Odesa regional governor Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukraine's main law enforcement agencies are locked in a bitter dispute after the SBU security service and the Prosecutor General's Office searched the Odesa regional state administration building on May 26 as part of the criminal case against Saakashvili's advisor Timur Nishnianidze.
"What I saw today is worse than [Viktor] Pshonka [former prosecutor general under ousted Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yanukovych] did, it's worse than searches in North Korea," Saakashvili said, commenting on the raid.
According to the Prosecutor General's Office, the search was part of the investigation into the criminal case against Nishnianidze over allegedly illegal transactions for VAT reimbursement by officials of the Georgian Consulate General in Ukraine during 2012-2013. The consulate was headed previously by Nishnianidze.
Saakashvili, who is a former president of Georgia, added that according to his information, the country's newly appointed Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko did not know about the search until the Odesa region governor had a phone conversation with him. "Lutsenko knew nothing," he told journalists. At the same time, Saakashvili underlined that the search was politically motivated.
Meanwhile, Lutsenko said later that the raids at Odesa regional administration's building had nothing to do with politics. "There was no political component in the above-mentioned investigation," the Prosecutor General's Office media service quoted Lutsenko as saying.
The Ukrainian parliament appointed Lutsenko, the leader of the president's parliamentary faction, as prosecutor general on May 12, despite the fact that the politician has no legal training. The motion tabled by the president to name him to the post was backed by 264 members of the 450-seat Rada.
The raid in Odesa was attributed to the investigation initiated to follow up enquiries by Ukrainian lawmakers into allegedly illegal operations of some Ukrainian charity funds in connection with illegal transactions for VAT reimbursement. In particular, Nishnianidze allegedly obtained up to UAH20mn ($795,000) via these schemes.
The SBU security service and the Prosecutor General's Office conducted a search at the Odesa regional state administration building the day after Saakashvili's interview with The Guardian was published, in which the politician referred to the new Ukrainian government headed by Volodymyr Groysman as "a bunch of mediocre people".
On the same day, Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page that "a number of quotes were misinterpreted" by the newspaper. "My friend Volodymyr Groysman, with which we share views on many issues, found himself in a rather confusing position, but I would not describe this government as a 'bunch of mediocre people', although there are some corrupted people," Saakashvili underlined.
At the same time, The Guardian's journalist Shaun Walker has rejected any misinterpretation.
In early May, Oleksandr (Sasha) Borovik, Saakashvili's deputy, announced his resignation, citing the new law on state service that came into effect on May 1 that prohibits state officials from holding any citizenship other than Ukrainian. Borovik has German and Ukrainian citizenships.
At the same time, Borovik's move seems to be a political demarche triggered by tensions between the leadership in Kyiv and the team of the governor Saakashvili, who is a former president of Georgia. "I do not want to be associated with the president, who was involved in an offshore [Panama Papers scandal] and does not allow the implementation of reforms," Borovik said in an interview with Novoe Vremia magazine in April.