Lutsenko claims US ambassador gave him ‘untouchables list,’ US embassy denies it | KyivPost – Ukraine’s Global Voice. This article was first posted September 28, 2019.
An extraordinary row has broken out between Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, with Lutsenko claiming the embassy gave him a list of people not to prosecute, and the embassy accusing Lutsenko of making the whole story up.
Lutsenko made the claim during an interview with the Washington D.C. newspaper The Hill published on March 20.
“Unfortunately, at my first meeting with U.S. ambassador (Marie Yovanovitch), she gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko said. He said he had found this unacceptable.
But according to The Hill, the State Department called Lutsenko’s claim that he had been given such a list “an outright fabrication.”
Lutsenko said that he assumed that the Prosecutor General’s Office hasn’t received promised aid from the United States because of his rejection of the list.
“A portion of the funds, namely $4.4 million, were designated and were foreseen for the recipient, the Prosecutor General’s Office. But we never received it,” he said. “Actually, we got a letter from the U.S. embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about (was) under the full control of the U.S. embassy.”
The embassy itself in an official response to Ukraine’s 1+1 channel stated that “in the case of there being an absence of political will, for example, in the Prosecutor General’s Office, we will meet our responsibilities to U.S. taxpayers and transfer funds to where they can produce a positive outcome.”
Lutsenko’s allegations came a couple of weeks after Yovanovitch in a public statement said that the discredited Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky should be dismissed.
Anti-corruption activists have been pressuring the authorities to sack Kholodnytsky for almost a year, after the National Anti-Corruption Bureau or NABU in April 2018 released audio recordings of Kholodnytsky allegedly giving suspects secret details about their cases, while pressuring judges and prosecutors to drop prosecutions. Listening devices had been placed in a fish tank in Kholodnytsky’s office.
Kholodnytsky later confirmed that the tapes were authentic, but said his words had been taken out of context.
The Hill published a letter provided by Lutsenko to demonstrate that the U.S. embassy interferes in the work of his office.
In the letter, sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine in April 2016, the embassy expressed concerns about the prosecution of prominent activist Vitaliy Shabunin’s Anti-Corruption Action Center for alleged misappropriation of funds that the organization received as grant support from the U.S. embassy. The embassy said they have are satisfied with how the aid was spent and were concerned that the case could be an attempt to put pressure on anti-corruption activists.
Lutsenko told the Hill the letter was connected to his refusal to accept Yovanovitch’s alleged “list of untouchables.” However, when the letter was sent in April 2016, Lutsenko wasn’t yet prosecutor general, having been appointed a month later. Yovanovitch arrived in Ukraine even later that year.
War on NABU
Lutsenko’s comments came as the conflict between the NABU and the Prosecutor General’s Office is escalating. Lutsenko’s office has had a tense relationship with NABU ever since the bureau made allegations of corruption in the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office back in April 2018.
The most recent scandal arose in late February, when a journalistic investigation revealed that law enforcement agencies, including members of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the NABU covered up for corruption in state-owned defense enterprise UkrObronProm, for years.
The state law enforcement agencies promptly turned on each other.
Kholodnytsky claimed that the NABU was the one blocking investigation into one suspect, Oleh Hladkovskiy, the former deputy head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, who was fired on March 4.
Speaking at a meeting of parliament’s defense committee on March 13, Kholodnytsky claimed that 87 sheets of correspondence had disappeared from the case’s files. Artem Sytnyk, the head of the NABU, responded that his organization had never received such correspondence.
Lutsenko during the interview with The Hill said that his office would open a probe into independent Ukrainian lawmaker Boryslav Rozenblat’s claim that Sytnyk meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections to help Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.
Rozenblat, formerly belonging to the 138-member Bloc of Petro Poroshenko faction in parliament, was himself charged with corruption and the illegal extraction of amber by the NABU after the bureau taped his phone.
He denied all of the accusations, with Kyiv City Court stating that the NABU’s wiretap of his phone had been illegal.
In the meantime, foreign donors and multiple not-for-profit anticorruption organizations say there is a lack of progress in reforms and battling corruption in Ukraine.
“The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office, but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform,” an unspecified State Department spokesperson told The Hill. “When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the U.S. taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”
“In a passionate desire to topple Sytnyk and take revenge on U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, (Lutsenko) is pulling Ukraine rapidly down to rock bottom,” wrote Daria Kaleniuk, senior executive of Anti-Corruption Action Centre, on Facebook.
Independent lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem cited that the prosecutor general is going beyond his authority.
“The only body that can conduct such an investigation into the disclosure of state secrets is the State Bureau of Investigations,” Nayyem said on Facebook on March 21.
Nayyem added that he sent Lutsenko an official inquiry asking to provide the “untouchables list” allegedly given to Lutsenko by the U.S. ambassador. He also asks Lutsenko why, if the ambassador indeed demanded immunity for someone, Lutsenko didn’t disclose this alleged illegal behavior at the time.
Political expert Volodymyr Fesenko wrote on Facebook that the interview was meant to discredit Yovanovitch, prior to the Ukrainian presidential election set to take place on March 31, which many fear Poroshenko may try to rig in his favor, while also appeasing the U.S. President Donald Trump.
Fesenko said that this move reminded him of the time Poroshenko publicly supported Hillary Clinton for U.S. presidency in 2016.
“Yuriy Lutsenko repeated Poroshenko’s mistake of three years ago. He decided to intervene in American domestic politics in favor of one of the conflicting parties. And this is absolutely wrong to do,” wrote Fesenko.
In a recent conversation with the Kyiv Post, a member of a European anti-corruption initiative in Ukraine acknowledged that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office had stopped receiving funds from European donors due to a lack of progress in battling corruption, while saying that projects with the NABU remain funded.
Lutsenko didn’t respond to allegations prior to publication.