Tuesday, May 21, 2024
 
 

Ukrainian minister involves EU expert in political game over journalist's murder

EPA-EFE//STEPAN FRANKO
A suspect in the 2016 murder of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet, Yulia Kuzmenko reacts during a court hearing at the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv, Ukraine,

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Ukraine is a country used to political and “legal” circuses. But the show that unrolled before the Ukrainians’ eyes on December 12 was beyond compare.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov gave a briefing and threw the whole weight of the Ukrainian state behind what they called the final resolution to the murder of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet in a car explosion in Kyiv on 20 July 2016. As usual, they did away with the presumption of innocence as well as the political neutrality of the country’s law enforcement agencies.
In the month that followed, the whole case unravelled and collapsed like a house of cards. It was torn to pieces by the only branch of government somewhat functioning in Ukraine – independent journalism.
Moreover, Ukrainian authorities involved an EU expert in their political games, which could damage his reputation and should be a cause of concern for European governments, and which have called for a thorough investigation of the murder.
Yulia Kuzmenko, a child surgeon, and Andrei Antonenko, a rock musician, have been arrested and charged with murdering Sheremet by putting the bomb in Sheremet’s car. Medic Yana Dugar, who was also charged with complicity in the murder, is alleged to be the same woman who was filmed taking pictures of surveillance cameras before the murder.
Assessments
The main “evidence” against Kuzmenko and Antonenko is the alleged similarity between their photos and the video footage of the people who put the bomb in Sheremet’s car.
However, the videos of those who planted the bomb are extremely blurred, and it’s almost impossible to identify them with any degree of likelihood. Moreover, there are numerous inconsistencies between the photographs of Kuzmenko and Antonenko and the people in the videos.
The image assessment carried out by Ukrainian experts cited by the investigators states that it is impossible to identify Kuzmenko and Antonenko with the man and woman in the video.
Kuzmenko’s gait analysis, carried out by British expert Ivan Birch, states that there is some “supposedly sufficient” evidence that the woman in the video is Kuzmenko, apparently implying that it may or may not be her, and that it is Birch’s subjective opinion. Moreover, gait analysis is considered very complicated and very secondary evidence by courts and can only be considered proof if combined with much more solid evidence.
Only the so-called “non-verbal psychological behaviour” assessment, carried out by a Ukrainian expert, concluded that Kuzmenko is the same as the woman in the video. However, it can hardly count as serious evidence.
According to the second analysis by Birch, there is evidence to support the version that the person who put the bomb (whom Avakov identifies as Kuzmenko) was the same as the one who photographed cameras (whom Avakov identifies as Dugar). This assessment in itself essentially kills Avakov’s whole circus show.
The only image that has some credibility is that of Dugar, who has some resemblance to the woman in the video footage who took pictures of cameras, and that video is of a higher quality.
Other controversies
The motive, as laid out in the charges, is total rubbish and has been widely ridiculed as absurd: the investigators state that the suspects, “espoused ultranationalist ideas and cultivated the Aryan race’s greatness” and murdered Sheremet in order to attract public attention to their ideas and to destabilise the political situation.
First, the prosecutors presented no proof that they indeed “espoused ultranationalist ideas.” The motive sounds especially ridiculous given that Antonenko is half Jewish.
Second, Belarusians are hardly less Aryan or less white than Ukrainians, and there is no visible hatred of Belarusians in Ukraine.
Third, the prosecutors did not explain how exactly Sheremet’s murder would destabilise the political situation and what the suspects would get from it: Sheremet was not widely known and did not oppose Ukrainian nationalism at all.
Meanwhile, there is evidence of an intentional cover-up by the authorities. Avakov admitted that the video footage from four cameras closest to the crime scene had been taken by law enforcers and disappeared. The footage was being investigated by Avakov’s police and the SBU, Ukraine’s State Security Service, which means either the police or security officials had destroyed it.
Another sign of a cover-up is that Igor Ustimenko, a former SBU employee, has been identified by the Slidstvo.info investigative show as present near the site of the murder before it happened.
Tainted law enforcers
It’s obvious why Avakov came up with this PR show now. He has become extremely toxic and mired in numerous corruption scandals and sabotage of reforms. His own son has narrowly escaped a conviction in a graft case implicating Avakov himself, although both of them deny the accusations.
Instead of firing him, Zelensky has decided to give him a deadline to show “results” by the end of this year. As a result, Avakov is staging a political circus in a bid to stay in power and strengthen his position.
Avakov himself should be a cause of concern for the EU and should be investigated by European authorities since he has acquired a villa in Italy, according to the Nashi Hroshi investigative show. It would be interesting to see what revenues he used to acquire the property.
The Ukrainian research institute that carried out the assessments of the suspects is highly controversial. Alexander Ruvin, who heads it, has been at the beck and call of many governments.
In 2016 he was filmed meeting Alexander Granovsky, ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s gray cardinal in charge of law enforcement. In December 2019 alleged audio recordings were leaked from the State Investigation Bureau according to which Ruvin and his experts “write whatever you want when there is will from (Zelensky’s) Presidential Office.”
The judge who authorized the searches and arrests for the suspects, Sergei Vovk, is also extremely controversial. He is obviously a loyal tool of the Prosecutor General’s Office since he is a subject of several criminal investigations.
Vovk’s credibility is close to zero because in 2015 he was charged with issuing an unlawful ruling in a separate civil case in 2015 and temporarily suspended.
In 2012 Vovk sentenced then opposition politician Yury Lutsenko to four years in jail in a graft case that has been recognized by European authorities as politically motivated.
Korotikh version
One of the reasons why Avakov has failed to investigate the Sheremet case since 2016 could be the fact that Sergei Korotkikh, a person close to the minister, has been named by journalists as someone who could be implicated. Korotikh denies all the accusations of wrongdoing.
On the eve of Sheremet’s murder, he met several veterans of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Regiment, including Korotkikh.
His background is indeed troubling. He studied at the academy of Russia’s Federal Security Service and has been accused of links to Russian and Belarusian intelligence services, which could explain why he escaped prosecution many times. He denies the accusations.
In the 1990s Korotkikh joined the Russian National Unity, a neo-Nazi group. The group supported Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, and in 1999 Korotikh was investigated for an assault on opposition activists.
Sheremet wrote in 2015 that Korotkikh was acquainted with Valery Ignatovich, another national socialist who had been given a life sentence for kidnapping Belarusian journalist Dmitry Zavadsky. Korotkikh himself was investigated and even briefly arrested in the Zavadsky case.
Zavadsky disappeared without a trace in 2000 – like many other critics of Lukashenko.
If it is true that Korotkikh is implicated, he could have had a motive. Sheremet had exposed Korotkikh’s friend Zavadsky and also written about Korotkikh’s controversial background, although he also admitted that he “trusted” Kotorikh.
Korotikh also used to be a member of the National Socialist Society in Russia. In 2011 thirteen members of the society were convicted for 27 murders and 50 assaults.
Moreover, Korotikh was investigated over an explosion on Moscow’s Manezh Square in 2007 and allegedly stabbing an anti-fascist with a knife in Minsk in 2013.
Whether Korotkikh or the official suspects are implicated or not, Avakov should have been fired and investigated in graft cases a long time ago, and Riaboshapka should be dismissed if it turns out that the suspects are innocent scapegoats.

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