The Witch-Hunt of Former Party of Regions Officials Continues
March 05, 2015
On February 28, a former member of the Party of Regions, Mikhail Chechetov, committed suicide by jumping from the window of his 17th floor apartment in Kyiv. Before ending his days, he left a note saying: “I am leaving. I think this will be better for everyone. A huge thank you to all of you for your support. Forgive me and understand me correctly. M. Chechetov.”
On February 21, Chechetov was arrested by the Pecherskyi court of Kyiv under accusations of malfeasance, abuse of authority and forgery. Bail was set very high by the court–five million hryvnias (app. US$170,000). It was paid by Chechetov’s friends and on February 23 he was able to walk out of the detention centre.
Chechetov was one of the targets of newly appointed Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin, an old-time friend and relative of President Petro Poroshenko. Shokin was appointed on February 10 after former Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema submitted a letter of resignation under pressure from deputies of the Verkhovna Rada. The pressure came mostly from the faction of the presidential party in the Rada, the Poroshenko Bloc. The deputies claimed that Yarema did not investigate fast enough the sniper shootings on Maidan Square on February 20, 2014 and that he was not quick enough in bringing to justice officials of the previous governing regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. Yarema explained that, naked assertions of the deputies of the new Euromaidan parliament of Ukraine notwithstanding, the Office of the Public Prosecution does not have any proof of “concrete” crimes committed by Serguei Liovochkin (former head of the Administration of the President of Ukraine under Yanukovych), former deputy and member of the Party of Regions Andrei Kluiev, and the current deputy of the Rada and member of the Opposition Bloc, Yuri Boyko.
Shokin worked under Yarema as deputy prosecutor general. When Shokin received his new appointment as prosecutor general, he started without delay to “restore justice” and call the “former people” to account. Alexander Efremov, the former leader of the faction of the Party of Regions in Verkhovna Rada, was arrested on February 14, 2015 under the same accusations that were leveled against Chechetov. What do these accusations mean concretely? Chechetov as well as Efremov were accused of voting for the “scandalous” and “odious” laws of January 16, 2014, adopted by then-governing Party of Regions and which sought, among other goals, to curb violence on Maidan Square by making stricter rules governing the right to stage public protests. Before I comment on these laws, I would like to say a couple of words about Mikhail Chechetov.
After the February 2014 coup d’état which overthrew the Yanukovych regime and sent him fleeing to Russia, together with several other high-ranking officials, Chechetov remained in Ukraine. He did not participate in the October 2014 election to the Verkhovna Rada and retired completely from politics. He was living in his Kyiv apartment with his wife.
Chechetov was a professor and author of over 500 scientific and current affairs publications. He had a candidate degree in economics and a doctoral degree in public management. His career path is what in Soviet times was called the path of a simple worker.
He was born in 1953 in the Kursk region of Russian Federation. He worked as a fitter in Yenakiyevo (the home town of Viktor Yanukovych), then in the “Yunkom” coal mine of Ordzhonikidze Coal Company. In 1979, he graduated from Kharkiv Institute of Engineering and Economy with a diploma in mining engineering and economics. From 1982 to 1994, he taught in the same institute and held the position of dean of the faculty of economy. In 1994, he entered big-time politics, being elected a deputy to the Verkhovna Rada. He held high ranking positions in the government related to economic management. From April 2003 to April 2005, he was the head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine, responsible for the privatization of big state assets. Under Chechetov’s directorship, Krivorozhstal, one of the biggest metallurgical complexes in Ukraine, was sold in 2004 for 800 million dollars to a consortium created specifically for this reason by two oligarchs – Rinat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk. Allegedly, this price was five times lower than the true value of the enterprise. When Yulia Tymoshenko became Prime-Minister in 2005, this privatization was declared illegal. In October of the same year, the enterprise was sold for 4.8 billion dollars to Lakshmi Mittal, one of the largest metallurgical conglomerates in the world. Chechetov explained later that he purposefully organized the privatization in such a way that it fell into the hands of Ukrainian, not foreign, owners.
The then-head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine, Valentyna Semeniuk, who oversaw the second privatization to Mittal, later wanted to reverse it because the buyer did not respect certain conditions of the contract, namely, Mittal closed the program of social payments owed to employees, and promised foreign investment in the enterprise did not materialize. Semeniuk objected to the privatization right from the beginning, stating that Krivorozhstal was a strategic enterprise providing not only vital production but also jobs and social security to thousands of Ukrainian workers. (Semeniuk also committed suicide under dubious circumstances, on August 26, 2014 in her country house. Apparently, she shot herself with a shotgun).
After the Orange Revolution of 2004, when the camp of presidential candidate Victor Yuschchenko won the election late that year, Chechetov left politics and went back to teaching at the institute in Kharkiv. In 2007, he was reelected to the Verkhovna Rada as a member of the Party of Regions. He was part of the leadership of the party. In December 2012, he became First Deputy Chief of the party. In the Rada, he was a member of the committee on industry and investment policies and a member of the board responsible for tallying votes in the Rada.
