Since the hasty escape from Ukraine of its disgraced ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, nearly 850 criminal cases involving charges of high treason have been launched by the country’s law enforcers. The Prosecutor General’s Office wants to add to this impressive and nasty list a relevant criminal case against the fugitive Yanukovych.
On March 1, 2014, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin at a meeting of the UN Security Council delivered a message of President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, who had just fled to Russia, to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling him to use Russian armed forces to "restore the rule of law" in Ukraine. Simply put, Yanukovych was one of the first holders of the Ukrainian passport, who publicly voiced a public call, which later became a notorious saying: "Putin, bring in the troops!"
Frankly speaking, the Ukrainian public was not really amused with this performance by Churkin "in the name and on behalf of" Yanukovych. Following the shooting of the Heavenly Hundred at the Maidan, which was the apogee of the three years of the usurpation of power and looting the country, another convulsion of the Kremlin puppet, made in some illusory hope to regain power in Ukraine, was somewhat expected. For this reason, the majority of Ukrainians forgot about this episode and, in the discourse regarding the investigation of Yanukovych crimes, they often stick to the charges of exorbitant corruption, grand embezzlement of public funds and lawlessness.
However, Yuriy Lutsenko has not forgotten about this episode.
Recently, the PGO has opened a new criminal case against the Ukrainian fugitive No.1, this time, on high treason charges. According to the investigation, even before his direct appeals to the Commander in Chief of the army of another country to carry out aggression against his Homeland, and even in the pre-Maidan period, Viktor Yanukovych frequented in acting in the interests of Russia.
"At the conclusion of the investigators, the activities of Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine were in favor of the Russian Federation's interests in matters relating to national security, as evidenced by the decrees signed by him, appointments of Russian citizens to key positions, and the like. Accordingly, the activities of Viktor Yanukovych qualify under Art. 255 ("Creating a criminal organization") and Art. 111 ( "High treason") of the Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine," reads the PGO report.
Now, the prosecutors look into the actions of Viktor Yanukovych in the following areas: deliberate acts to the detriment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, defense capability, as well as the national, economic and information security of Ukraine. According to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko, in this case, investigators have studied more than 3,600 documents and identified key factors that have led to the death of people, temporary occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol, certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The first and the most important of these factors, according to Lutsenko, is high treason of Ukraine’s No.1 official - the president. As a consequence, there was treason by his allies, ranging from the leaders of the Ministry of Interior to the generals leading the Armed Forces.
"The Prosecutor General's Office continues to investigate this part of the case, and we plan to forward it to the court before year-end within the general case of ex-President Yanukovych," the prosecutor general said.
In the footsteps of Musharraf and Mursi
Despite the fact that charging top officials with treason is somewhat of a novelty for Ukraine, there are plenty of such examples in world history. "This was Peruvian President Fujimori, President of Indonesia Suharto, also the president and then the Emperor of the Central African Republic Bokassa. French Marshal Petain and Prime Minister Laval signed an agreement with Hitler, and after the war, sentenced to death - Laval was shot and Petain, a hero of the World War I, was eventually sentenced to life by de Gaulle," says the professor of comparative political science at the National University “The Kyiv Mohyla Academy”, Scientific Director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation Oleksiy Haran’.
There are similar situations in a more modern history. For example, there was a case against former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, who was charged with treason in 2013. Today Musharraf remains under investigation, but in March this year had left Pakistan to receive medical treatment in Dubai. A similar case was against Vice-President of the Maldives, Ahmed Adib, who was arrested on charges of terrorism and in the summer of this year, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of plotting to kill the president.
We can’t but remember the case against former Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi. In 2015, Cairo’s Criminal Court sentenced him along with 12 other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to 20 years in a maximum security prison (in the case of tragic events at the presidential palace Al-Ittihad in the Egyptian capital at the end of 2012). "In other criminal cases into high treason and spying for a foreign state, as well as into the mass escape of the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood from prison in the days of the overthrow of President Mubarak in 2011, Morsi was sentenced to death in May last year, and this summer the verdict was eased to life sentence," said Haran’.
What a nice "company" for Yanukovych… Another question is whether the PGO can really bring him to justice. "Obviously, if he continues hiding out in Russia, it would be impossible to accomplish,” says Haran’. “This also applies to the many members of his team, who also fled to Russia."
However, here it’s about an actual prison term for Yanukovych. However, confiscating his property, if high treason is proven in court (the law allows prosecution in absentia in treason cases) is possible.
By the way, the expert notes that there are many people who have committed crimes against the State and violated the Constitution of Ukraine that are still in Ukraine. "I mean two attempts of the unconstitutional rebellion - a constitutional reform of 2004 [we are talking about the abolition of the reform in 2010, which made it possible for Yanukovych to regain the authority Leonid Kuchma once enjoyed] and the voting for the dictatorship laws of “January 16". Of course, those were anti-constitutional rebellions. And we may as well prosecute the people involved in them. Unfortunately, this has not been done," he says.
