Why only target an opposition MP?
On 5 March Ukraine’s High Administrative Court is scheduled to consider an application to strip Serhiy Vlasenko of his parliamentary mandate. The pretext used by Parliamentary Speaker Rybak is that Vlasenko has not annulled his defence lawyer status, and is therefore in breach of the regulation that MPs must not combine their parliamentary duties with another job. Vlasenko has been acting as Yulia Tymoshenko’s defender, which is not the same as a person’s defence lawyer. According to the Law on the Bar, a defence lawyer may not be an MP. Vlasenko only annulled his lawyer’s status, in compliance with this law, on 22 February 2013.
It is a matter of dispute whether Vlasenko is alone in this. The NGO “Spilna Sprava” has claimed that there should be similar applications to the court over 37 Party of the Regions MPs. Their list includes Serhiy Kivalov , Vadim Kolyesnichenko and Inna Bohoslovska all of whom have had the same defence lawyer status. On Sunday both Kivalov and Kolesnichenko denied this, saying that they had suspended their membership as soon as they were elected to parliament. The register confirms that their membership has been suspended, but gives no information as to when this was done.
Speaker Rybak has asserted that the application to the High Administration Court is in accordance with a decision passed by the Verkhovna Rada Regulations Committee. The opposition Batkivshchyna Party is adamant that there was no such meeting at all in February, nor could there have been since no members of the opposition on the Committee were called to attend. Opposition MP, Arsen Avakov stresses that if some members of the Committee met without notifying the others, then any decision taken has no legal force.
The attempts to strip Vlasenko of his mandate are especially worrying given criminal investigations initiated against him in January this year. While not all the details may have been revealed, he appears to be under criminal investigation for wiping a video from his ex-wife’s mobile phone, and for stealing a car which he asserts is his, but is presumably deemed his ex-wife’s property. Should the will be there to prosecute to the full, the charges could carry prison sentences, while if he were to lose his mandate, he would lose his parliamentary immunity as well. Worth noting that at a press conference on 21 January Vlasenko announced that the criminal cases had been brought against him and said that he expected to be arrested in about three weeks.
He alleged then that the Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin and Prseidential Adviser Andriy Portnov were behind the latest criminal charges.