Ruslan Riaboshapka. Photo: president.gov.ua
One day after sacking the Prime Minister and reshuffling the government, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to dismiss the Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka. The decision was made on the extraordinary parliamentary meeting which was called specially for consideration of this question. 263 MPS voted for the dismissal.
The main reason voiced by the forces which initiated it was Riaboshapka’s lack of results, namely – sentences in the cases on the top-corruption and other high-profile cases. On voting day, the President himself supported this opinion.
“I think that Ruslan is a good specialist, but I think that he did not show results.. My personal opinion is very simple – no results means no position,” Zelenskyy said during a meeting with business representatives in the city of Poltava.
Indeed, during Zelenskyy’s first six months in power, no resonant case mentioned in the motion for Riaboshapka’s dismissal resulted in a sentence. Considering Zelenskyy’s formidable pre-election slogan “Springtime is jailtime,” Riaboshapka’s dismissal is expected: he could not produce quick and entertaining jailings. However, preparing resonant cases for court takes time, and five months of Riaboshapka’s service is by no means enough for this. But Zelenskyy’s impatience and fear of losing his rating prescribed another tactic.
179 MPs from the Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People, 36 from the Opposition Platform for Life, 15 from the group For the Future, 16 from the group Trust, and 17 MPs which don’t belong to any faction voted for the dismissal. Poroshenko’s European Solidarity, Tymoshenko’s Fatherland (Batkivshchyna), and Vakarchuk’s Voice did not give a single vote.
A “political initiative”
Numerous activists, experts, and a part of MPs opposed the dismissal and call the accusations levied against Riaboshapka unreasonable.
“It is the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office which deals with the cases of top corruption and that it is the court which is responsible for decisions on sentences. And that the judicial reform is blocked in the corridors of the High Council of Justice [a body of judicial self-governance] and the President’s Office,” Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, an MP from the Voice (Holos) party clarified.
He also claimed Riaboshapka played a crucial role in revitalizing the investigation into activist Kateryna Handziuk’s assassination. Yurchyshyn stresses that it was Riaboshapka who activated the investigations into the plague of attacks on and murders of activists throughout Ukraine. Particularly, in the Handziuk case, while Riaboshapka was Prosecutor General, he managed to achieve the extradition of suspect Oleksiy Levin from Bulgaria to Ukraine; as well, active court hearings against the other suspects Vladyslav Manher and Ihor Pavlovskyy started.
“All the criticism of Riaboshapka notwithstanding, […] we view the initiative to dismiss him as purely political. To fire a person who knows, even if not always, how to say ‘no’ and be independent; a team that started a wide-scale [prosecutorial] reform which was positively evaluated by [all] international partners, […] a first in the history of the prosecutor’s office. In order to do what? To appoint another servant, who will steadily serve the authorities. And the reform will be stopped, and the old cadres will return. And with them, the chance to fight corruption will be lost altogether,” the MP stated.
Riaboshapka’s controversial legacy
However, opponents of Riaboshapka’s dismissal, including Yurchyshyn, admit they don’t support some of the ex-Prosecutor General’s actions which had a political nature.
These include investigations launched against veterans and volunteers. The most disturbing out of them is likely the case of three military volunteers being accused of killing journalist Pavel Sheremet in the summer of 2016. On 12 December 2019, Riaboshapka together with President Zelenskyy and the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov took part in the police briefing on the case. Their words and actions made it seem that the fault of the three suspects had already been proven. In fact, the three are still detained while the grounds for that seem to have less and less sense.
Viktoria Siumar, an MP from the European Solidarity party, also named the unlawful release of police officers suspected in killing protesters during the Euromaidan revolution which could mean the case will never be solved, and criminal charges that three critics of President Zelenskyy face, including the European Solidarity MP Sofia Fedyna, among Zelenskyy’s transgressions.
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However, Siumar concludes, Riaboshapka was fired not for these faults, but for not delivering enough politically motivated sentences.
Traces of Poroshenko and Kolomoiskyi
Like with the government of Oleksiy Honcharuk, the main catalysts of Riaboshapka’s dismissal were MPs from the orbit of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. On 30 October 2019, Riaboshapka announced there were new suspects in the case of Privatbank, the nationalized bank formerly belonging to Kolomoiskyi who was accused of large-scale money laundering. The next day, signatures for the dismissal of Riaboshapka started being gathered in the Rada.
The first MPs to sign the petition were from the circle of the oligarch – Anton Poliakov, Maksym Buzhanskyi, and Oleksandr Dubynskyi, who worked at Kolomoiskyi’s 1+1 channel. The anti-Riaboshapka activities resumed in late February. On 3 March, Buzhanskyi, who had previously accused Riaboshapka of serving Poroshenko’s interests, registered a motion of no confidence to Riaboshapka in the Rada automatically leading to dismissal. According to the opinion of the authors of the document, the Prosecutor General had “not demonstrated any activity in investigating the unlawful activities of the high-ranking officials of the state.”
Before the vote, the head of the Servant of the People faction David Arakhamia declared that the last drop leading to the signature-gathering was Riaboshapka’s supposed refusal to authorize the needed notice of suspicion against ex-President Petro Poroshenko.
Oleksandr Lemienov, the leading expert of the StateWatch NGO explains that the above mentioned investigation is related to several aspects of Poroshenko’s activities. In particular, it considers presumed actions aimed at forcible changing or overthrowing the constitutional order or seizing state power and abuse of power or official position. The expert notes that the the suspicion is written unprofessionally and that the case would fail in court, and would lead to a collapse of the whole process against the ex-president.
Poroshenko is mentioned in 13 criminal cases led by the State Bureau of Investigation. Most of them are launched by the lawyer Andriy Portnov, who headed the President’s Administration during the times of disgraced ex-President Yanukovych. Poroshenko and his lawyers claim that the cases against him are political persecution and unlawful interference in his activities as a state actor.
Riaboshapka gave his last speech before the dismissal and left the parliamentary meeting before the voting, citing a letter from Handziuk’s father, who stated he believed that the Prosecutor General wants to establish justice in his daughter’s case.
“I am not interested in Maksym Buzhansky’s opinion on prosecutorial reform. For me, the best assessment is a letter from Kateryna Handziuk’s father … I did not become anyone’s servant, I am and I was independent. I leave to return.”
While Riaboshapka was dismissed and accused of failing to show results after five months of work, the situation in another law enforcement institution remains frozen since the Euromaidan Revolution, after which Arsen Avakov started to implement the duties of the Minister of Internal Affairs. It is Avakov whom civic activists accuses of failing to show progress in key investigations, of ambivalent decisions, persecuting activists, a failed reform, and serving political interests. Nevertheless, on 4 March 2020, when the government was reshuffled, Avakov managed to once again keep his position.