Ukraine corruption scandal breaks with cash for votes

By bne IntelliNews February 9, 2012

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A Ukrainian opposition deputy who switched ranks to a pro-government faction in January claimed February 8 he was paid $450,000 to do so. The pro-government faction has demanded the money back.

Rumours of huge amounts of money changing hands to persuade opposition deputies to vote with the government have been circulating ever since President Viktor Yanukovych came to power February 2010 and built up a strong majority for his Party of Regions through poaching numerous opposition deputies. Partly thanks to the defections, Party of Regions shifted from being in the opposition to having a strong majority in parliament.

Now there has surfaced what is claimed to be concrete proof of cash-for-votes. In what could turn into a major corruption scandal in the run-up to parliamentary elections in October 2012, the opposition MP Roman Zabzaliuk, who appeared to cross the lines to vote with the government, has said he received a $450,000 cash payment to do so, and that the move had been a ruse.

Switcheroo

Zabzaliuk seemed to be just the latest in a long line of deputies who had switched loyalty from the opposition to the pro-government coalition, when in January he moved from jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's BYuT-Batkivschyna faction to the pro-government Reforms for Future faction. But on February 8 he returned to his former group and declared the move had been a ruse to establish how much the government coalition was paying to poach opposition deputies. Zabzaliuk said he had received $450,000 in payment from the head of the Reforms for Future faction Ihor Rubakov for voting with the pro-government group.

Far from denying the claim, Rubakov in a first public reaction has demanded the money back, according to press reports.

Rubakov claimed that the money has been raised by the faction for medical treatment of Zabzaliuk in Israel, after Zabzalyuk had said he was gravely ill. Rubakov called the payment "a Christian deed". A later public announcement on the same day no longer contained the demand to return the money.

Adding fuel to the fire, Zabzaliuk then backed up his claims February 9 by publishing what he say are secret recordings of his conversations with Rubakov, which confirm the sums named. The authenticity of the recordings has not been established.

The recordings, peppered with vulgarities, appear to show how the management of the Party of Regions parliamentary majority is run as a massive commercial operation. "For the transfer [to parliamentary group] $500,000 is offered, and then $20,000-25,000 [is paid] every month as a salary," Zabzaliuk  alleges, according to Interfax.

Leader of the BYuT-Batkivschyna parliamentary faction Oleksandr Turchinov confirmed that Zabzaliuk's move had been a ruse of which he had been aware of.

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