KIEV (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's amendment to Ukraine's top law enforcement agency will cause a series of long-running criminal investigations to fail, including two investigations into former US President Donald Trump's election campaign chairman Paul Manafort, three recent ones and former Ukrainian prosecutors told Reuters.
Photo: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy listens during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump on the margins of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, New York, on 25 September 2019 REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst / File photo
The restructuring, which includes renewed leadership of the agency and the compulsory review of the prosecutor's powers, is a change in the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine (GPO), one of the country's most powerful bodies. and one that has long been the subject of criticism.
Zelenskiy, who came to power in May, said the reorganization is essential, as the office is widely disapproved of by the Ukrainians and seen as a political tool for the allies to punish their enemies.
The overhaul, begun in October, was scrutinized by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to force Ukraine to launch an investigation into the political rival of the Republican president, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Plans to shake up the GPO played a role in a telephone call between Zelenskiy and Trump on July 25, which is now at the center of the impeachment investigation against the US president. At the time of the call, Zelenskiy Trump announced that he was appointing a new director at the agency, who was "100% of my person, my candidate" and "will investigate the situation regarding the bidders".
The new Attorney-General Ruslan Ryaboshapka took office at the end of August. Under his leadership, the GPO is preparing to transfer all existing investigations to other law enforcement agencies. According to this process, Reuters would start on November 20.
Ryaboshapka, who previously led an anti-corruption agency and was for a short time Zelenskiy's deputy. The chief of staff also issued a written legal exam for all prosecutors of the GPO. A move that many of these employees regard as insulting and unfairly testing their skills and experience. According to the prosecution, more than 200 people have been dismissed for refusing to take the exam.
During a press conference in October, Zelenskiy said in his comments to Trump that Ryaboshapka would be an honest prosecutor. Ryaboshapka refused to be interviewed by Reuters and did not respond directly to questions that made Reuters criticize his reforms. But his office defended her and the exam process. "The reform aims to create a renewed, professional and efficient public prosecutor's office that will trust the public," said a statement issued by the October 25 Special Investigations Unit, which dealt with corruption cases from the time of former President Viktor Yanukovich. Manafort, who served as a political adviser to Ukraine for many years, was involved in two of these investigations, one concerning a non-commissioned dossier by one Ukrainian political party and another dealing with alleged illicit state use the government of Yanukovich.
Manafort's lawyer did not respond to requests for comments, but Manafort has previously upheld his innocence.
Serhii Horbatiuk, the former head of Special Investigations, who was dismissed for refusing to take the new test, said he believed that Zelenskiy's overhaul was aimed at concentrating power in the hands of loyalists, who could exercise more control over sensitive cases. including the probes associated with Manafort.
"This entire reform is being undertaken to take control of the Attorney General's Office … and to have the guarantee that there will be no disagreement," Horbatiuk said in an interview with Reuters on October 22 in his Office was carried out the day before his release.
He and two other prosecutors in his former unit said that the transfer of many years of investigation from the GPO, along with the release of seasoned investigators working on these cases, would lead to a massive backlog – and the actual decline. the probes.
"In the fog of this reform, you can create such a bunch of cases … which will lead to a lack of results," said Horbatiuk.
These fears are exaggerated, according to Andriy Smirnov, Deputy Chief of Staff of Zelenskiy, responsible for the implementation of judicial reform. He said that no critical knowledge would be lost if the cases were transferred to other departments, including probes related to Manafort.
"It's all easy and fast. Without interfering with the investigation, "Smirnov told Reuters. "The problem you're describing does not exist."
Smirnov said the overhaul was in no way designed to allow the government to influence politically sensitive cases. He described the allegations made by Horbatiuk and two other senior members of his former unit as a "paranoid" reaction to a new leadership.
In comments to journalists on October 30, Ryaboshapka described the work of Horbatiuk and his team as "ineffective".
Three members of the Special Investigations Unit told Reuters that the loss of key personnel and reorganization of responsibilities would lead to Yanukovich's investigations into alleged corruption worth five during the Kremlin-friendly presidency Effectively sabotage years. He was in office from 2010 until he was ousted from power in 2014 in a popular uprising. Manafort worked for over a decade as a consultant to Yanukovich's political party.
"At least 50% of the information … is in the investigator's head, it does not fit into the official paperwork," said Andriy Rodionov, senior investigator in the department, who is still on the staff after passing the compulsory examination. "Each delivery of these cases is an automatic burial."
Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman from May to August 2016. He resigned after a Ukrainian legislature revealed details contained in a so-called "black ledger" of payments allegedly withdrawn by the Yanukovych Party of Regions. Manafort, which had earned millions for its advisory work in Ukraine, was one of the recipients listed in the general ledger, which at the time was reiterated by anti-corruption investigators and stated by prosecutors that Reuters had long been the subject of a GPO investigation been.
According to Special Representative Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's intervention in the 2016 US elections, Manafort was convicted of bank fraud and filing of false tax returns and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in the United States. In their case against Manafort, the US prosecutors accused him of concealing payments from Ukraine.
In Ukraine, senior investigator Rodionov said the prosecutor's firepower exploded at the probes Manafort was involved in. He said he has already lost three members of his team as part of the restructuring of Zelenskiy. two refused to take the test and another failed, he said. Overall, the Special Investigations Department lost around a third of its staff, Rodionov said. The number of employees is likely to increase as more prosecutors refuse to participate in further investigation rounds or fail.
Giuliani has described the black ledger as a fraudulent document used to slander Manafort unfairly and to harm Trump. He called on Ukraine to investigate whether Ukrainian officials on behalf of Democrats Hillary Clinton, a conspiracy theory that has been widely exposed, plotted conspiracies in the 2016 US presidential election.
Giuliani did not respond to requests to comment on this story. He recently told Reuters in an interview that "some" Ukrainians say the black ledger is fake. Earlier this year, he said that Manafort had told him through a lawyer that the "entries about me are wrong."
Rodionov said his team had announced "within weeks" official suspects in the second Manafort-affiliated investigation. It contains allegations that Yanukovych's government has used state funds illegally to pay a prominent law firm in New York, which is preparing a report justifying the imprisonment of Yanukovych's political rival. Manafort helped the Ukrainian government commission to report back, and made revelations to reporters and others in the United States.
"We were ready … to bring charges against Ukrainian and American citizens," said Rodionov. "I tried to put everything together for three years, and now they'll crumple it up and pack everything in a box and give the box away." House. Trump and his supporters have been working for years to discredit Muller's Russia investigation, and Trump has previously talked about pardoning Manafort.
A recent survey conducted by Rating Group Ukraine, an independent election office, found that nearly two-thirds of Ukrainians do not trust the GPO. Critics say the office was used by former presidents to persecute political opponents, squeeze companies or protect corrupt officials.
Since the independence of Ukraine from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country had more than 20 Attorney General. Not one of them has completed the planned five-year term, which was extended to six years in 2017.
Yuriy Bezshastniy, another prosecutor of the Special Investigations Unit, who was dismissed for refusing admission / 22.html The reorganization has hurt the nation's ability to hold the powerful accountable. He said that it was difficult to understand why the reforms had been introduced or who had developed them.
"I see all sorts of nonsense," he said. "Were they politicians or business people or clowns or lawyers? What is going on is an absolute nightmare, "said Bezshastniy, who has worked in the prosecutor's office since 2001.
When asked what would happen to cases from the Yanukovych era, he replied, "You have an end. They kill two birds with one stone – they throw out people who actually did something … and mess up all cases with a stroke of the pen.
Additional coverage by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Luke Baker and Matthias Williams; Edited by Marla Dickerson