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01.11.2015 | Halya Coynash

Ukrainian political party leader detained

   

Gennady Korban, former Deputy Governor of Dnipropetrovsk and leader of the new UKROP party, was detained on Saturday morning as part of what the Prosecutor General’s Office and SBU [Security Service] call a ‘special operation’ against a criminal group, without any political motivation.  His lawyers have complained that they were not allowed access to him and other party members reported being subjected to searches.  There are very mixed reactions to the detention of a man with a fairly specific reputation and close links with oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.

Korban took part in the recent elections as candidate for Kyiv Mayor, and the SBU has stated that they had deliberately waited until the elections were over before detaining him.  The elections, however, are not strictly over.  While Korban was not one of the leading candidates in Kyiv, Boris Filatov, another UKROP candidate is one of the two main contenders taking part in the second round of voting for the mayoral post in Dnipropetrovsk on Nov 15.  Filatov reported on Saturday evening that his officers were being searched, and earlier in the day he said that other members of the party had also been subjected to searches. 

UKROP is heavily financed by Igor Kolomoisky, oligarch and former Governor of Dnipropetrovsk, and both Korban and Filatov were in his administration.  Filatov has, perhaps predictably, asserted that President Petro Poroshenko is behind the moves on Oct 31.  There has been no comment from the President’s Administration. 

There has, however, been plenty of comment from politicians, journalists and civic activists on social networks, with most highly negative, though not necessarily because the charges are viewed as preposterous.

The charges

Korban appears to have had a  chequered history before becoming deputy to Kolomoisky in March 2014, with commentators outside his party openly suggesting that grounds could be found for criminal charges.  Those now initiated against him seem to date from 2014/15, the period when he was deputy to Kolomoisky.  He is accused of kidnapping (Article 349 of the Criminal Code); creating a criminal organization {Article 255 § 1) and appropriation, embezzlement or seizure by abuse of official position (Article 191 § 5). 

The SBU spokesperson asserted that “one of the episodes of criminal activities of this especially dangerous group was the theft of over 40 million UAH in aid for ATO [the military action in Donbas] fighters in fighting terrorist groups in the east of our country”.

Hitlyanska asserted that during this large-scale operation against an organized criminal group throughout Ukraine, 1.3 million dollars had been removed in offices and private premises, as well as 40 million UAH “which should have been in a charitable fund financing ATO”.   The fund in question is called the Country’s Defence Fund (Фонд оборони країни). 

“Money was transferred through one particular bank … and disappeared in an unknown direction…”.   The SBU asserts that the money was used to buy expensive cars “and other means for these people’s enrichment”.

If the money was spent, it is not clear how they found 40 million UAH during searches on Saturday, however something may have been misreported.

The story, however, becomes more alarming.  Hitlyanska also asserted that a private army, calling itself security, had been financed through the ‘illegal criminal group’s’ deals and the allegedly charitable fund.  She said that they had removed a lot of weapons from the offices of the supposed charitable funds, and asserted that this had nothing to do with the volunteer battalions, but was a private army illegally holding weapons.

In a recent interview to the Skhemy Program in early October, Korban spoke of 8 criminal investigations initiated against him, but of the above three charges, mentioned only that of kidnapping. His version is that Oleksandr Velychko, the director of a legal department within the Dnipropetrovsk City Council had disappeared on Feb 25, 2015 and then accused Korban of having organized his abduction.  On a video posted on the Internet, Velychko asserted that he had been held at a Right Sector base in Pisky (Donetsk oblast).  

Korban claimed that another video had also appeared on the Internet with this showing Velychko reading from a piece of paper and saying that he had himself orchestrated his disappearance.

According to MP and journalist Serhiy Leschenko, Velychko was abducted from Korban’s reception room and held as a hostage for a week, demanding that the acting Mayor Romanenko resign.  Leshchenko points out that just the charges of kidnapping alone are serious and carry sentences of 8-15 years.

The other abduction was of the head of the State Agency for Land Resources Serhiy Rudyk who disappeared after arrived for a working visit to Dnipropetrovsk in July 2014.  The regional administration (under Kolomoisky and Korban) asserted that he had volunteered to one of the battalions fighting in Donbas, while Rudyk’s VO Svoboda party insisted that he had been abducted.  Rudyk later publicly stated that he had been abducted, though there is no report of his having accused anybody of involvement. 

Yury Butusov, Chief Editor of Censor.net reported on Saturday that Korban had contacted the publication via his lawyer.  He said he was facing the above-mentioned two counts of abduction, and was accused of “stealing money from the Country’s Defence Fund which I myself created in Dnipropetrovsk, and of which I am the main donor”.   Contrary to the assertions made at the briefing, he said, he had not been charged with embezzling state funds.   He also alleges serious procedural irregularities in his detention.  

Reports through Saturday were only of members of UKROP facing searches, but according to the SBU and Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO], this is a large-scale operation and presumably other searches were also carried out.

“More like an abduction”

At a press conference in Dnipropetrovsk on Saturday, Korban’s lawyers asserted that the arrest of the UKROP leader appeared like abduction. “We say that a person has been abducted if we don’t know what has happened, what kind of investigative activities are underway, who ordered his arrest, or whether that’s not detention, but abduction.”   They added that they did not know where their client was, that they had not been allowed into the flat during the search, nor told where he was being taken.  

By evening it became clear that Korban has been detained, at present for 72 hours, with no charges as yet formally laid.

Why now, why Korban?

Serious criminal charges have been announced, and should they be proven, then it is obviously irrelevant that a person heads a political party. Unfortunately the reactions so far indicate that the SBU has not convinced a very large number of observers that there is no political component. 

The BBC Ukrainian Service spoke with various political analysts such as Volodymyr Fesenko and Mykhailo Pogrhebinsky.  Both clearly viewed Korban as a part of Kolomoisky’s team and considered Poroshenkos possible motives.  Fesenko suggested that the President might have learned of plans by Kolomoisky to destabilize the situation in the country in order to prompt snap parliamentary elections.  Pohrebinsky, on the other hand, suggested that the President was most worried about radical parties and wanted to prevent sources of funding.

Neither appears to have considered the possibility that the country’s leaders had nothing to do with it. 

Yury Butusov’s comments were fairly representative: “The authorities that allowed Serhiy Klyuev to freely leave the country; that have not arrested one leader of the Party of the Regions; that have not touched Yanukovych’s partner [Rinat] Akhmetov; and not one of the people who took part in handing over Donbas; nor Vilkul who broke up the Dnipropetrovsk Euromaidan, nor Kernes who dispersed the Kharkiv Euromaidan; nor businessman Grigorishin who financed the Communist Party of Ukraine – the Kremlin’s agents, … have arrested one of the open opponents of President Poroshenko.”

There may well be valid grounds for bringing criminal charges against Gennady Korban and for bringing them specifically now.  There is, however, a huge weight of distrust among Ukrainians following the politically motivated trials under Viktor Yanukovych, the failure thus far to properly investigate crimes committed during Euromaidan and to ensure that those who seriously compromised themselves are at very least removed from responsible posts in the judiciary and law enforcement bodies.  Under such circumstances any prosecution will inevitably raise questions, and it is to be hoped that the authorities understand that an efficient and maximally transparent investigation will do more to restore trust, than public assurances that there’s not a whiff of politics. 

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