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A top prosecutor, accused of corruption and incompetence, forced out in political struggle

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Dec. 18, 2009, 2:19 a.m. | Ukraine — by Peter Byrne

The struggle over who controls the General Prosecutor's Office is fierce. Prosecutors effectively decide who goes to prison and who doesn't in a corrupt judicial system.

A deputy prosecutor general was dismissed on Dec. 15 amid allegations of impropriety, a case that experts said is linked to a pre-election struggle among leading presidential candidates over control of the powerful prosecutor’s office and judiciary. Yuriy Boichenko, the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said Oleksandr Shinalskiy’s resignation was accepted by Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko on Dec. 15, adding: “Our office will respond to a formal request by lawmakers to investigate his activities and the activities of other top prosecutors within 10 days.”

Shinalskiy’s ouster comes weeks after lawmakers backing Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko accused the 50-year old career prosecutor of using his position to enrich himself.

While wrongdoing may have happened, experts offered different explanations for the sacking. None involved Shinalskiy’s alleged corrupt activities. And none involved incompetence or the prosecutors’ lackluster track record of solving crimes, great and small. Corrupt or not, the General Prosecutor’s Office has been historically unable to solve the nation’s most serious crimes, some dating back to national independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kost Bondarenko, director of the Gorshenin Institute, said Shinalskiy’s dismissal represented attempts by political groups to establish influence within the prosecutor general’s office. “It symbolizes the ‘re-formatting ‘of political influence within the General Prosecutor’s Office and the law enforcement sphere,” Bondarenko said.

“It’s all about one group fighting against another for control of the judiciary,” added Vadym Karasiov, a political consultant who has advised President Victor Yushchenko.

While gaining influence over the prosecutor’s office and judiciary could provide key leverage ahead of the election, Volodymyr Tsybulko, a former lawmaker, said the effort is more akin to political blackmail: “The sacking of Shinalskiy is an attempt by the Tymoshenko camp to send a signal to the pragmatic forces in Yanukovych’s camp, that they have the dirt on them, and they can throw more out.”

Tymoshenko has for months criticized the General Prosecutor’s Office, which she has described as a “limited liability company” controlled by President Victor Yushchenko and the Party of Regions-backed Victor Yanukovych, both her rivals in the presidential race.

Four lawmakers from Tymoshenko’s eponymous bloc in parliament accused Shinalskiy of using his official position to extort contributions on behalf of the Ukrainian Association of Prosecutors, a commercial entity as well as a non-governmental organization, established in 2004 by some top government prosecutors. Shinalskiy runs the twin groups, which have sent out letters asking for charitable donations, including cash, property and land. He denied any wrongdoing in his resignation letter, however.

“I have taken this step for one single reason – to prevent the campaign launched by a group of vandals against me personally from discrediting the general prosecutor’s office and prosecutors, who continue to honestly and honorably serving the law,” he said in the Dec. 14 letter on the Ukrainian Association of Prosecutors website. The letter was pulled off the website just three days later.

Andriy Portnov, a deputy in Yulia Tymoshenko’s eponymous parliament faction, on Dec. 11 leaked details of the lawmakers’ inquiry, which questioned how Shinalskiy and his wife could afford a home worth 500,000 euros in the German spa town of Baden-Baden, and 1.5 million euros worth of property in Nice, a city on the Mediterranean coast in southern France.

Shinalskiy held top posts in the Kyiv oblast prosecutor’s office from 1997 until his promotion in 2002 to the position of deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine. Prior to his resignation, he headed the directorate for enforcing court decisions in criminal cases and the international affairs directorate of the prosecutor general’s office.

Boichenko said prosecutors are also conducting their own investigation into allegations of impropriety by other deputy prosecutors working under Medvedko. Lawmakers have requested Medvedko to testify in parliament about the case, but a date for the hearing has not yet been set. Boichenko said Medvedko would testify in parliament, if summoned.

Kyiv Post staff writer Peter Byrne can be reached at byrne@kyivpost.com.
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