It was this latter membership which gave rise to the accusations against him of abuse of power and forgery, ultimately leading him to take his life. Ukraine’s prosecutor general stated that on January 16, 2014, Chechetov, Efremov and two other members of the Party of Regions who have since fled from Ukraine to Russia, forged the vote in the Rada. While some deputies were absent, the accused organized voting by hand instead of by using a card, as is the regular procedure. They counted votes of absent members. Chechetov refuted the accusations stating that it was the heads of the parliamentary factions and the head of the counting board who counted the votes, not him.
The famous “dictatorial”, “draconian”, “odious”, “scandalous” laws, as the then- opposition in the Rada and the Ukrainian media, owned by opposition oligarchs, quickly called them, were meant to curb the violence of protesters on Maidan, many of whom, wearing balaclavas and military clothes, were throwing Molotov cocktails at regular police and the ‘Berkut’ riot police and using bars and poles torn from metal fencing to assault police.
On the day of voting on January 16, members of the ruling Party of Regions indeed had to vote with their hands because the deputies from the opposition had disrupted the procedure by snatching voting cards from them. In the highly charged political atmosphere, the following of normal procedure was very problematic. Any initiative by the Party of Regions would be met with great hostility by the opposition. Both sides were accusing each other of breaking the law. And in general, what law can we talk about in the situation of an uprising prevailing in January of 2014 on Kiev’s Maidan Square?
As for the laws themselves, according to one of their authors, Vladimir Oleynik, they were drafted according to the legislation of many European countries. And they are not as “draconian”, as the opposition pretended. For instance, in the Criminal Code of Canada, a person taking part in an unlawful assembly and wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse is guilty of a (a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction. If such a person participates in a riot, he/she is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. The violent Maidan protests largely exceeded the definition of riot according to the Canadian Criminal Code.
In the proposed laws of January 16, concealing of identity of any kind of gathering in public, as well as using fire, pyrotechnical means, or any dangerous object or wearing military clothes imitating the uniform of police or military, was punishable by a fine between 150 and 250 non-taxable minimal monthly incomes or an administrative detention for up to 15 days.
I could give many other examples of how these “draconian” laws were not really so draconian. For those who read Russian, a very good analysis is done by Anatoliy Shariy, a Ukrainian journalist in exile. The problem was not the laws, but their very superficial reporting by Ukrainian media and also the superficial reaction to them by the high-ranking European bureaucrats and politicians who relied on Ukrainian media and promptly expressed their concerns with the “repressive laws”. For instance, Anatoliy Shariy cites the headline in a popular Internet newspaper “Ukrainska Pravda” (Ukrainian Truth) reporting on the laws of January 16: “Citizens are not allowed to travel more than five cars at a time – Rada restrains the rights of protesters”. What the newspaper refers to is a proposed law according to which any procession of more than five automobiles which was not approved in advance by the respective division of the Ministry of Interior and which obstructed traffic is punishable by a fine, namely revoking of a drivers license for up to two years and a possible suspension of the vehicle registration. A Russian liberal newspaper “Novaia gazeta” failed to report an essential part of this law – about the obstruction of traffic.
And of course, these laws were said to be the product of the Federal Security Service of Russia, because, presumably, the members of the Party of Regions are not smart enough to come up with such sophisticated laws.
On January 16, 2015, on the one-year anniversary of the “draconian” laws, Mikhail Chechetov explained that the current parliament has legitimized many of the same laws as those voted one year ago. For instance, in the 2014 laws, it was stipulated that a forceful overthrowing of power and calls for the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine are punishable. The new law proscribing “separatism” states the same. Chechetov also said that the goal of the laws of January 16 was to decrease the political tension within society, to avoid violence and to peacefully resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
The then opposition in the Rada criticized the Party of Regions, saying it did not follow the correct procedures and did not give the opposition the time to read the text of the bill. It was put to a vote on the same day it was introduced, and voted without discussion. Under those difficult conditions, given the huge political tensions and the impatient crowds on Maidan Square, what legal procedures could have been respected? And how were the actions of Party of Regions deputies any different from the voting of the state budget for 2015 when deputies of the current Verkhovna Rada voted during one, lengthy overnight session on Dec. 29, 2014 for a document they had not seen before and for which there were no accompanying notes or explanations?
When Poroshenko heard about Chechetov’s suicide, he said it was not a contract killing. There are not and there never will be contract killings in Ukraine, said Poroshenko.
And yet, I have doubts. Chechetov in his public speeches always reiterated that he was for a negotiated resolution of the conflict during Euromaidan. He participated in various television programs explaining the position of the Party of Regions. He did not flee Ukraine, as other high-ranking officials of the Yanukovych regime did.
Since the appointment of Poroshenko’s proxy Shokin as prosecutor general, the Ukrainian justice machine has advanced accusations against several public figures, such as Alexander Efremov and Hennadiy Kernes (mayor of Kharkiv), of being “separatists”. Efremov and Kernes deny the accusations. The Opposition Bloc in the Rada made an official statement on February 28 that the government in power in Ukraine drove Chechetov to kill himself by its cynical hounding and public humiliations of him. In Bloc’s opinion, the current power holders are driving its citizens to extreme despair. Some, such as Chechetov, are driven to despair by hounding and groundless accusations; others by war, poverty, lack of employment and of any hope for the future.
I rather agree with this statement. Prosecution of the former officials from the Party of Regions resembles more victors’ justice than a lawful investigation of abuses of power and corruption.
Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought. Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis.