U.S. President Donald Trump failed to make Ukraine investigate his Democratic rival, former U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden.
Now, a former Ukrainian prosecutor general, whose allegations underpinned Trump’s efforts, has succeeded: He managed to get two criminal probes opened against Biden. He did it through multiple appeals to a Ukrainian court.
However, his victory is largely a legal technicality and is unlikely to lead to any serious investigation.
Former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was fired in 2016 after months of pressure from civil society actors and international partners for his sabotage of important cases and for blocking law enforcement reform. Shokin, however, claimed it was Biden — at the time, the White House’s point person on Ukraine — who forced the firing in order to protect a Ukrainian energy company where his son worked from a corruption probe.
Read more about Shokin and why he was so unpopular
That claim played a central role in Trump’s covert campaign to smear Biden and the Democratic Party ahead of the 2020 presidential election, which led to Trump’s impeachment. The U.S. president was ultimately acquitted of the charges against him by the U.S. Senate.
While the story of Trump’s pressure on Ukraine is no longer front-page news in the U.S., Shokin is still pushing his narrative — albeit to limited public interest.
Ukraine’s State Investigation Bureau has registered two pre-trial criminal investigations concerning Biden. The agency was following court orders based upon Shokin’s petitions.
By Ukrainian law, investigators have to enter a record of a reported crime into a unified register before actually starting a probe. If for some reason they don’t do that, a person can appeal in court.
Olena Scherban, a lawyer with the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv, said that, in such cases, procedural code requires courts to order law enforcement agencies to investigate. The court cannot refuse.
However, dishonest claimants have abused this provision to draw the attention of the media, she said.
In the first of his two cases, Shokin claimed that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) violated his privacy in 2016 by collecting confidential data about him and ongoing investigations and passing it on to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. That included information about an investigation into the owner of Burisma, the company where Biden’s son worked.
While the Prosecutor General’s Office indeed had several investigations into Burisma and its owner, none of them focused on Biden’s son and they never went anywhere.
Read more about investigations into Burisma and its owners and what happened to them
This information about NABU and the embassy, Shokin wrote in his filing from Oct. 16, 2019, came from lawmaker Andriy Derkach.
Like Shokin, Derkach passed unsubstantiated claims about Biden and Ukraine’s alleged collusion with Democrats to Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani. He was one of the leaders of Trump’s campaign to discredit Biden.
Read more about Derkach, his meeting with Giuliani, and his allegations
The State Investigation Bureau initially declined Shokin’s claim, saying there were insufficient indications that NABU had committed a crime. Later, it refused to declare Shokin a victim, saying nothing indicated that NABU’s actions harmed him.
Shokin challenged both decisions in court.
Most recently, a court ordered the bureau to register a pre-trial investigation into Biden’s alleged interference in Ukrainian law enforcement. The record appeared on Feb. 24.
This interference, Shokin wrote in another filing dated Jan. 28, prevented him from investigating Burisma and its owner.
If that wasn’t enough, the former prosecutor general claims that Biden could be linked to his alleged poisoning with mercury last year. In an interview with Giuliani, broadcast on the conservative One America News network, Shokin claimed he died twice from the poisoning and was resuscitated.
Fearing retribution, Shokin has asked for state protection.
“Shokin is happy that, at last, records were listed in the register. We hope the probes will start,” Shokin’s attorney, Oleksandr Teleshetskyi, told journalists on Feb. 27.
“Shokin is a lawyer. He isn’t a politician. His actions are not of a political character. He doesn’t aim to interfere in the U.S. election campaign,” he said.
Scherban from the Anti-Corruption Action Center disagrees.
In her opinion, the fact that Shokin decided to challenge his dismissal years later makes it look like a political move. As prosecutor general, she said, Shokin had the knowledge and means to document evidence of any wrongdoing against him, and he could have addressed it earlier.
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