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A “who dunnit?” with a short list of suspects – Odessa

September 23, 2017

At then end of August, a (sadly all too) rare entry relating to local Odessa shenanigans appeared regarding the lawlessness surrounding Odessa Yacht Club and the impotency (or deliberate avoidance) of the Odessa courts to deal with a matter that has dragged on for years.

Not only is there extreme friction between the owners of the company that lease the harbour from the State, but there are countless attempts by the State to have the leaseholder comply with the lease agreement – and in both cases the courts of Odessa seemingly refuse to get involved.

The entry concluded thus – “Sooner or later this dispute between owners and/or the dispute between owners and the State seems destined to end in violence in the absence of an unwilling judiciary to robustly deal with the matter.  There is enough revenue at stake to burn cars, lob a hand grenade into somebody’s garden, or inflict a serious beating to encourage a change in an individual’s position.”

Some three weeks later, that prophecy has come to pass almost exactly as predicted.

Instead of lobbing a grenade into somebody’s garden however, a RGD-5 grenade was thrown through the window of Andrei Bondarenko’s home, the director of the company leasing the harbour – “Odessa Yacht Club 2009 LLC”.

No serious physical injuries were inflicted.  Mr and Mrs Bondarenko were uninjured and their 14 year old son apparently suffered some form of hearing deprivation – whether that be permanent on not remains to be seen.

All rather predictable – for it was indeed predicted.

For those knowledgeable readers, be wary of hastily viewing this as a herald to a return of the bloody 1990s, or indeed the more sporadic, yet nevertheless annual fatal political and/or business score settling (assassinations) that continued throughout the 00s in Odessa.

Undeniably the underworld in Odessa is currently is a state of flux due to various reasons.  That state of flux may yet produce an outcome that proves to be beyond the control of both the authorities and the underworld itself, but this is not the spark that will ignite that particular powder keg, for it is not directly related.

The police have opened a criminal investigation into attempted murder (and as obvious as that may be, often cases of a similar nature involve the initial investigation beginning under “Hooliganism” legislation (the equivalent to The Public Order Act in the UK), until at the very least suspects have been identified raising some hope of detection – though not necessarily conviction).

Nevertheless a keen local eye will long  note this to be the case, therefore either Mr Bondarenko is of significant clout to warrant the usual initial classifications being discounted, or the police believe that suspects will be swiftly identified.  After all, an undetected case of hooliganism (which like the UK POA has a scale of seriousness) sits better on the crime statistics than an undetected case of attempted murder behind which sits a well known and unresolved issue.

Clearly, given the well known history of judicial inaction, and of animosity between business partners, and indeed of the exasperation of the State, (and irked by this long-running unresolved situation some within Odessa City Hall will be – notwithstanding some perhaps with a roving eye on the lease themselves) the list fairly short insofar as those who could be swiftly identified as having arranged/ordered this crime.

The executioner of the deed itself will naturally have been outsourced.   It remains to be seen how hard the tree will have to be shaken to discover who the would-be assassin is – or alternatively how long it will take for loose lips to reach the ears of the authorities.

However, this will not put an end to the situation whilst ever the courts fail to deal with the original matter.  Mr Bondarenko will probably not be intimidated and now seek negotiation and/or resolution.

Now that (predictable) events have finally taken this matter unambiguously into the criminal realm, it does not follow that there will be any increased willingness to deal with the issues that appear, prima facie, to be the root cause, by either antagonists, claimants or the judiciary.

It is thus questionable as to whether this will be the last grenade thrown, or whether cars will be burnt or severe beatings occur to complete the list of prior predictions made.

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The Prosecutor General verses NABU (again)

September 21, 2017

Once again it appears that Prosecutor General Lutsenko and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine are in public conflict.

It is not the first time, and it will not be the last as long as the nation’s leadership cannot find the integrity required to allow for genuinely independent institutions.

To be blunt, looking at those currently in power, and those that will run for presidential office, there are few brave enough to remove their influence over the prosecutors or the judiciary.

Indeed looking at the potential presidential candidates with a reasonable chance to make it to a second round of voting, President Poroshenko represents either political stagnation, or, if he decides to go down in Ukrainian history as a Statesmen rather than just another politician, a second term that will see vested interests (both his own and those of his circle) kicked to the curb and the interests of the nation firmly put first.  (While political stagnation is certainly more likely, there is also an attraction to enter history as a Statesman in a final term of office and that international speaking circuit.)

Yulia Tymoshenko simply represents political disaster.

