The Verkhovna Rada has appointed Iryna Venedyktova, a former lawmaker from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, as prosecutor general.
On March 17, 269 lawmakers voted in support of Venedyktova. She replaces Ruslan Riaboshapka, who was appointed prosecutor general in August 2019 and sacked in March.
“I will do my best to make sure that you never think your decision (to appoint me) was a mistake,” Venedyktova said in the Rada. “…I promise not to sell criminal cases, not to sabotage them and not to reinstate tainted prosecutors.”
She promised to “comply with the rule of law and build a prosecution service in line with international standards.”
“We need justice like air, and we will restore it,” Venedyktova added.
At the time of her appointment, Venedyktova served as the acting chief of the State Investigation Bureau. She has a mixed record from her nearly three months in that position, mainly for her controversial appointments.
“All lawmakers who voted for Venedyktova will automatically become tainted,” the Anti-Corruption Action Center said.
The parliamentary opposition was also critical of Venedyktova’s appointment.
“This is an attempt by Zelensky to replace Riaboshapka, who was a 100 percent loyalist (of the president), with a 200 percent loyalist whom he needs to carry out political repressions,” Volodymyr Vyatrovych from ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity faction said in the Rada. “Venediktova is the comeback of the AntiMaidan.”
Responding to accusations that she was appointed to persecute political opponents, Venedyktova said that “there is no political persecution in Ukraine but a thief must be in jail.”
The Zelensky administration’s critics have accused it of going after ex-President Petro Poroshenko and his allies for political reasons. Poroshenko is under investigation in more than a dozen cases by the State Investigation Bureau and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.
On Jan. 20, Venedyktova appointed Oleksandr Babikov, ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s former defense lawyer, as the first deputy head of the bureau. The bureau has been investigating the murder of protesters during the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution, which toppled Yanukovych, and other EuroMaidan cases in which Yanukovych has been under investigation, with Babikov representing him.
Anti-corruption activists accused Venedyktova of rigging the competition for Babikov’s job, which she denied.
The competition was announced on Dec. 29, during the slow holiday season, and candidates had only three days to file applications. This made it impossible for any independent candidates to apply, since it takes weeks to collect the necessary documents and state institutions that issue them didn’t work on those days.
Babikov conveniently applied to terminate his lawyer status on Dec. 28, as if he knew that the competition would be announced the next day.
Venedyktova also made Oleksandr Buryak the bureau’s top investigator in charge of the EuroMaidan cases. Buryak, who has been serving at the agency since 2017, was among the officials featured in alleged audio recordings implicating judges of the Kyiv Administrative District Court in obstruction of justice.
The wife of another deputy appointed by Venedyktova at the bureau, Oleksandr Sokolov, has declared Hr 125,000 in income from Peregrin Capital Group, which was founded by Venedyktova’s mother-in-law, according to the Bihus.info investigative journalism project. Venedyktova also used to be an adviser at Peregrin Capital Group.
Venedyktova’s deputies at her new post may also prove controversial.
According to the Kyiv Post’s sources in Zelensky’s party and the Prosecutor General’s Office, who declined to comment on the record as they are not authorized to speak with the press, Serhiy Kiz will be appointed deputy prosecutor general.
Kiz used to serve as deputy prosecutor general under Yuriy Lutsenko, who held the post in 2016-2019 and earned a negative reputation for failing to prosecute any high-profile cases, including corruption cases.
As Lutsenko’s deputy, Kiz made some decisions viewed as sabotage by lawyers for the EuroMaidan protesters. Specifically, in August, he closed a case against ex-Verkhovna Rada Deputy Speaker Ihor Kaletnik, claiming that he committed no crime. The case involved alleged violations during the adoption of the so-called “dictatorship laws” of Jan. 16, 2014, which would have restricted the right to protest and other civil liberties. The adoption of the law provoked violent clashes between protesters and the police, which led to killings during the EuroMaidan Revolution.
Kiz didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Two sources close to the Prosecutor General’s Office told the Kyiv Post that Yuriy Danilchenko, a prosecutor from Kharkiv, was expected to become Venedyktova’s deputy, too.
In 2016 Danilchenko initiated the dismissal of reformist Deputy Prosecutor General David Sakvarelidze, who then clashed with then Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and accused him of corruption and sabotage of reforms. Sakvarelidze described Danilchenko as a representative of the old prosecutorial guard and a staunch loyalist of ex-President Petro Poroshenko and his prosecutor generals.
Danilchenko could not be reached for comment.
In January the Anti-Corruption Action Center published a story for the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper about Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s potential influence on Venedyktova. Specifically, Venedyktova’s husband Denys Kolesnyk is an official at Avakov’s cyberpolice and has influence on Venedyktova, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
Moreover, Buryak, who got a key job from Venedyktova, is also an ally of Avakov, Ukrainska Pravda reported.
In response to the story, Venedyktova has filed a libel lawsuit against Ukrainska Pravda and the Anti-Corruption Action Center.
Venedyktova, 41, was born in Kharkiv and used to be a law professor at Kharkiv Karazin University.
Venedyktova was elected as a lawmaker from the Servant of the People in July and became the head of the Rada’s legal policy and justice committee.
In December she was appointed as the State Investigation Bureau’s acting chief.
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