UPDATE, 22:10, 13 May. Kyiv’s Pechersky court orders Viktor Medvedchuk under round-the-clock house arrest for two months.
On 12 May 2021, Victor Medvedchuk, the head of the political council of the main pro-Russian party in Ukraine, Oppositional Platform — For Life, was informed about the charges being brought against him and on 13 May, the court hearings started. The head of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) Ivan Bakanov and Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova presented part of the charges publicly.
Their press briefing is highly important considering the decision of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council to impose sanctions against Medvedchuk and his party colleague Taras Kozak, blocking their three main TV channels in Ukraine in February 2021. Sanctions against Ukrainian citizens (unlike foreign ones) are extraordinary measures, usually applied only temporarily until a court decision. Therefore, the current procedure aims at bringing Medvedchuk to justice according to the principles of the rule of law, averting his claims about political prosecution.
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The charges presented by the SBU accuse Medvedchuk of helping Russia to extract oil and gas in occupied Crimea since 2015, leaking secret information about Ukrainian military units to the Russian FSB in 2020, and creating the agent network “Promin” in Ukraine in cooperation with FSB in 2021.
Bakanov and Venediktova stressed that this is only a small part of the charges they decided to make public now. Medvedchuk’s lawyer Bohdan Koval said they received 5 books of charges.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova thus summarized the charges and the whole situation:
- One cannot consider Crimea part of another state.
- One cannot facilitate and directly participate in the transfer of valuable documents relating to the Ukrainian subsoil, the monetary equivalent of the resources of which is UAH 38 billion [$1.41 billion].
- One cannot become the successor of the Ukrainian property which by right belongs to citizens of Ukraine.
- One cannot disclose information containing a state secret.
- One cannot create an army of information clowns and puppeteer them in anti-Ukrainian interests.
Venediktova authorized this note of suspicion issued in the names of the two Ukrainian lawmakers Medvedchuk and Kozak on 11 May. The same day, the note was sent to Medvedchuk’s address and his working place while on 12 May he was handed a copy during the visit to Venediktova’s office. Medvedchuk rejects he was handed the note lawfully and therefore can’t be detained. The other suspect, Medvedchuk’s ally Taras Kozak, is currently in Russia and is likely to remain there in order to avoid prosecution.
The Office of Prosecutor General, however, wrote in Telegram that
“since 11 May 2021, Medvedchuk stands in the status of suspect. The same day he was called for investigatory actions in the status of a suspect… The suspect was also handed a statement requesting to apply a measure of restraint in the form of detention.”
The Court hearings started on 13 May, deciding what if any preliminary measure can’t be applied to Medvedchuk including custody.
Victor Medvedchuk (second right), his party colleagues and attorney comment regarding charges after visiting the office of Prosecutor General on 12 May 2021. Source: snapshot from video
The details and evidence for the charges were presented by Venediktova and Bakanov during the press conference in the evening of 11 May. They presented three charges so far, accusing Medvedchuk of state treason.
1. Medvedchuk has been looting national resources in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea since 2015, participated in a conspiracy with high-ranking Russian government officials to help the aggressor state extract minerals on the Black Sea shelf, i.e. in the maritime economic zone of Ukraine, which is temporarily occupied by Russia.
“I will explain what we are talking about: after the annexation of the peninsula, the occupiers began a kind of ‘nationalization’ of enterprises, resources, and other property. The process of illegal re-registration of legal entities started. And Ukrainian politicians were involved in the development of the field in the occupied territories and actually helped the aggressor state, which took over the field,” the head of SBU Ivan Bakanov told.
Venediktova claimed that Medvedchuk’s wrongdoings not only include the illegal extraction of Ukrainian resources in Crimea for his personal financial benefit when the license was no more valid after the occupation. If not for Medvedchuk’s company TOV Novi Proekty, Russia would have needed much much more time to develop the field and reap economic benefits from it, including from taxes.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor General demonstrated the recording of the call between Medvedchuk and a high-ranking official from the Russian presidential administration where Medvedchuk discusses corruption schemes of how to quickly re-register his enterprises in Crimea according to Russian laws. During the call, he expressed a willingness to pay taxes to Russia, not Ukraine. Moreover, Medvedchuk himself sent a letter to Putin, where he asked the Russian President to simplify the procedure of registering his business in Crimea. He also sent another letter, asking Vladimir Putin to change the boundaries of Russian military shooting grounds in Crimea so that Medvedchuk could have full access to the field.
2. In August 2020, Medvedchuk provided secret data to the Russian FSB about the deployment of hidden Ukrainian military units, troop numbers, and their preparation. The data was provided through his ally, the also-sanctioned Ukrainian MP Taras Kozak, who was at the time on the territory of the Russian Federation.
3. Both Medvedchuk and Kozak have been preparing a project named “Promin” which included a “Plan to create a network of agents of influence in order to conduct subversion activities in Ukraine,” according to the SBU.
At first glance, “Promin” was supposed to be an organization that will care for Ukrainians going to work and study in Russia. The project’s ostensible purpose was to simplify the border crossing for them, provide housing and information support. But the real goal was to create an infrastructure of influence in favor of the Russian Federation, in cooperation with the Russian FSB. The project was to help with collecting personal data of Ukrainians, finding potential objects for enrollment, supporting the FSB’s hidden influence on Ukraine’s internal affairs, and disseminating Russian narratives.
The SBU also demonstrated printed plans purportedly envisaging the creation and goals of “Promin.” The plans contained corrections in Medvedchuk’s handwriting.
“Only from the territory of the Russian Federation, about 7,000 employees of special services of the Russian Federation are engaged in reconnaissance and subversive activity against Ukraine permanently. For example, in 2020 only, the SBU shut down five intelligence networks, detained 12 Russian intelligence agents, and neutralized 600 cyberattacks on state resources.”
Medvedchuk dismisses the accusations as groundless and induced by political motives. He also rejects having received the notice of suspicion in a legal manner but “has got acquainted with its content.”
On 11 May, SBU searched Medvedchuk’s Kyiv home and the office of Oppositional Platform — For Life. Medvedchuk reacted with this statement:
“Today, following an illegal order of the authorities, the Prosecutor General’s Office, grossly violating the Constitution and laws of Ukraine, conducted searches at my house and office. As expected, nothing illegal was found. The real purpose of these illegal searches was, in violation of the established procedure, to hand me a notice of suspicion of high treason fabricated by order of the authorities. Everything that happens to me is a political reprisal for my principled political position. I declare that I am in Ukraine and do not intend to hide from justice. I will continue to participate in legal investigative actions and seek justice both for myself and for all Ukrainian voters who have entrusted me with the high title of People’s Deputy of Ukraine.”
Medvedchuk, however, neither commented on the charges nor explained why the actions of SBU and prosecutors are illegal.
Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Pieskov said Russia won’t interfere to the process, despite the known fact that Putin is a godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter:
“We are not going to interfere in these processes, <…> we would like to be assured that this persecution is not based on the desire to get rid of political competitors.”
Meanwhile, investigations against Medvedchuk have been underway at least since 2019. MP from Poroshenko’s European Solidarity wrote that as early as 5 February 2019 the criminal case against Medvedchuk was opened by prosecutor’s office.