Lawyers accuse police of falsifying criminal case to save Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff
Ex-lawmaker Maksym Mykytas’ lawyers on Dec. 30 accused police of falsifying evidence in a criminal case to make him withdraw his testimony against President Volodymyr Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov.
Police responded that the evidence was valid and lawful and threatened the lawyers with responsibility for divulging investigative secrets.
The police on Dec. 29 charged Mykytas, who is under house arrest, with organizing the kidnapping of an unidentified man on Dec. 8. Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court is currently considering arresting Mykytas in the kidnapping case.
Mykytas, ex-president of state-owned construction firm Ukrbud, was previously charged with alleged embezzlement conducted through an Ukrbud housing development contract for Ukraine’s National Guard in 2016-2017.
Mykytas agreed to a plea bargain and testified against other high-level participants in the scheme, including Tatarov. As a result, Tatarov, who formerly worked as a lawyer for Ukrbud, was charged on Dec. 18 with bribing forensic expert Kostyantyn Dubonos on behalf of Mykytas to get false evaluation results that helped the company. Tatarov denies the accusations.
Zelensky and his protege, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, have been accused of protecting Tatarov from prosecution ever since information on the investigation into him first surfaced on Dec. 1. The Tatarov case was effectively buried on Dec. 30 when new prosecutors appointed by Venediktova refused to arrest him and said the legal grounds for the charges were not sufficient.
The Prosecutor General’s Office and Zelensky’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Earlier, Venediktova denied any wrongdoing. Zelensky said on Dec. 25 that Tatarov must prove his innocence, but added that he would only fire Tatarov if the deputy chief of staff was involved in corruption recently while working for him.
The police argued that kidnappers who allegedly received orders from Mykytas met the unidentified man, broke into his car and forced him to write a promissory note for $800,000 using threats. Several hours later, the police arrested the alleged kidnappers and released the alleged victim.
The defense argued that the police falsified evidence in the kidnapping case.
Mykytas’ lawyer Artur Gabriyelan said on Dec. 30 that one of the alleged kidnappers, a certain Chernov, had used two different phone numbers to write to himself to falsify correspondence with Mykytas. Chernov initially named the two different numbers “I” and “very important Serega” and later renamed “I” to “Maksym Mykytas”, according to the defense lawyers.
The defense published screenshots of the correspondence from the two phones with the name “I” and identical screenshots from the phones’ wastebasket with the name “Maksym Mykytas.”
“(Tatarov) is using the police investigators that he controls to take revenge and put pressure on Mykytas to make him withdraw his testimony,” Gabriyelan said on Dec. 29.
Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, agreed.
“Just look how miserably (Interior Minister Arsen) Avakov blew his cover while pressuring Mykytas to save Tatarov,” Shabunin said on Facebook on Dec. 30. “Avakov’s cops just falsified the correspondence used to press charges against Mykytas.”
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which opened the case over the Ukrbud contract, said it ““(Mykytas) is a whistleblower who gave the NABU information on top-level corruption.”
“Based on one of the facts, charges were brought against a presidential deputy chief of staff (Tatarov),” the bureau said. “These developments are concerning, given the possibility of using criminal proceedings to block NABU investigations and putting illegal pressure on the whistleblower to help the people he exposed evade criminal responsibility.”
Mykytas’ lawyers said at Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court that there is evidence that there was unlawful interference in the automatic distribution of court cases. They said that Natalia Abbasova, the judge who heard the case, had been the only one out of all the court’s judges who was available for distribution, which prompted suspicions.
Ukrainian investigators have exposed many cases of unlawful interference in the automatic distribution of court cases with the aim of sending cases to politically loyal or corrupt judges.
Abbasova rejected most of the defense’s motions, and the lawyers asked for the recusal due to what they see as her bias and alleged interference in the automatic distribution of cases. She refused to be recused.
The court did not respond to a request for comment.
Yury Butuvov, chief editor of the censor.net news site, also wrote on Dec. 31 that there could be a conflict of interest in the Mykytas kidnapping case. Maksym Tsutskiridze, head of the police’s investigative department, is a longtime friend and co-author of Tatarov and used to work with Tatarov at the Interior Ministry, he added.
Moreover, Dubonos, the expert who was allegedly bribed by Tatarov, is also subordinated to the Interior Ministry.
Meanwhile, the State Investigation Bureau has opened a case against Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Maksym Gryshchuk on charges of prosecuting an innocent person – a reference to Tatarov, Olena Shcherban, a legal expert at the Anti-Corruption Action Center, told the Kyiv Post. The information was also reported by Ukrainian media citing their sources in law enforcement.
Anti-corruption activists see this as revenge for Gryshchuk’s approval of the charges against Tatarov.
The Prosecutor General’s Office and the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The Tatarov case has faced continued sabotage by prosecutors and courts.
On Dec. 1, Venediktova replaced the group of prosecutors in the Tatarov case as they were preparing to bring charges against the deputy chief of staff and going to a court to apply for his arrest. As a result, the charges were blocked.
Later, the NABU opened a criminal case into what it believes to be Venediktova’s unlawful interference in the Tatarov case by replacing prosecutors in order to save him from prosecution.
On Dec. 14, Serhiy Vovk, a discredited judge at Kyiv’s Pechersk Court, ordered Venedikova to transfer the case from the NABU to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which is believed by civic watchdogs to be more politically dependent and less effective than the NABU. Venediktova’s deputy Oleksiy Symonenko used this as a pretext for giving the case to the SBU on Dec. 24.
The NABU and the SAPO believe the transfer of the Tatarov case to be unlawful.
Under Ukrainian law, the Tatarov bribery case falls directly into NABU’s jurisdiction, and NABU cases cannot be considered by other law enforcement agencies. Disputes on NABU’s jurisdiction can only be considered by the High Anti-Corruption Court and cannot be heard by the Pechersk Court.