Whistleblower from Zelenskyy’s party slammed with five criminal proceedings

Geo Leros, MP who faces criminal charges for reporting corruption 

Politics

Geo Leros, an urban art project director-turned-MP from President Zelenskyy’s party Servant of the People, published videos alleging that the brother of the President’s Office Head was trading top public offices for payoffs. Leros is now facing five criminal charges.

As the videos published on 29 March 2020 show, in the autumn of 2019 Denys Yermak, younger brother to Andriy Yermak, chief of Zelenskyy’s Office, conducted interviews with many candidates for public office. Making constant references to his brother Andriy, Denys discusses huge sums of money demanded by government insiders, who, in turn, can secure coveted positions. He is also seen lobbying for the benefits of various private companies.

The State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) responded with unprecedented speed — they opened three criminal proceedings against whistleblower Leros, the morning after the postings.

DBR is controlled by President Zelenskyy, as ratified by amendments to the law in December 2019. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), also controlled by the president, followed suit by opening additional criminal proceedings against Leros.

The authenticity of the videos has yet to be proven. Also unknown is who gave the videos to Leros and why. Regardless, the expedited charges against Leros have raised suspicions of renewed corruption among politicians who rode to power on pledges to be unlike the “old” politicians.

MP Geo Leros, who published the videos, and his role in the presidential team

Leros is a visual artist, known for his striking murals in Kyiv. He is an MP with the Servant of the People faction, and has worked as an advisor to President Zelenskyy.

Mural by Geo Leros in Kyiv. Source: buro 247

Things changed when Yermak, Head of Presidential Office, signed agreements negotiated at a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group, on 11 March. The controversial agreements effectively pave the way to legal recognition of Russia’s proxy republics in Donbas.

Leros criticized this decision. Together with some 70 MPs from the Servant of the People, he presented an open appeal to Zelenskyy to withdraw the agreements. He proclaimed that he is faithful to Zelenskyy’s pre-election slogans, and would never agree to selling out Ukraine to Russia.

Therefore, he is being considered as part of the so-called “inner opposition” of Servant of the People. After these statements, Zelenskyy dismissed Leros as his advisor. “I became aware of my dismissal from the media,” says Leros, adding that he was not notified of any reasons,

After his dismissal, Leros, who remains an MP, sent the videos to the media and they were posted online. He did not reveal how he obtained the videos, only that they were provided to him on a USB. After viewing some segments, he sent them to the media.

Posts of managers of largest state companies, regional administration posts were put for sale, according to the videos

All together, the videos are more than 30 hours long. They show Denys promising top public offices, such as manager for railways, managers for Ukrainian nuclear power plants, heads of regional administrations, and others. He repeatedly said on the tapes that his brother, Head of the President’s office Andriy Yermak, had authorized him to recruit top officials in this way. Two assistants were also present during interviews — one of them, Dmytro Shtanko, did the recording.

Denys Yermak on video. Source: Skhemy.

The videos show Denys negotiating the asking price for offices. Visitors are also seen, discussing the chance of lobbying for their business interests.

From 2015 to 2019, Denys Yermak worked as an advisor to the Security and Defence Council. He denies any allegations of corruption by trading in public offices.

Yermak and Zelenskyy deny everything

A few hours after the videos were published online, Head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak personally threatened Leros in a post on his Facebook page. He issued a strong protest, saying that he would not allow anyone to disgrace his family name, and his brother in particular:

I will be submitting applications to the SBU and DBR for a distributed video with my brother, Denys Yermak. I want a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the making of these records, first of all their authenticity…and how these records ended up with Geo Leros.

If we talk about the “red lines” behind which moral degradation of the individual starts, then these are exactly them. And you [Geo Leros] crossed them. It is a pity that your personal interests were more important to you than the common purpose that the Servant of the People party campaigned with during the elections – to make Ukraine better. God will judge you. I recommend preparing, because you will have to answer publicly for every word of your lies!