Slava Vakarchuk, having recently met with “his people”, represents chaos (unless they swiftly get their act together) and will probably be eaten alive by the current political and business class very quickly should he win.

Dear World – Apologies several years in advance of the next elections – regardless of the outcome.  Be assured that while the political class is feckless, the business class criminal, the country and its people are strong  – Sincerely, Ukraine.

Nevertheless, pre-election electioneering is under way.  President Poroshenko has to reverse a few percentage points in the polls.  He would be the first Ukrainian president ever to achieve such a polling reversal.  Thus he must either deliver high profile developments at home or alternatively employ the State apparatus to his benefit – or both.

As such, prosecutions, judicial verdicts, and the media landscape form part of the mosaic of reelection no differently to issues such as reforming the current electoral laws, establishing an anti-corruption court, successful bond issues (negating the IMF reliance), public broadcasting financing, etc., etc.

Like many reforms, the political class have accepted many of them begrudgingly – particularly those that shine a light into the lives of the politicians, judiciary and civil service.  E-declarations, NABU and the anti-corruption prosecutor are suffered and endured while simultaneously sabotage or attempts at such are made to mitigate their unwanted intrusion.

Yuri Lutsenko, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, for whom the law had to be changed specifically to facilitate his appointment, was, is and always will be a politician.  Loyalty before ability is the code of the Bankova/Presidential Administration.  Thus laws were changed to insert a man as Prosecutor General sufficiently loyal to President Poroshenko, and a time served political grey cardinal capable of overseeing politically sensitive investigations and/or prosecutions to arrive at the “right outcome”.

From the moment of his appointment there has been friction between NABU and the Attorney General (and the man behind him).  Thus far Mr Lutsenko has failed to gain (the politically desired) control over NABU.  Many public and unnecessary spats between the Prosecutor’s Office and NABU have resulted.

There was indeed a national state of shock, applauded by the public and appalling the elites, when Roman Nasirov was taken down by NABU.  The dangers of independent institutions put into sharp relief among the ruling class.  The UK was swift to pour a little more fuel on the Nasirov fire by revealing that Mr Nasirov also held UK citizenship, releasing the details of his UK passport.  President Poroshenko is yet to strip Mr Nasirov of his Ukrainian citizenship, though he was swift to remove that of former MP Artemenko and also Misha Saakashvili (leaving the latter stateless, seemingly contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and ratified international Ukrainian obligations).

The Ukrainian political elite have failed to abide by their own legislation with regard to appointing an external (international) auditor for NABU – an audit long overdue – through failure to agree upon the identity of auditors.  Unsurprisingly, the scope of any such audit, even if auditors be appointed, is also ill-defined within the legislation.

There is a huge bottleneck of anti-corruption cases at the courts – which remain unreformed, and as previously written the reform of the Supreme Court is a farce.   With political control remaining after the judicial reform, it is unsurprisingly that the President would prefer an “anti-corruption chamber” within a court system very much open to political interference even after “reform”.  However kicking the anti-corruption court into the long grass was clearly policy long before now – and became self-evident in July.

Nevertheless many EU nations, the US, reform orientated politicians, and NABU, all call for an independent anti-corruption court – which following the example of NABU clearly cannot be allowed to come to pass if preordained, politically expedient rulings are to be delivered for specific cases.  An anti-corruption chamber created within in existing courts, comprised of existing judges however, facilitates exactly that outcome when the need arises.

There is, at a time of pre-election electioneering, a perceived requirement to begin to get a grip upon the State apparatus, and push the presidential line as levers of external influence (the IMF etc) are no longer desperately required.

The idea of an anti-corruption court, (as opposed to an anti-corruption chamber), must be discredited.  Therefore the idea that an independent NABU has brought results must also be discredited – despite the fact that it is not NABU that delivers a verdict or has any control over the speed at which judicial wheels turn.

One of the main IMF, EU, US, Canadian, and NABU requirements has been the ability, and legislative authority to conduct its own wiretaps.  Currently only the SBU has the means and lawful authority to conduct wiretaps.  This has meant that NABU since its inception has been entirely reliant upon the SBU for such evidence gathering.

The process being that NABU receive a warrant for a wiretap from an investigative judge, and then the SBU carries out the wiretap and provides NABU with the results.  Far from ideal for any investigative body to rely upon a politically appeasing SBU for evidence against the political, judicial and civil service classes.  Investigative integrity is surely at risk and stands a very real chance of being compromised.

