Ukrainian (in)justice: Panasenko serving a life sentence as they needed to convict somebody
Volodymyr Panasenko is serving a life sentence for a crime quite literally nobody believes he committed. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on the testimony of one man’s third and fourth ‘confessions’ which were totally retracted in court. This, however, was ignored by the judge and by the prosecutor despite the lack of anything else incriminating Panasenko.
On Oct 26, 2006 an explosive device planted under the car of Lviv City Councillor and owner of the Shuvar market Roman Fedyshyn. He was only slightly injured, but a 14-year-old girl walking past the car was killed.
Panasenko had created the company behind the Shuvar market together with Fedyshyn, and his wife also owned 8% of the shares.
A month after the blast, the police had caught one person suspected of carrying out the attack, and declared another person wanted (he was arrested in 2013), as well as Oleksandr Rudy, the suspected go-between between those carrying out the crime and the person commissioning it.
Rudy was arrested which being treated for alcoholism in a psychiatric clinic. He signed four totally different ‘confessions’. He first claimed that the blast had been ordered by Fedyshyn himself to improve his political rating. He was told by the investigator Roman Sharko that Fedyshyn could not be the person, so Rudy named the Shuvar administrator M. Bokalo. This was also deemed wrong, so Rudy came up with a third ‘confession’ where he said that there were two who commissioned it – Bokalo and the main person Panasenko. A fourth ‘confession’ mentioned only Panasenko.
Rudy later wrote a statement saying that he had given false testimony against Panasenko under pressure from the investigator. The pressure, he specified, consisted of threats that he would get life himself if he didn’t provide the testimony and beatings.
In both first court and at appeal level Rudy stated clearly that Panasenko had nothing to do with the crime and that it had been commissioned by somebody else. He also asserted that there had been no intention of hurting anybody, the blast was only supposed to frighten Fedyshyn and thus convince him to sack somebody.
This was ignored at all levels, and Panasenko was sentenced to life imprisonment. There is evidence of falsification of the case, and certainly Panasenko’s lawyer Natalya Krisman is convinced that everything was done to put Panasenko away for life. She says that neither the investigators nor the court really tried to conceal their certainty that Panasenko was innocent. It was simply that the other candidates had power and could not be touched.
Human rights activists who have seen plenty of falsified cases in Ukraine still call Panasenko’s unprecedented for the degree of cynicism and brazen falsification. As far back as 2009, the former Human Rights Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova called it unjust and demanded a review. Nothing was done.
In March 2016 Independent Ukraine’s first President Leonid Kravchuk called the Panasenko case a court travesty.
Panasenko has now been in prison for 10 years. Applications to the European Court of Human Rights take a very long time, and a normal judicial review would require the emergence of new evidence.
What ‘new evidence’ could there be, when there was nothing at all to implicate Panasenko in the crime except testimony given by Rudy under pressure which he retracted at the trial? When the court knowingly sentenced a man to life imprisonment without any grounds whatsoever?
Ukraine’s politicians have the chance now, with a draft law awaiting consideration, to allow review of such cases. When Panasenko has already spent 10 years in prison, any delay, possibly under pressure from the Prosecutor General’s Office, is a grave indictment on a post-Maidan parliament supposedly committed to reform.