Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Deputy chief of staff to Ukraine’s president entangled in corruption probe

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Andriy Smyrnov, a deputy chief of staff for President Volodymyr Zelensky, is under investigation for allegedly helping Judge Mykola Chaus, a suspect in a bribery case, to escape Ukraine in 2016, the Slidstvo.Info investigative journalism agency reportedon March 16.

Slidstvo.Info published leaked investigative materials from the Chaus case.

Chaus was caught receiving a $150,000 bribe in August 2016. Chaus couldn’t be immediately arrested because, as a judge, he had immunity from prosecution. He fled to Moldova, where he still lives. The Chaus case has been one of the most high-profile investigations of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

A document published by Slidstvo.Info, a court order that describes the investigators’ hypothesis, mentions Smyrnov as one of several people who allegedly helped Chaus hide and later flee to Moldova. According to the document, Smyrnov and another lawyer, Kim Veremiychuk, drove Chaus to his hiding place in the Alpine Residential Complex, an expensive apartment complex in Kyiv.

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“This is absolute nonsense,” Smyrnov told Slidstvo.Info, commenting on his alleged role in Chaus’ escape.

He added that he couldn’t have helped Chaus because, in 2015, Chaus issued an arrest warrant for Hennady Korban, a businessman and politician whom Smyrnov represented. Korban, a political opponent of then-President Petro Poroshenko and an former business partner of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, was charged in organized crime, embezzlement, kidnapping and hijacking cases — accusations that he denied and that were later dropped. Korban claimed that the cases against him were political.

The second lawyer mentioned along with Smyrnov, Veremiychuk, told the Kyiv Post that he won’t comment on a fake document.

Smyrnov is responsible for judicial reform at Zelensky’s office. The judicial reform stalled in late 2019 when foreign organizations refused to delegate their experts for cleansing the judiciary due to Ukrainian rules blocking their work, and most of the reform was canceled by the Constitutional Court on March 12.

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Smyrnov is only one of the high-profile figures who are under investigation for allegedly helping Chaus escape. The State Investigation Bureau is investigating a case like that against ex-President Poroshenko, who denies all accusations and believes the cases against him to be a political vendetta.

According to the materials leaked to Slidstvo.Info, employees of Poroshenko’s presidential bodyguard service helped transport Chaus. Oleksandr Hranovsky, then a lawmaker from Poroshenko’s party and the ex-president’s point man for justice system, is also implicated in helping Chaus. Hranovsky left Ukraine after his term in parliament — and, with it, his immunity from prosecution — ended in 2019.

Protasiv Yar scandal

Smyrnov was also at the center of another scandal in 2019.

In August, Roman Ratushny, an activist fighting allegedly illegal construction in the Protasiv Yar neighborhood in Kyiv, met with Smyrnov, who was then a lawyer for Korban and Oleg Levin, who were developing the project. Smyrnov tried to persuade Ratushny not to oppose the project, and Ratushny interpreted some of his statements as threats and later published an audio recording of the conversation.

Smyrnov denied threatening Ratushny.

In September, Smyrnov was appointed as a deputy chief of staff for Zelensky. Ratushny went into hiding for more than a month, saying that he had received threats to his life. Yulia Kononenko, another activist fighting illegal construction in Protasiv Yar, was assaulted in September.

In 2019, Ratushny initiated a criminal case into Smyrnov’s alleged threats, but then-Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka’s office refused to open it. Then, Ratushny received a court order that forced prosecutors to open a case, but it was quickly closed.

Original article on Kyivpost

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