Off the wanted list: What prevents Interpol from searching for Yanukovych and Co
It’s not the first time Interpol loses interest in the search for the fugitive ex-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage. UNIAN tried to figure out where the problem lies.
Exactly ahead of the loudly announced start of the treason trial against Viktor Yanukovych, some unpleasant news from Interpol hit the Ukrainian law enforcers - the International Criminal Police Organization lifted the so-called Red Notice from its database concerning the ousted Ukrainian president and his associates. By the way, it’s not the first time it happened.
It should be recalled that Interpol officially announced Yanukovych wanted on January 12, 2015 (although Ukraine has been trying to have Interpol do so since the spring of 2014). Ukrainian law enforcers attributed this delay to the bureaucracy in the international criminal police organization and reminded that it is very important for Ukraine to collect a solid base of evidence of the ex-president’s crimes.
In addition, it was crucial to exclude any political implication of criminal cases against Yanukovych, since, according to political analyst Taras Chornovil, Interpol tries not to deal with "political” cases as well as those with military, racial or religious pretext. This is probably why Viktor Yanukovich's card on the Interpol website in 2015 noted that he was wanted on charges of large-scale embezzlement and abuses of power committed by an organized group.
Having Yanukovych put on Interpol wanted list included three positive aspects for Ukraine. Firstly, this testified that there were some solid pieces of evidence against the defendants. Secondly, this prevented them from leaving the territory of Russia, where they had obtained asylum. Thirdly, this brought another opportunity to once again show the whole world how Russia continues to violate international agreements by refusing to extradite Ukraine’s high-ranking fugitives.
However, Ukrainians, craving for a fair punishment for the former president and his entourage, were bluntly disappointed. On July 21, 2015, the Yanukovych card was removed from the wanted persons section on the Interpol website. The organization explained that this was a result of a petition of Yanukovych’s legal representatives, Joseph Hage Aaronson LLP. The defense team stated that Interpol had doubts in the data provided by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, which were the basis for putting the fugitive ex-president on the wanted list. The Ukrainian National Central Bureau of Interpol said that the move was temporary, since there is not a single completed criminal investigation and, thus, not a single court ruling in Ukraine against Yanukovych.
As it turned out, there is nothing more permanent than temporary. And the Interpol monitoring commission at its session between February 27 and March 3, 2017, decided to remove Yanukovych and his associates from the international wanted list. "Interpol's recent decisions to remove the representatives of the Yanukovych regime from an international wanted list are primarily related to the imperfection of the criminal procedural legislation regarding the choice of a preventive measure in the form of remand in custody," Deputy Prosecutor General Yevhen Yenin explained.
The official says that, according to the rules of Interpol, a person against whom remand in custody was not chosen as a preventive measure cannot be put in the international wanted list. Meanwhile, Ukrainian courts refuse to choose such measure without the suspect’s direct participation in a hearing. Of course, it is extremely problematic to ensure the ex-president’s participation in the judicial process, as he has been flatly refusing to return to Ukraine.
However, Prosecutor of the Main Military Prosecutor's Office Ruslan Kravchenko in his comments following the first hearing in a treason trial against Yanukovych said he believed that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies would be able to find the ex-president and bring him back to Ukraine to serve his sentence after the court issues its verdict.
But it is hard to believe this will be the case, especially if we trace back Ukraine’s legal attempts to have Yanukovych extradited from Russia, starting in 2014. Firstly, Russia has long spat on international law, so there’s no way anyone could expect extradition for that reason alone.
Secondly, nothing prevents Russia from extraditing the whole Yanukovych team to Ukraine, but nothing can make them do it. This process can be delayed endlessly, for example, if the defense submits to the Russian court a claim that criminal cases against him in Ukraine are nothing else but political persecution. Namely, this is the version the Yanukovych lawyers insist on.
According to lawyer Vitaly Serdyuk, his client was removed from the international wanted list because he was persecuted for political reasons. "Interpol removes from the wanted list a person in the event that the pre-trial investigation is terminated, which is not the case here, or if there are facts of political interference in the activities of the law enforcement system. In this case, Interpol completely withdrew Yanukovych from the wanted list because of the facts of political persecution," he said.
"In the framework of cooperation with Interpol, governments often play politics... As for the search, its effectiveness is extremely doubtful," said Vitaliy Vlasiuk, a researcher at the National Academy of the Prosecutor's Office, the adviser at ePravo law firm.
However, according to him, if the court makes a decision to select remand in custody as a preventive measure, it is quite possible to have Yanukovych put back on the list of persons wanted by Interpol.
"Yanukovych's supporters and panic sowers should not rejoice at Interpol's decision to remove Yanukovych, [MP] Onyshchenko, and [former chief of Yanukovych staff] Kliuyev from their wanted list. We will deal with it. We will either convince the Pechersk court to take a decision in accordance with the requirements of the Interpol’s new leadership, or we'll get a court verdict and declare the fugitives wanted to ensure they serve their sentence," said Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
After all, the Department of Special Investigations of the Prosecutor General's Office notes that they intend to appeal the decision by Interpol to remove the former president of Ukraine from the wanted list, and also admit that, following the results of the processing the Interpol's findings, it is possible that the current legislation will be amended. Moreover, it is not the first time that Ukraine has changed the laws on this matter.
It should be recalled that initially, the trial in absentia could only be applied if the suspect was on the international wanted list. After Interpol suspended the search for Yanukovych two years ago, the law was changed. In particular, it was allowed to conduct an investigation in absentia and convict persons not wanted by Interpol, but at the same time remaining at large for more than six months or staying in the temporarily occupied territories.
Another question is how to prove that Yanukovych in Russia has in fact been evading justice. Even more so, considering that he and his defenders insist that he cannot return to Ukraine because of the threat to his life and health.
Anyway, this problem needs to be addressed because European sanctions against Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage are effective only until March 2018. And, considering that since 2014 the sanctions list has decreased significantly, there are no guarantees that, with the lack of actual court rulings against them, the fugitives will not only recover their rights but their posts as well.