The political scientist, head of Penta Center for Applied Political Studies Volodymyr Fesenko said that the elements of high treason could be seen in a number of actions of Viktor Yanukovych. Especially at the end of 2013, when he went for a secret deal with Vladimir Putin (proof of such arrangements can be considered a notorious $3 billion loan granted to Ukraine by the Government of the Russian Federation). However, Fesenko recalled that, when the influence of Russia on top Ukrainian officials increased significantly at the end of 2013, it was exerted not only through Yanukovych. "There are suspicions about some leaders of security agencies at the times of Yanukovych that they were, in fact, Russian agents or worked more in the Russian interests than on those of Ukraine. There were questions and suspicions regarding the former minister of defense, former head of the Security Service of Ukraine... There’s enough to investigate and find the evidence…"
Shields made of political asylum and deputy mandates
There are just as many with these “pillars of the Yanukovych regime” as with their boss. Even if the investigation proves the facts of treason, it will be just as difficult to bring them to justice. "This is a question to the PGO, how they are going to do it. Although they are doing something now, at least. For we remember [former prosecutors general] Makhnitskyi, Yarema, and Shokin, when all hopes that these cases would move from the initial spot were in vain. Now there is certain political will, but it relates to a particular group of people, not all the guilty ones," said political strategist, director of the analytical center “The Third Sector” Andriy Zolotaryov.
The first problem for the PGO in this regard, in his opinion, is the quality of evidence on the facts of treason: "They will certainly have to be very convincing since they deal with issues such as the detention of defendants in other countries and their extradition… Irrefutable evidence of guilt is needed."
The lack of conclusive evidence could result in denial of extradition, as well as the arrest of foreign assets held abroad and assets of the Yanukovych-era officials. "We have already witnessed such a situation with [ex-Minister of Finance Yuriy] Kolobov. Spain refused to extradite him to Ukraine," Zolotaryov said.
It should be reminded that Mr Kolobov managed to have himself removed from the Interpol wanted list. He now resides in Spain, enjoying his residence permit. According to the PGO, the former Ukrainian official has not been granted political asylum yet.
In addition, another problem for the PGO can be the very wording of these charges. The thing is that such accusations (not typical for Ukrainian officials who are mostly charged with the abuse of power or misappropriation of public funds) allow the accused to ask for political asylum: international human rights organizations often interpret such cases as "politically motivated".
In the meantime, while former Ukrainian high-ranking officials who fled along with Yanukovych are anxious to hear about new charges against them, the country is being threatened by his supporters who remain in Ukraine. According to Volodymyr Fesenko, "the politicians who for the sake of returning to power, or any other purpose, are ready to destabilize the state, bear a much bigger threat than the former officials of the Yanukovych regime, who have been hiding abroad."
However, according to Andriy Zolotaryov, the fact that the PGO is not yet dealing with such officials, leads to suggestions about the existence of certain agreements of the current government with the representatives of the previous one. "There are ‘scapegoats’, and there are certain figures of whom no one speaks anything," he said.
It should not be forgotten that almost all senior allies of Yanukovych, who remained in the country today, are members of parliament elected by Ukrainians. That is, they enjoy parliamentary immunity. So each time, when the Verkhovna Rada faces the need to deprive some MPs of this privilege, it turns out that not only the battles in the Rada sidelines kick in but also the lengthy procedures, which allows the criminals with a mandate to flee the country. "All MPs, both patriots and the Kremlin representatives in Ukraine, hide behind their immunity. And, I repeat, even being in hostile relations between the factions and groups, they will never let each other sink. Therefore, for example, Mr Lyovochkin [former head of the Presidential Administration of Viktor Yanukovych] remains immune – he is part of the caste of the untouchables," said Viktor Nebozhenko, a political scientist and director of the sociological service Ukrainian Barometer.
Anyway, for Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, the opportunity to bring this high-profile case to its logical conclusion, which would be a guilty verdict followed by confiscation of property and filing putting the convict, Viktor Yanukovych, on the Interpol wanted list, is not only a tough test but also a brilliant chance.
Firstly, it is the chance to meet a huge public demand for punishment of both Yanukovych and his entourage, demonstrating the outcome of anti-corruption efforts and showing that something was changing in the country – not remaining the same.
Secondly, it is the chance to return, at least in part, the credibility of the prosecutor's office as a law enforcement structure.
Thirdly, it is a chance to have a revenge on Yanukovych – in an immaculate fashion, with full public approval. After all, it was Yanukovych who had once put Lutsenko in jail.
And fourth, this is the chance to make history. After all, not every prosecutor general gets a chance to declare a former president a national traitor and make his conviction happen.
Tatiana Urbanskaya, Iryna Shevchenko