Win the elections or end up imprisoned?
Romanyuk and Zasukha
Almost a year after a similar farce was enacted around prominent opposition figure Arsen Avakov, an Italian court has freed another Ukrainian opposition politician. Viktor Romanyuk was arrested on 22 March after being placed on the Interpol wanted list. A detention order was issued by the Shevchenkivsky District Court in Kyiv just days later making an extradition request likely.
The criminal investigation concerns an alleged attempt to steal State property on a large scale and is linked to the Indar insulin factory of which Romanyuk was Deputy Director. However given that the criminal case dates back to 2008 and Romanyuk was not a suspect when he ran for parliamentary office in October 2012, skepticism from the Italian authorities would seem inevitable.
They have compelling grounds for paying close attention to the circumstances around the elections and subsequent events.
In the October parliamentary elections, Viktor Romanyuk stood for election from the opposition Batkivshchyna Party in single mandate election district No. 94. He was clearly (albeit, unexpectedly) in the lead until his main opponent, Party of the Regions candidate, and wife of the former Kyiv Regional Governor, Tetyana Zasukha, applied to the court to have the election results in some precincts cancelled.
The civic election watchdog OPORA expressed concern at the time over different court rulings in analogous cases. It pointed out that a court had rejected two of Zasukha’s applications when examining them in the presence of the media and with a large number of Romanyuk supporters outside the courtroom. Identical applications were however allowed.
The cancellation of 30 thousand votes was scandalous enough for the Central Election Commission to decide that a re-election was needed. Romanyuk is planning to take part in the re-run, though almost certainly – like Avakov – from Italy.
In January he applied to the European Court of Human Rights against the decision by District Election Commission No. 94 to invalidate the voting at 27 polling stations. He asserts that this decision violated his right to free elections.
In mid February OPORA reported that Romanyuk had been forced to leave the country. The Italian authorities will surely find it of interest that the Ukrainian tax authorities were then carrying out a check into another company altogether,
The sense of déjà vu over this case is just one of its profoundly disturbing aspects. In January 2012 a criminal investigation was launched against Arsen Avakov, popular Kharkiv politician, former Governor of the Kharkiv region and the officially unsuccessful candidate in the seriously flawed October 2010 local elections. He was declared on the Interpol wanted list, and two months later arrested, also in Italy. He was later released from custody, and another court in Italy refused to extradite him.
Arsen Avakov remained on the Batkivshchyna candidate list and was elected to parliament in October 2012. He now has parliamentary immunity and the Ukrainian authorities have laid off.
It is no less worrying that the Ukrainian authorities seem so oblivious to the impression such tactics are creating. While it would suit his main opponent if Romanyuk asked for political asylum in Italy, there seems very little reason why he should since the chances of his extradition are minimal.
Other risks are considerably greater. All of this is taking place in the months following the EU-Ukraine Summit where conditions and a deadline for implementation were imposed if Ukraine is not to lose the chance of a vital EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Since key changes involve elimination of selective justice and repressive measures against members of the opposition, the message given by this new case could not be clearer.Halya Coynash