In March, the list of EU sanctions against Yanukovych's supporters may be significantly reduced. Ukraine has not yet proven the illegality of the funds withdrawn overseas by ex-officials.
For almost two years, Ukrainian law enforcement officers have been investigating the economic crimes of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates. During this time the European Union has levied sanctions against former Ukrainian officials by blocking their accounts in European banks. According to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine (GPU) these accounts are worth 104 million dollars, 122 million Swiss francs and 22 million euros, respectively. The holds have been in place while Ukraine completes the investigation and submits the cases against ex-officials to the court.
The list currently includes 17 people. Among them are Viktor Yanukovych himself and his eldest son, Alexander; the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov and his son Alex; a former Minister of Revenue and Taxes, Alexander Klimenko; former Member of Parliament from the Party of Regions, Yuri Ivanyushchenko; brothers Sergei and Andrei Klyuev; and businessman Sergei Kurchenko, among others. While the investigation has been ongoing, they have been aggressively challenging the sanctions imposed upon them. On January 28th the EU Court in Luxembourg declared the sanctions against Alexei and Nikolai Azarov, Edward Stavisky, Sergei Arbuzov and Sergei Klyuyev to be illegal. The Court of Justice considers the use of sanctions unacceptable as Ukraine isn't even a member of the EU and has only launched a preliminary investigation against these people.
"Now they have appealed the EU sanctions introduced in 2014 and 2015," the Executive Director of the Anti-corruption Center, Daria Kalenyuk said. For the past two years, she has been trying to help Ukrainian law enforcement agencies collect the necessary evidence for the prosecution. She explains that in 2014 sanctions were imposed based on a letter from the then Attorney General, Oleh Makhnitskyi, indicating that criminal proceedings would begin against the former officials. "The Europeans believed us and imposed sanctions against Yanukovych and his associates on the basis of this letter. However, as it turned out, no proceedings against the defendants on the list existed at the time. And now, the former Ukrainian officials can easily appeal these sanctions in court," Kalenyuk said. In October last year, the EU Court has decided to remove the former Deputy of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, Andriy Portnov, from the sanction list due to the lack of sufficient evidence against him.
Progress is lacking
According to the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine this appeal doesn't make much sense, as all of the petitioners', with the exception of Andriy Portnov, are all on the current sanction list for 2015-2016. As reported at a briefing on January 28th, by the head of Special Investigations of the Prosecutor General's Office, Sergei Gorbatyuk, the sanctions that have been imposed by the EU on the former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and other senior officials that worked with Viktor Yanukovych continue to work. "The sanctions that have been in effect from March 2015 to March 2016 have not been appealed and weren't canceled, so they work for now and apply to these ex-officials," Sergey Gorbatyuk said.
The PGU noted that in 2015, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies at the insistence of the European Union prepared to review the sanctions list more carefully. The revision will take place in March of this year. "The European Union, having learned from the experience of cooperation with Kiev, is now behaving very carefully. And if there is no progress in the investigation of persons on the list, for example, the case won't be submitted to the court, or as was previously the case, only accusations will be announced, then the EU itself, without the court's decision in Luxembourg, will lift the sanctions against some notorious Ukrainian officials," Daria Kalenyuk said.
She thinks that within a month, some names will disappear from the sanctions list. Specifically, she noted Sergei Klyuyev, as there is still no PGU submission to the Verkhovna Rada on his arrest, as well as Yuri Ivanyushchenko. The editor of the Ukrainskaya Pravda, an investigative journalist who uncovered the corrupt dealings of former officials, Sevgil Musayev-Borovik, is convinced that the former Minister of Energy and Coal Industry, Eduard Stavitskiy and former First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Arbuzov, could also be removed from the list because the Prosecutor General's Office hasn't collected enough evidence of their guilt. "There was enough time to gather evidence, but the PGU is investigating slowly and inefficiently. If the sanctions are lifted it is the personal responsibility of the Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin," Sevgil Musayeva-Borovik said.
Courts are the reason for the holdup
However, the head of Special Investigations for the PGU, Sergei Gorbatyuk, doesn't agree with the criticism and insists that the investigation is progressing slowly for objective reasons. In particular, the PGU cannot submit the cases of the former officials to the court in absentia as those officials aren't in the Interpol database. Interpol temporarily removed former Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov; former Health Minister, Raisa Bogatyryova; and former Finance Minister, Yuriy Kolobov from the public wanted list in response to complaints filed by their lawyers.
"We don't want to close the case, only to take them off the list. We want a thorough investigation, so that all these cases have indictments," Gorbatyuk said. According to him, in some cases the PGU is ready to transfer the evidence to court. In two cases the hearings cannot begin because of procedural delays created by the defense lawyers. In addition, the courts themselves delay procedures by scheduling hearings for these cases far into the future.
According to Gorbatyuk, convincing evidence of the progress made by the Ukrainian investigators on the cases of Yanukovych's associates was sent to the EU in Brussels Vitaly Kaskiv, Deputy Attorney General, who is responsible for the international relations of the PGU.