Naturally there is almost no political support within the political elite to allow an independent NABU such power – particularly having nobbled Mr Nasirov to the genuine surprise of all.

Needless to say granting NABU the wiretapping ability has been a major issue for those that support an independent NABU – and hence it became an IMF requirement as well as an on-going diplomatic issue for many western embassies in Kyiv.  There has been much blunt comment and prickly public diplomacy over this issue.

Eyebrows will therefore have been raised when Prosecutor General Lutensko allowed his Press Secretary to release a statement relating to the illegal wiretapping of 114 telephones belonging to Cabinet members, judges, civil servants, the presidential body guards, National Police, SBU, and the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service – plus a few others – during 2016 by NABU.  The Prosecutor General making similar claims himself on 20th September.

Clearly there are questions to be asked and answers to be given – for either the Prosecutor General is spouting spurious nonsense for political reasons, or NABU has gone far beyond the existing legal boundaries within which it operates.

What would NABU have to gain by illegal wire taps, beyond intelligence that could not be converted into evidence in a court of law?  Without a warrant and lawful collection, there is no evidence that can be presented in a court from a wiretap.

NABU itself, or at the very least operatives within, would end up in court.  Indeed, according to Yuri Lutsenko’s Press Secretary, “The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine conducts a pre-trial investigation in criminal proceedings on grounds of criminal offenses, stipulated by Articles 365, 366 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine,”  Apparently it will be a few months before anything comes of this investigation into NABU.

Where did NABU acquire the wiretapping hardware – and the expertise to operate it?

If they desperately required illicit tapping of these telephones for intelligence and not evidence value, could not those foreign powers that listen in on Ukrainian officials have unofficially and deniably assisted in certain cases in an effort to prevent NABU transgressing domestic legislation?

Over what time period were each of the alleged 114 telephones tapped, and does NABU have the staff to deal with all those intercepts as well as continue other investigations?

Are there none within NABU who would not have blown the whistle during this time – even if to the diplomats of supportive nations to then “have a word” with NABU leadership?

There are questions also of when, exactly, the Prosecutor General (and office) became aware of the 2016 wiretapping?

Without doubt it is not necessary, or perhaps even wise, to bust such alleged criminality immediately.

The collection of evidence of illegal wiretapping however, would not require, nor justify its preventative action, for a particularly long period – especially when both institutions are battling against each other to preserve their authority.  To prove systematic illegal wiretapping does not require allowing 114 telephones to be illegally tapped.  After a certain (and a fairly low number 6 – 10 instances) there is no evidence value to be gained by allowing it to continue.    At some point, becoming complicit is a legitimate issue.

Does a reader believe that somebody such as Yuri Lutsenko could sit upon, and not action, such information when trying to assert his authority (and The Bankova influence) over NABU if he had become aware in 2016?

As many readers will not believe he could sit on such a revelation for long, and assuming he is not simply making spurious allegations for political purposes, at what point did AG Lutsenko become aware, and what evidence was presented to warrant such public claims now?

The question of why now is important as President Poroshenko dismisses the idea of anti-corruption courts and promises to bring in (already compromised) anti-corruption chambers within a month.

Is it the case that these wiretaps were conducted legally, and via the SBU, however Yuri Lutesnko is being more than a little disingenuous?  For every telephone conversation there are (normally) two people and two telephones.  Thus any wiretap captures those under investigation and also thus who are (probably) not.  Ergo it maybe the “illegal wiretaps” are actually incidental collection from lawful intercepts, being deliberately misrepresented for immediate political expediencies.

Is a deliberate and perhaps baseless besmirching of NABU simply part of a framing to introduce a flawed anti-corruption chamber?  An unwise attempt at creating anti-corruption equivalency in the court of public opinion?

If such illegal wiretapping had occurred and on the scale Yuri Lutsenko claims, would such criminality have come to light during a NABU Audit?  (The auditors of which the political class simply cannot bring themselves to appoint and therefore there is no accountability – either external or horizontal.)

NABU have naturally completely denied the accusations of AG Lutsenko.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, and ultimately how it will be resolved.

In the meantime, anticipate the arrival of Anti-Corruption Chambers that can be subjected to political influence, and don’t hold your breath for NABU to get an independent wiretapping ability before the elections – or perhaps afterward either.

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The Bulgarian EU Chair – An attempt to lift Russian sanctions

September 20, 2017

Bulgaria is next in line to assume the rotating Chair of the EU in 2018.

