Vlasenko and the President’s Prosecutor General
News on Monday that Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko’s lawyer, had been detained proved exaggerated, fears for the fate of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement probably not.
Vlasenko spent hours on Monday in the Prosecutor General’s Office before being allowed to leave in the evening. He has been summoned on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for further interrogation. He told journalists that the plan had been to detain him, but that they backed down because of opposition reaction. He now expects bail and to have to give a signed undertaking not to leave Kyiv. Since Tymoshenko is in custody in Kharkiv, this will likely remove him from her defence team. He believes the schedule of interrogations to be aimed at preventing him from communicating with Pat Cox and Alexandr Kwaśniewski who are due to report to the European Parliament in two days on the results of their mission.
What Yanukovych discussed with Putin during a previously unannounced visit to Moscow on Nov. 9 has not been revealed, and may, unfortunately, become clear only when the last date for releasing the president’s political opponent and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has passed. Thus far the Party of the Regions is continuing to block all attempts to pass a bill enabling Tymoshenko to leave for medical treatment in Germany.
What Vlasenko might have told Cox and Kwaśniewski is probably less important than the message given by this new criminal case brought against him.
Vlasenko is formally suspected of causing bodily injury to his ex-wife, Natalya Okunska. The former model who is currently standing for parliament in one of the election re-runs has lodged the complaint against Vlasenko. As she has done with respect to previous criminal charges against him of which there have been a suspicious number this year.
Lest anybody imagine that Ukraine is demonstrating a strong stand against domestic violence, it is not, and this is certainly the only time when the Prosecutor General’s Office has taken an interest in a case so clearly not within its jurisdiction. It is also difficult to understand why four days of interrogation should be required for charges which appear to be based on Okunska’s allegations alone.
This is not the first time that the Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] has shown an unhealthy interest in one member of the opposition.
As reported, in February Vlasenko, then a long-time Batkivshchyna party MP, informed that criminal cases had been lodged against him and that he expected attempts to strip him of his mandate and arrest him. The charges were all based on allegations made by his ex-wife, and included non-enforcement of a court ruling, wiping messages from her mobile phone and “robbery”, with the latter seemingly connected with a car whose ownership was disputed. These complaints were dealt with by the PGO Department for Investigating Particularly Important Cases.
Towards the end of February parliamentary speaker Rybak applied to the High Administrative Court for Vlasenko’s parliamentary mandate to be revoked. Not because of these particularly important cases, however. No, the line was that the parliamentary regulations committee was concerned by two MPs’ combining professional activities with their parliamentary role, this being prohibited. The other MP, for the purposes of symmetry, was from the ruling Party of the Regions. The opposition was adamant that no such committee meeting had taken place. This however pales before the more important reasons. A large number of MPs could have their mandate withdrawn for the same reason, with most business roles actively bringing the MPs profit. Even the court did not suggest that Vlasenko had taken money for his role as Tymoshenko’s defender. Furthermore, although he himself is a defence lawyer, the position he held was one which under the previous Criminal Procedure Code could be held by a relative of a defendant without any legal training. The Central Election Commission had seen no difficulty in re-registering Vlasenko as candidate or confirming his election. Yet on March 6, the High Administrative Court stripped Vlasenko of his mandate.
The previous day the Prosecutor General’s Office had announced that one of the cases against Vlasenko – for non-enforcement of a court ruling - had been terminated “for lack of a crime”. In June, this apparently identical criminal investigation, again at Okunska’s instigation was again opened.
And now Vlasenko is again facing prosecution over alleged violence against his former wife.
The EU statement issued on March 5 calling “on the Ukrainian authorities to address this situation so as to avoid creating any perception of misuse of the judiciary for political purposes” is surely just as relevant now with only weeks to go before the Vilnius Summit. With little to be said that is positive about Kyiv’s readiness to combat selective justice, a lot has been made of certain draft laws including that on the public prosecutor. One of the steps proposed in a bill which was broadly welcomed by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission would be to appoint Prosecutor Generals for indefinite tenure. The present Prosecutor General, Viktor Pshonka is likely to be the first to be appointed effectively for life. Pshonka has openly stated that he serves the president.
With the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on the line, the latest measures against Serhiy Vlasenko are most certainly not serving Ukraine’s interests.