Society today is yearning to see harsh punishment for officials who have abused the nation these past few years. What people crave most is justice for those responsible for the deaths of innocent Ukrainians, whose blood is on the hands of Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and, of course, President Viktor Yanukovych.
For some reason, however, Andriy Portnov, first deputy head of the Presidential Administration [under Yanukovych], does not figure prominently on the list of “key pillars” of the regime. This is unfortunate. He is, after all, the one responsible for the raider-like attacks on the Constitution and for transforming the courts into a tool of repression for the regime.
A History of Betrayal
Andriy Portnov was the ideological leader of Yanukovych’s legal team. He began his political career, however, as a Member of Parliament and party lawyer with the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc. During his earlier practice of law, he had became famous for his remarkable talents in laundering hostile corporate takeovers by taking advantage of inadequate legislation and his exceptional skill at negotiating with judges.
Interestingly, any references to these transgressions in the mass media ended up in the courts, with Portnov launching 24 lawsuits against the Kyiv Telegraph newspaper alone.
During his earlier work with Tymoshenko, there was an unprecedented judicial decision to prohibit criticism of government activities. This was subsequently used to impose a moratorium on mass protests across the country. But this came much later.
Portnov first renounced Tymoshenko, leaving both his leader and her party to fend for themselves. The decision was hastened by encouragement from Serhiy Kivalov, an MP and lawyer with the Party of Regions. The two had established a good relationship while working on the parliamentary legal issues committee. Kivalov even admitted, at one point, before legal journalists to being jealous of his younger colleague’s legal talents, hailing Portnov as prime example of a first-class professional with a law degree from an “unprestigious” university – the East Ukrainian National University. This echoed a similar discussion on the legal education of former Justice Minister Olena Lukash, who graduated from the Faculty of Law at the Academy of Labor and Social Relations of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine.
Portnov’s special talents stemmed from the fact that, as a true “raider”, he could manipulate the law however needed and negotiate effectively with judges. Such a person was very much needed by Viktor Yanukovych as Yanukovych sought to consolidate power. Portnov, putting his past with Tymoshenko behind him, thus set out immediately in this other direction.
A Judicial System Destroyed
Andriy Portnov first zeroed in on loopholes in the law to seek the dismissal of judges loyal to former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. To discredit the Kyiv District Court judge Oleg Bachuna, he created bachuna.net and used the website to publish scandalous information about Bachuna’s financial well-being and private life. The site, interestingly, had actually been registered in Oleh Bachuna’s name. Thus, if Bachuna had ever wished to resort to the court to seek a retraction or other remedy, he would apparently have needed to sue himself.
Then Portnov went after Chief Justice Oleksandr Volkov of the High Council of Justice (“HCJ”), which was responsible for staffing decisions, as Volkov was considered to be an enemy of the HCJ team led by Viktor Medvedchuk and Sergey Kivalov. Portnov, who was a member of the HCJ thanks to a quota for specific law schools, had Volkov removed from his post for allegedly moral and ethical grounds. The decision was later ruled to have been unlawful by the European Court of Human Right.
Another judge to fall victim to harassment by the Yanukovych regime was Vasyl Onopenko, chief justice at the time and a former member of the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc. Onopenko’s family members found themselves the subjects of criminal investigations by the authorities.
This, in the end, is how [the regime] succeeded in neutralizing the old judicial guard. In fact, under pressure from the Party or Region, about a thousand judges who did not wish to work under the new rules resigned. They were replaced by loyal servants from Donetsk, Luhansk and the Crimea.
At virtually the same time, Portnov managed to implement so-called judicial reform, with support from Serhiy Kivalov, which subordinated the entire judicial system to President Yanukovych. Portnov then became Yanukovych’s adviser on the judiciary.
What emerged was a four-lane judicial system in which, in addition to the Higher Administrative and Civil Courts, a new Higher Specialized Court for civil and criminal cases was created, staffed entirely with “obedient” judges. The new Higher Specialized Court took over most of the powers of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, which had not supported the actions of the new government. The Supreme Court, with its powers considerably curtailed, became nothing more than a symbol of the shattered judicial system.
As Portnov’s career took off, it soured his relationship with Serhiy Kivalov, the “guru” on legal and electoral fraud. The conflict first came to a head in a public clash between the former friends from the parliamentary committee over the new procedure for appointing judges. The two were unable to sort out the fateful question of participation in such a financially advantageous process. Kivalov was insisting that candidates for judicial office complete special training at his university, the Odessa Academy of Law. Portnov disagreed, dragging even the Minister of Justice at the time, Oleksandr Lavrynovych, into the dispute. They reached a compromise only with help from Yanukovych, himself. Even that, however, failed to heal the former friendship between Portnov and Kivalov.
Serhiy Kivalov found himself losing influence in the judicial system. First, his friend, Volodymyr Kolesnychenko, left his post as head of the High Council of Justice and was replaced by Oleksandr Lavrynovych, the former Minister of Justice. Then Yaroslav Romanyuk, a Portnov man, was appointed to head up the High Council of Justice, which had regained some of its lost powers. Kivalov’s attempts to instal Viktor Kryvenko, his protégé, proved unsuccessful. In this respect, Portnov, with his ability to manipulate both laws and judges, proved himself more useful to Yanukovych, who was yearning to take all of the power in the country into his own hands. Portnoy continued in active pursuit of this goal.
The culmination of his work was the constitutional coup in September 2010, which was unexpectedly effected by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. This, too, had been a Portnov initiative, the consequences of which we experienced at Maidan. Indeed, had it not been for the transfer of so many powers to Yanukovych – including unlimited powers over security agencies, police, the prosecution, and the army – we would not have had so many casualties during [Euromaidan].
The blood of the dead and injured is therefore on Andriy Portnov’s conscience. So, too, is the imprisonment of his former political ally, Tymoshenko. Portnov, who was behind Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, was believed to have been getting even for her insistence that he represent her interests against the Central Election Committee before the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine in 2010.
The decision to throw protesters injured by Berkut behind bars may also have been his directive, faithfully carried out by so-called servants of law. In fact, Obolon District Court judge Iryna Mamontov in Kyiv, who had opted for milder forms of detention for the protesters in custody, was forced to immediately resign. Portnov’s signature also appears on a number of amnesty laws that turned the imprisoned protesters into hostages and enabled the government to blackmail the opposition.
Thanks to all of this, Portnov earned his way into the the bloody dictator’s inner circle, appointed, in the midst of the revolutionary crisis, the first deputy of the presidential administration. This, however, turned out to be the last in his political and bureaucratic career. All of the legal “creativity” behind the Andriy Portnov’s endeavours will now be up for review by a renewed Ukraine’s courts and police. They must issue a just verdict.
By: Lesya Shutko, Human Rights Information Center, for Ukrainska Pravda
Source: Ukrainska Pravda (http://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2014/02/25/7016166/)
Translated by Anna Mostovych
Edited by Lesia Stangret and W. Michael Donovan