Yuriy Lutsenko, left, is congratulated by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko after being appointed prosecutor-general | Anatolli Stepanov/AFP via Getty images
The president’s parliamentary leader becomes prosecutor general, as concerns grow about cronyism.
By DAVID STERN
5/12/16, 8:55 PM CET Updated 5/13/16, 9:43 AM CET
KIEV — Ukraine’s parliament appointed a close ally of President Petro Poroshenko to the post of prosecutor general Thursday, only hours after passing a law that would have barred him from the office because of his lack of the required legal qualifications.
Yuriy Lutsenko is a close confidant of Poroshenko’s and led his faction in parliament, where some deputies had been worried that giving another top job to someone from the president’s circle would concentrate too much power in his hands. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who was appointed last month, is also from Poroshenko’s inner circle.
Canceling his attendance at an anti-corruption summit in London to put pressure on parliament, following a failed vote earlier in the week, Poroshenko managed to get 258 deputies to vote for the law change – 32 over the required majority — then 264 to approve the appointment of 51-year-old Lutsenko, who has an engineering degree rather than a law degree and has never worked as a prosecutor.
Lutsenko, a former interior minister, promised to bring in top professionals to the prosecutor’s office and apply the law equally to everyone, but the opposition was not convinced. The previous incumbent, Viktor Shokhin, was also a Poroshenko ally who had to resign earlier this year after being accused of obstructing politically-sensitive cases. He denies the charges.
“[The prosecutor general must be] ready to fight against highest state authorities, who are currently the largest source of corruption in Ukraine,” said Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who has faced corruption charges herself.
“Poroshenko will never give this position away — he’s not stupid,” said a political consultant in Kiev, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The prosecutor general is in fact Petro Poroshenko. It doesn’t matter who actually occupies the position.”
Concerns about cronyism grew this week after the publication of more Panama Papers, revealing that close business associates of Poroshenko had established off-shore companies. Previously, Poroshenko himself was shown to have established a shell firm with the Panamanian firm, Mossack Fonseca.
Although no charges have been filed, the disclosures gave rise to to speculation in the Ukrainian media that Poroshenko or his close associates might have something to hide.
Sergiy Leschenko, a reformist deputy from Poroshenko’s own political party, saw the hidden hand of oligarchs in the parliament vote. He said 39 deputies associated with two of Ukraine’s richest men backed the law enabling Lutsenko’s appointment.
“Parliament was forced to its knees, and Ukraine’s constitution and international obligations were trampled upon,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The main votes came from two oligarchic clans.”
Poroshenko is caught between various power bases and interest groups as he struggles to maintain unity as government forces battle Russian-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine.
On the one side are the oligarchs, not so much a handful of very rich people, but rather a larger collection of millionaires and billionaires, who constitute an entire system. Behind them are untold numbers of people who work for them, are part of these workers’ families, or do business with them.
“The oligarchs aren’t part of the economy,” said the political consultant. “They are the economy.”
On the other side are ordinary people impatient for an improvement in living standards and for the reforms promised during the Euromaidan revolution two years ago against the then Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
Poroshenko also has to satisfy Western lenders and the International Monetary Fund, which is currently in Kiev for talks about the release of a $1.7 billion loan which has been put on hold while the Fund waits to see whether Groysman’s new government will commit itself to major reforms, including a crackdown on corruption and strengthening of the rule of law.