Saturday, 25 February 2012

Lutsenko verdict expected on Feb. 27

Former top cop Yuriy Lutsenko faces more than four years in prison on abuse of office and corruption charges.

Kyiv’s Pechersk District Court is scheduled on Feb. 27 to announce its verdict in the case of Yuriy Lutsenko, an Orange Revolution leader who became the nation’s top cop but now faces more than four years in prison.

The nation’s interior minister in 2005-2006 and again from 2007-2010, Lutsenko has been held in a pre-trial detention jail for 14 months. He is held on corruption charges that have been criticized as part of President Viktor Yanukovych’s campaign of political persecution against allies of imprisoned rival ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Lutsenko denies the charges that he exceeded his official authority in leading the nation's more than 300,000 police officers.

Judge Serhiy Vovk’s verdict on the Lutsenko case will be closely watched as yet another sign of whether Ukraine is slipping further into authoritarianism after halting democratic progress.

The prosecutions of Lutsenko and other opposition politicians, including Tymoshenko, who was sentenced on Oct. 11 to seven years in prison, have been widely criticized as show trials.

The European Union warns that politically motivated prosecutions threaten relations.

Yanukovych claims Ukraine’s law enforcement and courts are independent of him and describes the investigations as a genuine attempt to combat corruption. But not many people are buying the explanation. The nation’s history is one of political control over the nation’s judicial system, from judges to prosecutors and police.

Prosecutors say Lutsenko abused his powers by illegally extending police surveillance of the one-time driver of former Security Service of Ukraine chief Volodymyr Satsyuk.

Satsyuk was one of the people with whom ex-President Viktor Yushchenko dined in September 2004 just before falling ill with an almost fatal dioxin poisoning. Yushchenko believes the poisoning took place then.

But Lutsenko’s lawyer claims that prosecutors produced no evidence of wrongdoing or witnesses who supported claims that extending the surveillance was illegal.

Prosecutors also accuse Lutsenko of abusing his authority by spending some $37,500 in state budget money to celebrate Police Day in 2008 and 2009. Lutsenko’s lawyers claim there was no loss to the state because the funds largely went to state-owned concert hall Palats Ukraina.

According to a third charge, Lutsenko exceeded authority by arranging for the allocation of a one-room apartment for his driver, Leonid Prystupliuk, and illegally promoting the driver to qualify him for a larger pension. Lutsenko’s lawyers claim that only one out of dozens of witnesses upheld this claim.

Mykhaylo Klyuyev, a former deputy interior minister, said that Lutsenko gave him documents that increased the driver’s record of civilian work experience. But when Lutsenko showed evidence that Klyuyev was on a trip abroad that day, the witness struggled to explain the contradiction.

Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence Lutsenko to four and a half years in prison and to confiscate his property. They also want Lutsenko to be fined $36,000 and deprived from holding public office for three years.

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