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Zelensky’s chief of staff allegedly pressured top judge to issue ruling favoring Yanukovych

Author : Oleg Sukhov

Bohdan did not respond to a request for comment on these issues
11:47, 9 October 2019

www.kyivpost.com

A former top judge testified that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan put illegal pressure on him in 2010, when Bohdan worked in the government under then-President Viktor Yanukovych.

Bohdan allegedly pressured Petro Stetsyuk, then-judge of the Constitutional Court, to issue a ruling to help Yanukovych monopolize power, two sources told the Kyiv Post, citing official testimony given by the ex-judge in a related criminal case.

Bohdan called Stetsyuk’s accusation a “lie.”

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the materials of the case are classified. Stetsyuk declined to comment on the issue.

Stetsyuk did not succumb to the alleged pressure and voted against the decision, writing a dissenting opinion, but the ruling was adopted anyway.

The controversy around the usurpation of power case also raises issues about Bohdan’s current alleged influence over the Constitutional Court and the judiciary in general. The powerful official has been accused of pulling the strings behind judges and prosecutors, which he denies.

Other judges

From 2010 to 2014, Bohdan was the anti-corruption ombudsman in then-Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s Cabinet under Yanukovych. After the EuroMaidan Revolution, he conducted private lawyer practice until 2019, when he ran Zelensky’s election campaign and became his chief of staff and one of the most influential people in Ukraine.

The testimony accusing Bohdan of pressuring a judge to benefit Yanukovych was made when Bohdan was a private lawyer.

The Kyiv Post wasn’t able to find other ex-judges of the court who would say they were pressured by Bohdan, now the presidential chief of staff. Yet some admitted to pressure in general.

An ex-judge of the Constitutional Court, Vyacheslav Dzhun, told the Kyiv Post that he had also been pressured to support the ruling on opposition lawmakers in 2010. He said he can’t disclose who pressured him because this information is sensitive to the ongoing criminal case. He said Bohdan wasn’t involved.

Viktor Shishkin, also an ex-judge of the Constitutional Court, also told the Liga news site in 2015 that members of the court had been pressured by Yanukovych’s administration to issue the rulings that helped him monopolize power. He didn’t answer to a request to comment for this story.

Former Constitutional Court Judge Ivan Dombrovsky told the Kyiv Post he had not known Bohdan before 2019 but did not want to comment on alleged pressure by any officials.

Dombrovsky and two other Constitutional Court judges disloyal to Yanukovych – Yaroslava Machuzhak and Anatoly Didkovsky – resigned in September 2010 after then-Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn asked the Council of Judges to replace them, and the council demanded that they be suspended.

Usurpation case

The testimony mentioning Bohdan is part of an usurpation of power case against Yanukovych.

Former judges of the Constitutional Court are under investigation over several decisions that enabled Yanukovych to monopolize political power in 2010. They deny the accusations of wrongdoing.

Apart from the decision on opposition lawmakers, in September 2010 the Constitutional Court canceled the 2004 constitutional amendments on expanding the Verkhona Rada’s powers and thus increased Yanukovych’s authority.

Another Constitutional Court decision aimed at usurping power was a ruling authorizing the 2010 judicial reform, as a result of which Yanukovych stripped the Supreme Court of important powers and transferred them to more loyal courts, according to investigators.

According to records in Yanukovych’s Party of Regions’ alleged off-the-book ledger, judges from the Constitutional Court received $6 million from the Party of Regions for making rulings that helped Yanukovych usurp power.

Sergii Gorbatuk, head of the in absentia cases unit at the Prosecutor General’s Office, told the Kyiv Post that prosecutors had prepared a notice of suspicion for one of the former judges of the Constitutional Court and were working on other notices in the case. However, the notice of suspicion was blocked by former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, he added.

Lutsenko’s spokeswoman Larysa Sargan did not respond to a request for comment.

Lutsenko’s successor as prosecutor general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, has not yet been presented with the notice of suspicion to be signed, according to Gorbatuk.

Meeting with Shevchuk

Recently Bohdan was part of another controversy involving the Constitutional Court.

In April, the Schemes, an investigative journalism project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported that then-Constitutional Court Chairman Stanislav Shevchuk had met with Bohdan at the Constitutional Court on March 13, before the presidential election, when Zelensky was already the clear frontrunner.

Shevchuk, who was fired from his job on May 14, said he had known Bohdan for 10 years.

The meeting was seen as controversial because the Constitutional Court has been considering the constitutionality of the 2014 lustration law, and may cancel it.

Bohdan is himself the subject to the lustration law, which prevents the appointment of top Yanukovych-era officials to state jobs.

Bohdan and Shevchuk admitted that they had met, but denied discussing the lustration law. They said they had discussed the Constitutional Court’s controversial Feb. 26 decision to cancel a law criminalizing illicit enrichment as unconstitutional.

Lustration law

The Constitutional Court has delayed a decision on the lustration law many times. Currently there are not enough judges who would vote for canceling it but this may change when the Council of Judges selects three new Constitutional Court members in November, Shevchuk told the Kyiv Post.

Under the lustration law, Bohdan has no right to hold any state jobs because he was the anti-corruption ombudsman at Azarov’s Cabinet in 2010 to 2014.

The law explicitly imposes a 10-year ban from the job of the head of the Presidential Administration on those who served for more than a year as the anti-corruption ombudsman under Yanukovych.

Bohdan claimed that the 2014 lustration law does not apply to him because he believes that, under the 2016 civil service law, the head of the Presidential Administration is not a civil servant. He claimed that lustration only applies to civil servants.

In an apparent effort to save Bohdan from lustration, Zelensky on June 20 replaced the Presidential Administration with the Presidential Office and on June 25 appointed Bohdan as head of the Presidential Office. Zelensky’s critics, including Tetiana Kozachenko, ex-head of the Justice Ministry’s lustration unit, say this does not change anything because the lustration ban applies to all state jobs, including the Presidential Office.

Past life under Azarov

Bohdan was also involved in other controversies during his stint at Azarov’s government.

He flew to Russia as part of a delegation of Azarov’s Cabinet in November 2013 before Ukraine dropped plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union, according to Sept. 26 investigation by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Schemes show. The suspension of the agreement, which was likely a result of those negotiations in Russia, triggered the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution, which ousted Yanukovych.

Bohdan also received a state award from Yanukovych’s administration during the EuroMaidan Revolution, Schemes reported.

In another apparent controversy, Bohdan represented the Ukrainian government in a case over the Russian Defense Ministry’s Hr 3.1 billion debt claim against United Energy Systems of Ukraine in 2012. Anatoly Ivchenko, a judge of the Kyiv Commercial Court, upheld the Russian government’s claim.

United Energy Systems, which was co-owned by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, failed to pay the money. The key issue was whether former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko’s letters to former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdyn about the company’s debt could be considered official state guarantees.

According to an Aug. 28 investigation by the Bihus.info journalism project, Yanukovych’s administration was interested in helping the Russian government get the money because it would get an additional argument in an embezzlement case against Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s main political opponent. Bohdan submitted Lazarenko’s letters to the court without Ivchenko even asking for them, Bihus.info reported, thus helping the opposing side, Russia.

Ivchenko is under investigation for issuing an unlawful ruling in the case, and Bohdan is a witness and has been interrogated. However, Lutsenko blocked a notice of suspicion for Ivchenko, Gorbatuk told the Kyiv Post.

Bohdan did not respond to a request for comment on these issues.

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