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Ukraine’s Security Service resorts to attack & threats to keep their luxury lifestyle secret

Halya Coynash

Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] has tried to get a program probing corruption within its ranks removed from air, just weeks after two of the journalists were assaulted outside the SBU offices in Kyiv.  Since it failed, there is no need to speculate on the reasons – the luxury vehicles that SBU staff use to get to work, rather than the public transport claimed, can be seen – and valued.  The journalists note that the 50-70 thousand dollar price tags on many of these cars should require years, if not a whole lifetime for civil servants to earn.

Skhemy: Corruption in Detail is a joint initiative of UTV-1 and Radio Svoboda, with the program appearing every Thursday.  Radio Svoboda reports that several hours before the latest edition was due to be broadcast, it received a letter signed by Mykhailo Hluhovsky, head of the Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast SBU.  The letter cites various articles of the laws on the SBU and on countering terrorism, and suggests that filming SBU officers breaches their legal guarantees under these laws.  It specifically suggests that filming anybody who has taken part or is involved in ATO [the ‘anti-terrorist operation’ or conflict in Donbas] could place them in danger.

It doubtless could but the program does not do this, and Katya Gorchinskaya, who heads the Radio Svoboda Investigative Journalist Programs says that they view the SBU intervention “as blackmail, and are shocked that the Security Service’s management should use such tactics against journalists”. 

The program was shown on Oct 15 and can be viewed here.  Mykhailo Tkach, together with Kyril Lazarevych, spent weeks tracking the super-expensive cars that SBU employees come to work in and the secret car parks they use to avoid parking them immediately outside the SBU.  This is no idle curiosity, Tkach stresses.  The SBU is responsible for combating corruption and economic crimes, and the cars driven are a good indicator of whether lifestyle matches their (declared) income.

It doesn’t.  You would have to be earning several thousand USD a month to afford the kind of cars very many SBU employees drive.

It is clear they know it, hence the pretence with secret car parks that Hluhovsky denies, but where the local guards clearly hold places for the SBU employees.

The top bosses drive into the SBU car park, with little concern for pedestrians, road signs, etc. Viktor Trepak, the Head of the Department for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime, for example, drives a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado to work.  Initial efforts to compare this with his income were unsuccessful.  In breach of the law, on Oct 5 Trepak had not published his income declaration.  It appeared later, after Skhemy’s request for information, and shows Trepak himself owning relatively little, unlike other members of his family.  A standard ploy, the Skhemy journalists point out.

Tkach explains that they first spent some time taking photos and videos of the vehicles in question and then tried to find out how they could afford them.  That was when the aggressive behaviour on Oct 2 began.

Aside from high-ranking officials, one employee is identified – Ivan Porada who, when asked by the journalists how he could afford his Toyota Highlander, denied being an SBU employee, only to disappear into the SBU building.  A bit later first one guard emerged and demanded to see their ID, then another.  After that a young woman from the press service, identified only as Anna, appeared.  Each time the journalists explained what they were doing, with this being entirely within the law.

Suddenly they were accosted by a number of men, both in security guard uniform and in plain clothes.  Tkach asked the SBU press officer to intervene, but she silently moved away and just watched as they twisted his arms behind his back, forced him face down onto the asphalt and then dragged him, and then Lazarevych, into a single storey building nearby. 

The same Porada, who’d denied working for the SBU, appeared with their video camera that had been taken off them and demanded that they delete the video footage.  They answered that they couldn’t do so, since the video is the property of the organization they work for.

They were then ordered to write who they were ‘spying’ for and Porada took the memory card away to delete its contents.  As reported earlier, they were both released within a few minutes with the SBU attributing the incident to increased security following the bomb blast outside the Odesa SBU on Sept 27.   Hluhovsky  apologized and promised an internal investigation, suggesting that the security guards “may have exceeded their powers”.  The journalists were also invited to see SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak who said that he had instructed a faster investigation – within 10 days, not a month. 

This was viewed with considerable scepticism which was only exacerbated by the news that the video from the SBU CCTV footage given to Radio Svoboda did not have the relevant moments on it, though it contained footage immediately prior to the incident and when the men were released.  There has been no progress on official recognition of the people involved and it remains to be seen whether anything comes of the criminal investigation initiated under Article 171 (obstruction of journalists carrying out their duty). 

The program is long, and damning, and has now been supplemented by a written report.  Hluhovsky is interviewed, claiming that in any case where discrepancies are seen in people’s lifestyle and their declaration, a check is carried out. 

So far, such evidence of clear discrepancies has resulted only in an assault on the journalists gathering it, and threats against the television program.  

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