem, a member of the president's Bloc Petro Poroshenko, described Lutsenko's resignation announcement as "a lie” and a piece of “"political" public relations.

"This was a lie; this was not a statement," Nayyem said, saying that the president is supposed to make the proposal to lawmakers. "And this was political PR.”

Lutsenko’s statement came a day after dozens of Ukrainian human rights groups and civic organizations called for the resignation of the country's top law enforcement officials over the handling of an investigation into the case.

Kateryna Handzyuk died on November 4 at a Kyiv hospital where she was being treated for burns after being doused in sulfuric acid. (file photo)
Kateryna Handzyuk died on November 4 at a Kyiv hospital where she was being treated for burns after being doused in sulfuric acid. (file photo)

In an open letter published by the Kyiv-based Center for Human Rights Information on November 5, 75 Ukrainian organizations said they were "outraged" by the state of the investigation into a series of attacks against Ukraine’s civic activists.

Lutsenko said he would offer his resignation in order to eliminate concerns that he is "clinging to power."

"Until yesterday, I was confident that the investigation had been conducted effectively, but I am frustrated by the speculation made about the death in this case," Lutsenko said. "Yesterday's wave of information has damaged the success of the investigation."

Lutsenko also criticized the Temporary Investigative Commission (TSK), which was established by the parliament on November 6 and is tasked with looking into Handzyuk's death.

"I do not understand what the TSK can do with the unaccomplished investigation," he said, adding that the work won't bring results because some information from the probe is considered secret.

"The organizers of the TSK do not need a result," Lutsenko said. "They need a [public relations] tool to struggle for power."

Handzyuk, known for scathing criticism of police corruption, was doused with sulfuric acid outside of her home in the southern city of Kherson on July 31.

The 33-year-old activist died on November 4 at a Kyiv hospital where she was being treated for burns from the attack.

Five suspects, including a law enforcement officer, have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack.

It was not immediately clear who organized or ordered the acid attack.

There was no immediate comment from Poroshenko on Lutsenko's announcement, and it was not clear whether Lutsenko submitted a formal offer of resignation to the president.

In a statement posted on his administration's website around the time Lutsenko was addressing parliament, Poroshenko's office said he called for unity and for an "effective, transparent, fair, transparent, speedy" investigation that is "credible" to Ukrainians.

He said the authorities must demonstrate that they "are determined to bring the perpetrators and murderers to justice, no matter who they are," but that "political speculation on this topic will not clear up this case."

"Thus, I call on the pro-government and opposition forces not to throw unfounded arguments. And, god forbid, not to make PR on blood," he was quoted as saying.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and UNIAN