Interpol takes Ukraine's ex-president Yanukovych off wanted list

Interpol takes Ukraine's ex-president Yanukovych off wanted list
Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has lived in exile in Russia since his 2014 ouster.
By Sergei Kuznetsov in Kyiv May 4, 2017

Interpol has removed Ukraine’s ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, his son Oleksandr, and some high-level former officials from the agency’s wanted list.

The move followed three years of lukewarm attempts by Kyiv to bring them to justice for crimes allegedly committed during Yanukovych’s tenure from February 2010 until his removal from power in February 2014.

On May 3, Yanukovych’s spokesman Yuriy Kirasir said Interpol revoked the former leader from the so-called Red Notice database, which means that the agency has ceased to search for him.

Yanukovych fled the country to Russia in late February 2014 after around 100 protesters and 20 law enforcers were shot dead in Kyiv after weeks of unrest in the city centre. The ex-president, whose circle is widely blamed for the wholesale looting of Ukraine’s during his rule, is currently sought by justice authorities in his homeland for a range of crimes including treason. The prliminary hearing in the trial took place on May 4 and was adjourned to May 18, with the defendant able to participate via video link.

So far Ukrainian prosecutors showed scant progress in bringing charges against any high-level official of the former regime. Some Kyiv-based anti-corruption experts attribute this situation to incompetence of the country's unreformed law enforcement agencies, specifically, the Prosecutor General’s Office, as well as the judiciary.

“Interpol has therefore confirmed the fact that criminal cases against [Viktor] Yanukovych are politically motivated,” Kirasir added.

The same day, the Ukrainian National Police confirmed Interpol’s decision to remove from its search database all the data about Viktor and Oleksandr Yanukovych. Police spokesman Yaroslav Trakalo refused to comment on the move in an interview with the Ukrainska Pravda online outlet, adding that comments should come from the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Trakalo said Interpol also removed a close ally of Yanukovych, his former chief of staff and secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) Andrii Kliuev, who is reportedly also now living in Russia.

According to Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, Kliuev was responsible for the violent dispersal of anti-government protests in Kyiv in November 2013, which triggered the Euromaidan uprising. At the same time, Yanukovych and some incumbent Kyiv officials, in particular, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, accuse Serhiy Lyovochkin, a businessman and former chief of staff under Yanukovych, of instigating the violence.

On May 3, a lawyer of another close associate of Yanukovych, former Ukrainian energy minister Eduard Stavitsky, also said that Interpol has stopped the search for his client. Stavitsky, who was accused by Kyiv of possible embezzlement of state funds, now resides in Israel.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said in a special statement published the same day that Interpol’s decision concerning Yanukovych and his son was not due to lack of investigation or violations committed by the investigative authorities. The head of the office’s special investigations department, Serhiy Horbatiuk, pledged to challenge the agency’s decision.

Meanwhile, Interpol also refused to issue an order for the arrest of fugitive Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, the National Police's spokesman Tarkalo told the Ukrainska Pravda outlet. Last year, the Ukrainian parliament sanctioned the criminal prosecution, detention and arrest of Onyshchenko in connection with alleged fraud schemes with gas sold together with the Ukrgazvydobuvannia gas company.

Onyshchenko, who denies any wrongdoing, fled Ukraine and announced his intention to seek political asylum in the UK. On December 1, 2016, Ukraine’s SBU security service said it had put Onyshchenko on the national wanted list for treason.

On May 4, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) said in a statement that it is currently cooperating with “a number of foreign partners” over the lawmaker's investigation. “Having information at its disposal about the possible stay of Onyschenko in some countries, the NABU has addressed to them with the relevant requests,” it added.

According to the agency, more details cannot yet be disclosed because of “the secrecy of the pre-trial investigation”.