The Ukrainian parliament on May 12 appointed an ally of President Petro Poroshenko with no legal training as its new prosecutor general, in a move sure to draw protests from the country's Western backers at the leadership's apparent renewed coopting of the justice system.
To some heckling in the Verkhovna Rada, Yuriy Lutsenko, the leader of the president's parliamentary faction, told the assembly he was keen to "break the current inefficient and partly criminal system".
The motion tabled by the president to name him Prosecutor General was backed by 264 members of the 450-seat Rada. Poroshenko signed the documentation on the appointment immediately after voting.
MPs were reportedly summoned earlier to the Rada, including from foreign trips, to be in position for a snap vote on the candidacy of the 51-year-old Lutsenko, who is a former interior minister and a prominent participant in the Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv that toppled the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych in early 2014.
The vote followed the submission a day earlier of a bill amending the requirements of the prosecutor's post that was passed by a narrow majority of MPs. Poroshenko quickly signed that bill too after its adoption. Previously, the post required a degree in law. Under the new law, a person with a university degree and at least five years of work experience in the field of law or in a legislative and/or law-enforcement body may serve as the chief prosecutor.
Leonid Kozachenko, a lawmaker from Poroshenko's faction, told Reuters he expected the EU to show an initial "lack of understanding" over Lutsenko's appointment. "But I hope this conflict will disappear when Lutsenko begins real investigations," he added.
Others were scornful of the appointment, saying it would ensure a further whitewashing of serious crimes.
"All his actions will be an imitation of work," said Yegor Sobolev, an MP from the reformist Samopomich party, which pulled out of Ukraine's ruling coalition earlier this year. "The basic idea is making sure that nothing gets done. It is clear that the oligarchs will be untouchable, that the basic units of kleptocracy in the SBU (security service), courts and the prosecutor offices will also remain intact," Sobolev told Reuters.
In early April, Poroshenko officially dismissed the previous prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, who although a close associate of the president was forced to write a letter of resignation in February amid mounting pressure at home and abroad to replace him due to inefficiency and alleged corruption in his office.
Even though Poroshenko can barely muster a majority of support votes in the Rada, there was little doubt he would push his candidate through. On May 10, Rada chairman Andriy Parubiy said in a TV interview that the president regarded Lutsenko as the only person for the job.
Another opposition MP, Serhiy Leshchenko, claimed that the president's team had pressured MPs from smaller splinter factions in the Rada to cast their votes for Lutsenko.
According to Zenon Zawada, chief analyst at the Concorde Capital brokerage in Kyiv, given all this unusual effort, including Poroshenko cancelling a trip to London, a vote approving Lutsenko's candidacy was also assured within a few hours of the adoption of the law amendments.
"Our sources in the parliament tell us that the president is lobbying Lutsenko's candidacy without consulting his Western partners, whose offers of financial assistance are dependent on the prosecutor general's work," Zawada commented before the vote. "This buttresses our view that Lutsenko is likely to disappoint the West."
By selecting Lutsenko, someone with no prosecutorial experience, Poroshenko could be thinking that his image as a Euromaidan activist and status as an outsider to the Prosecutor General's Office will earn Western support. "But we don't see that angle carrying much weight with Western officials, who are already warning of Ukraine fatigue," Zawada concluded. "They want results."
In late March, EU ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombinski said he hoped that after Shokin's departure the Prosecutor General's Office will be "independent from political influence and pressure and enjoys public trust".
"This decision [of the pariament] creates an opportunity to make a fresh start in the Prosecutor General's Office," Tombinski said in a statement on March 29. "The Prosecutor General's Office should contribute to ensure the justice and rule of law that the Ukrainian people expect and deserve so much."
Shokin was appointed in February 2015 after his predecessor, Vitaly Yarema, resigned amid accusations that he had failed to investigate landmark crimes, including the murder of Euromaidan protesters in Kyiv and corruption schemes of ousted president Yanukovych and his allies. Similar claims dogged Shokin as he formally left office in late March after a drawn-out resignation procedure in parliament.