bne IntelliNews -
Ukraine's prosecutor general has announced the arrest of a leading Ukrainian opposition politician, Oleksanr Efremov, on charges of abuse of office with aggravating circumstances.
“On Saturday February 14 employees of the prosecutor general's office together with officers of the security service of Ukraine (SBU) detained the former head of the parliamentary group of Party of Regions in the Verkhovna Rada, Oleksandr Efremov,” the prosecutor's office said in a press release.
The arrest marks the first arrest of a top-level official in the administration of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, almost one year since Yanukovych fled Kyiv on February 22, 2014, after police opened fire on opposition protests, killing over fifty. Many former top officials from Yanukovych's Party of Regions subsequently fled Ukraine for Russia together with Yanukovych, whom Russia has refused to extradite.
Efremov was a dominant political and business figure in East Ukraine's pro-Russian Luhansk region for over a decade, including a spell as governor. Following the ousting of the Party of Regions from power in Kyiv, Luhansk became one of the strongholds of Russia-backed separatists fighting against rule by Kyiv. Efremov publicly supported in parliament some separatist demands, until he lost his seat in parliamentary elections on October 25.
Pro-Ukraine activitists frequently accused Efremov of also secretly backing the separatists financially. A bne investigation in May 2014 confirmed that the self-proclaimed head of the separatist Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), Valery Bolotov, had ties to the local Party of Regions. Bolotov's only official position prior to heading an anti-Kyiv rebellion in Luhansk in April 2014 was as head of the local association of paratrooper veterans. The paratrooper veterans association was registered at the same address in Luhansk as the local Party of Regions offices, bne established.
Efremov said that his arrest was politically motivated. "I regard my arrest as political persecution for invented reasons. They know who was really behind the deaths on Maidan, but they can't get hold of them. That is why they are imprisoning anyone they can lay hands on,” Efremov said in a statement placed on the Party of Regions website. Efremov is currently deputy head of the Party of Regions.
Efremov said he lived openly in Kyiv and had cooperated fully with law enforcement inquiries. “The authorities have put me behind bars because I have a different view of the future of Ukraine,” he added.
The arrest of Efremov follows almost immediately the appointment of the new prosecutor general Viktor Shokin on February 10. Shokhin's appointment came after the resignation of his predecessor Vitaly Yarema after mounting criticism of failure to bring charges against figures from the Yanukovych administration.
“The new Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin, has a history of treading where other prosecutors fear - or have been bribed - not to tread,” blogged commentator Nikolai Holmov. “Efremov is the sort of head that the new Prosecutor General also is known for hunting. Undoubtedly, more arrests will follow too,” Holmov added.
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