Yermak implied that Leros was distributing these videos to serve the interests of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi who aims to control the authorities.

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Nonetheless, Kolomoyskyi’s involvement, whether true or not, doesn’t deny that the videos are authentic, and that Denys Yermak was indeed trading offices and betraying the state.

Amid the public outcry on Andriy Yermak retaining his position as Head of the Presidential Office, there was almost no reaction from President Zelenskyy, other than a brief closed meeting with MPs. Multiple demonstrations demanding Yermak’s resignation have taken place but also without any reaction from president Zelenskyy.

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Whistleblowers entitled to protection, Leros’ lawyer says

The Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) has started one criminal proceedings against both brothers Andriy and Denys Yermak for the possible abuse of power and corruption. The investigation was started after Leros submitted his statement asking for confirmation of the videos’ authenticity.

At the same time, five criminal proceedings were launched against Leros and those who provided the videos, still unknown. These charges are based on allegations of overstepping authority; disclosing state secrets of law enforcement officers; illegally using technical devices for recording; fraud, and other unlawful practices.

Iryna Venediktova, who was appointed as the new Prosecutor General on 17 March, said in an interview that Andriy Yermak asked her to “solve the case objectively and without delay.”

Meanwhile, Masi Nayyem, defense attorney to Leros, stated that the criminal charges against his client are illegal. According to Ukrainian law, Nayyem says, Leros is entitled to immunity, since he is the informant about corruption. Nayyem points out that a case of reported corruption should first be properly investigated. As the whistleblower, Leros should not face consequences, even if the published information is proven to be false:

The informer about corruption is not legally responsible for reporting the possible facts of corruption or corruption-related offenses, for the dissemination of the information stated in the message, despite the possible violation by such a report of his professional duties. Also, the informer has the right to give explanations, testimonies, or refuse to give them.

Geo Leros after questioning by the SBU. Source: Masi Nayyem’s Facebook page.

Videos could have been made by a police associate

Denys Yermak is calling the actions displayed in the videos as his “Human Resources” work.

Shtanko’s role in filming the videos is unclear. An investigative journalist with bihus.info claims that Shtanko secretly worked for the police. Apparently, he was previously involved in the disclosure of a corruption scheme, when he caught the culprit by proposing a “bribe.” The same M.O., and the fact that Shtanko’s father works for the police, lends credence to the theory. The kind of equipment used in filming was of professional quality and would have been readily available through police connections.

Political program of well-known journalist cancelled after airing the Leros story

Journalist Yanina Sokolova was a popular figure with several TV channels, as well as a producer of several independent projects. Her last project, “Shame On You,” focused on political corruption in Ukraine. The program was broadcast on the Ukrayina24 channel that belongs to Rinat Akhmetov, one of the most powerful oligarchs in the country. But according to the program contract, neither the channel’s owner nor managers were to intervene in the content of the program.

Sokolova produced three programs, aired over two weeks, before being cancelled. The last one included a panel discussion of budget cuts that would eliminate all financing for culture. The program also touched upon the ineptitude of public health authorities in their tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Her final guest was Geo Leros. His interview covered his criminal charges and the manner in which he was being pressured by the chief of the President’s Office.

Announcement of Yanina Sokolova’s program

The next day, Sokolova’s program was cancelled. The excuse offered by the TV channel was that “during the quarantine, the program format cannot be fully implemented. In particular, it is impossible to invite an audience – those for whom Yanina ‘claims the truth’ can not come to her studio.”

However, many other political news programs have made adjustments in filming and audience attendance, and have carried on broadcasting. Unlike Sokolova’s “Shame On You,” they have not been cancelled due to the quarantine. Worth repeating is that the channel is owned by Akhmetov, who may well have a backchannel to the president himself.

Although accusations against the Yermaks have yet to be thoroughly investigated, the overreaction of government authorities, law enforcement agencies, and powerful media giants have raised even more questions than the videos could have themselves.

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Edited by: Sonia Maryn

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