Ukraine’s embattled chief prosecutor causes row with US after unsubstantiated claim

EPA-EFE//SERGEY DOLZHENKO

Yuri Lutsenko, Prosecutor General of Ukraine reacts during a joint briefing with Tetyana Slipachuk, the Head of Central Election Committee, Vasyl Grytsak at the Central Election Committee office in Kyiv, 12 March 2019.

Ukraine’s embattled chief prosecutor causes row with US after unsubstantiated claim


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Yuri Lutsenko, the much-maligned Ukrainian prosecutor-general, infuriated the US State Department after making unfounded claim that the US Ambassador to Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him “a list of people whom we should not prosecute” during an in-person meeting.

“The statement of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general does not correspond to reality and is meant to weaken the reputation of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” the State Department said.

Lutsenko’s assertion came in an interview broadcast by The Hill’s on 20 March, though he did not specify when, exactly, the meeting took place.

He later produced what appeared to be a poorly forged letter-headed document from the US State Department, which was incorrectly labelled as having been written in Washington and not at the American diplomatic mission in Kyiv where Yovanovitch is in residence.

The list produced by Lutsenko contained the names of some of Ukraine’s most prominent pro-Russian officials and Kremlin-friendly oligarchs, including Viktor Medvedchuk – one of Vladimir Putin‘s closest friends and who is the godfather Medvedchuk’s daughter, Darina.  Also included on Lutsenko’s list was Rinat Akhmetov, the owner of the football club Shakhtar Donetsk and one of the most notorious Ukrainian oligarchs.  In addition to being accused connections to organised crime that date back to the 1990s, Akhmetov was one of the main financial backers of the pro-Russian Party of Regions and the many who first introduced his close friend, Paul Manafort, the convicted former campaign manager for Donald J. Trump, to Yanukovych.

By producing a document with the names of individuals who are either sanctioned by the West or who are known for their ties to the Kremlin, Lutsenko has insinuated that the US government has essentially instructed Ukraine’s highest law enforcement official to intentionally ignore any potential legal accusation lobbied at Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly heavyweights.

Lutsenko’s own past is, however, clouded in murky relationships with Ukraine’s privileged political class and some of its decidedly anti-Western members. He served as minister of internal affairs under current presidential candidate and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as under Viktor Yanukovych, the disgraced pro-Russian ex-president that was ousted by the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014. In 2010, Lutsenko was charged with abuse of office and forgery and was later convicted of embezzlement and overstepping his legal authority as interior minister.

Ukraine’s Incumbent president and Lutsenko’s boss, Petro Poroshenko, is trailing in the polls ahead of the 31 March election and is struggling to garner support outside of the oligarch class and the Ukrainian diaspora community in North American, both of which are keen to preserve a status quo that would leave Ukraine a graft-ridden provincial backwater that is doomed misgovernance and the mythical fantasies of an immigrant population several generations removed from the country’s experiences.

The overwhelming number of majority of Ukrainian citizens are angered that five years after the pro-democracy Maidan Revolution overthrew a deeply corrupt regime that slavishly followed Moscow’s orders, individuals like Lutsenko would go out of their way to poison relations with the West in such a ham-handed fashion.

Coupled with Poroshenko’s utter failure to implement key reforms or combat the country’s crippling corruption, Lutsenko’s actions further emphasise the critical stage Ukraine finds itself in as it hopes to maintain a footing towards allying itself with Europe.

 

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