Shortly after Viktor Yanukovych was elected President of Ukraine and promptly used less than democratic methods to install his own government, radical changes were made to the justice system. Over the three years since then Ukraine has most often made the world headlines over use of “selective justice”. .
The country did fleetingly attract headlines for another reason in April 2012. Four bomb blasts in the centre of Dnipropetrovsk, which injured around 30 passers-by came just 5 weeks before Ukraine was to co-host the Euro 2012 Soccer Championship. There were plenty of cynical voices suggesting that the bombs were an attempt to deflect attention from the politically motivated imprisonment of Yanukovych’s main opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko and widespread calls to boycott Euro 2012.
One week before the first match, the Prosecutor General informed Yanukovych that four men had been detained and that there was ample evidence to convict them.
All four remain in custody and there are worrying grounds for fearing that their conviction is seen as a fait accompli, although this is in no way thanks to the evidence against them. There are a number of concerns over the case as a whole, including the bewildering lack of consistency as to whether political motives were allegedly at play or venal intent to extort money. However the case of one defendant - Dmitry Reva – is a particularly telling example of the dangerous rot which has set in over the last three years and is destroying any vestiges of an independent justice system.
The prosecution has been forced to acknowledge that supposed evidence used as grounds for Reva’s detention was fabricated by a Security Service [SBU] officer. However neither this, nor the lack of any other proof, has prevented the court from rejecting 10 applications for his release with, among others, human rights groups and a prominent religious figure, offering to be guarantors. The court claims that this is due to the gravity of the crime, yet a renowned legal expert has provided an assessment in which he concludes that there are quite simply no components of a crime in the charges against Reva.
Most disturbingly, the State-controlled UTV-1 channel used extensively to push the Prosecutor General’s line on Tymoshenko and other imprisoned former government officials has played a somewhat similar role in this case.
It is as though pressure to arrest 4 men and report to the President that the crime had been solved before Euro 2012 has set a machine in motion with all those involved, most particularly the Prosecutor and court lacking the will to stop it, however off course it may be.
Two men Viktor Sukachev and Viktor Fedoryak – are accused of organizing and planting the bombs; Dmitry Reva and Lev Prosvirin of acting as “accomplices”.
Both the first two have consistently stated that the charges against Reva and Prosvirin are absurd. The ninth application for Reva’s release was lodged by Sukachev who has now gone on hunger strike in protest at the “assault on the law and commonsense” following the court’s refusal.
Reva is accused of having gone to the centre of Dnipropetrovsk on the day of the blasts in order to “observe the reaction of the police and public to the explosions, and if necessary pass on information to Sukachev and Fedoryak, so that the latter could coordinate their further actions”. The investigators have preferred not to elaborate on what any of this means. Not surprisingly since the bombs had been planted at least an hour before Reva set off for the centre and what he could have observed to make “further actions” necessary and what such actions could have been is entirely unfathomable. The charges are all the more absurd since explosives experts confirm that the chemical detonators could have triggered at any time and in any order, whereas Reva had only taken a slightly longer lunch break to pay a bill and needed to return to work. In the event he witnessed two of the four explosions,
Four suspiciously similar identikit pictures were issued in May and reports stated that the investigators were seeking four men, though why four has never been ascertained. There is not one witness who has identified Reva, nor any evidence at all linking him to the crime itself. There is quite literally one exchange of text messages between Sukachev and Reva around an hour after Reva had returned to work (Sukachev asked: “Are you OK? None of our lot hurt?”. Reva: “Yeah, I think so”, Sukachev: “Hades Hell, everything at our end seems to be OK”.
The prosecution has again preferred not to decipher this supposedly secret message, and not to explain why it indicates conspiracy, whereas similar messages sent by Sukachev to other friends and acquaintances do not.
It is not difficult even for a layperson to understand why criminal law specialist Mykola Khavronyuk has dismissed the charges as containing no component of a crime. This makes the behaviour of the investigators, the Prosecutor and courts so very worrying.
The attempt to falsify a phone call from Reva to Sukachev when investigators arrived to search his flat has been proven, yet the Prosecutor is refusing to bring criminal charges against the SBU officer responsible. The court, as mentioned, persists in refusing to release Reva from custody even though the supposed phone call was used as justification for the detention.
Among the key requirements for the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement to be signed are reforms to the Prosecutor’s Office and law enforcement bodies, as well as measures to safeguard media freedom and balance.
The case of Dmitry Reva, unfortunately, indicates the total lack of progress in both these areas. Ukrainian law enforcement bodies are notorious for the methods used to extract “confessions”. In this case, they have had a problem with Reva absolutely consistent in his testimony and rejection of any involvement in the crime. With scepticism about the case exacerbated by new details of irregularities, and with parliamentary elections just a week away, a supposed documentary entitled “Hades Hell” was shown twice on the State-controlled UTV-1. The film was clearly designed to instil the idea that all four men were “terrorists”, that the valiant law enforcement bodies had averted a far worse terrorist crime linked with Sukachev and Reva and “the opposition MP” the two had at one stage worked with. It shows Reva’s face while talking of a new type of terrorist and gravely distorts the exchange of text messages to make them incriminating.
The defamation was so brazen that the film aroused even more adverse publicity and a court in early April ordered the producer and UTV-1 to issue a retraction.
During April and May a number of statements were issued by the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Prosecutor falsely claiming that there was considerable evidence proving the guilt of each of the four defendants.
Then in early June the Kyiv Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in Reva’s favour, finding that the supposed documentary “Hades Hell” had not been defamatory. With crucial presidential elections on the horizon and media sources being bought up by people loyal to those in power, the ramification of a judicial carte blanche for TV channels to present as factual false and distorted information about prominent prosecutions, politicians or others are self-evident.
Three applications to the European Court of Human Rights over this case have already been accepted. Unlike the cases of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, however, they are unlikely to receive priority treatment. Yet the trial of Dmitry Reva is not so very dissimilar. There is the same contempt for due process while the Prosecutor’s Office which is supposed to oversee adherence to the law in all criminal prosecutions is instead demonstrating disregard for the presumption of innocence and a worrying degree of coordination with State TV in misinforming the public about the case.
Information about this case has been reported to EU officials, diplomats and many others. The causes for concern are serious. Any criminal proceedings where the court moves inexorably towards a guilty verdict regardless of infringements, flaws and the total lack of any components of a crime undermine the justice system. They render meaningless all assurances of commitment to rule of law and European integration.