During the opening of an office of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Sofia a few days ago, Prime Minister Borisov stated that during the Bulgarian tenure as rotating Chair, Sofia would seek the lifting of EU sanctions imposed upon Russia.

“During our term as chairman of the EU, we must work politically and diplomatically to lift sanctions from Russia and reduce tensions between Europe and Russia. I do not know if we will be able to do this, since this is a very difficult and seemingly insurmountable job for us, but we will try,”

Prime Minister Borisov also stated that if, during (another) visit by President Putin in the near future, the President of the Russian Federation wished to see him (rather than just Bulgarian President Radev), he would not refuse.

The EU sanctions sky however, is not falling in – be more concerned with Italian elections than Bulgaria as rotating EU Chair in 2018 in this regard.

The most obvious thing of note regarding the above statement is how limp and uncommitted it actually is.  It is a political statement akin to going through the motions and being seen to be trying to do something when actually there is no intention to actually do anything at all.  Expectations, are crushed before they are raised within the lexicon used.

Is this then a matter of Bulgaria giving The Kremlin some domestic propaganda during the Russian presidential “election”, while being seen to do what can be reasonably be expected to be done – which is very little?

While The Kremlin will certainly accept such a propaganda gift, and wring every drop of propaganda and warp interpretations from it that it is possible to do, it is perhaps necessary to consider Bulgarian internal politics first – particularly as such a statement infers that Prime Minister Borisov believes he will still be Prime Minister in 2018, which may not be the case.

There are currently a series of scandals running throughout the Bulgarian government.  There is an arms industry scandal, a judicial scandal, a budgetary scandal (or several), a Gazprom scandal, a wiretapping scandal,  a political head-butting over exactly what words are to be used when defining the Russian threat to Bulgaria, there are intense personal and policy dislikes – for example Radev and Mikoyan, hence the schism between Radev and Karakachanov.

There are intrigues (possibly nefarious), signed memorandums, and deals between the universally disliked Bulgarian Prosecutor General Tsatsarov and the Kremlin’s Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika.

That said, Mr Chaika works all the Bulgarian players, and appears to be the front man for Russian organised criminality when it comes to Bulgaria.

The photograph taken in Sofia displays, Mr Chaika with Tsetska Tsacheva, President Radev’s electoral opponent, and who is politically close to Prime Minister Borisov.

(Sarcasm commences) No doubt there is nothing to see here, it is a standard official meeting for a Russian Prosecutor General to have in Bulgaria, because it is entirely natural for the Russian Prosecutor General to be in Bulgaria meeting those other than his counterpart Sotir Tsatsarov.  (Un-standard diplomacy). (Sarcasm ceases).

As such not only does Russia’s notoriously corrupt Prosecutor General appear to be the front man for organised criminality bilateral relations within Bulgaria, there are also other internal Bulgarian political issues beyond those (perhaps mot major) currently in play.

It seems that no Bulgarian politician wants to alienate the Russian favoring section of its constituency, and yet they also don’t appear to be entirely sure of how electorally relevant that milieu is.

All of this considered, (and much more excluded), it strongly infers that Prime Minister Borisov’s comments are far more to do with internal Bulgarian politics, political survival, and no small amount of organised criminality between Bulgaria and Russia,  than they are to do with any real attempt at delivering the removal of sanctions, or specifically going out of his way to throw The Kremlin a propaganda nugget as a runner up prize during Kremlin “electioneering” season.

Nevertheless, no doubt there will be some jerking knees as a result of Prime Minister Borisov’s statement.

 

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Predictable judicial outcomes – 2nd May 2014 case, Odessa

September 18, 2017

Within the most recent entry mourning the unnecessary and entirely preventable deaths of three young girls in a City owned and City run children’s complex – deaths due entirely to a combination of incompetence and systemic and systematic corruption throughout City Hall regarding every decision made about  the children’s complex over the past 3 years – mention was made (yet again) of the outrageously flawed investigations into the events of 2nd May 2014, that even a probationer police officer would and could have conducted with far more professionalism, and with far greater evidence chain integrity.

“There is no mood for a severely flawed and compromised pretense that is meant to imitate an investigation similar to that which followed the fire of 2nd May 2014.  Such incompetence and seemingly deliberate compromising of straightforward investigative work will not be tolerated (again).”

So often has the blog lambasted the woeful criminal investigation into the events of 2nd May 2014, there are simply too many links and too many barbed quotes to insert here.

In summary however, as the events of 2nd May unfolded physically around your author, thus witnessing the tragedy from beginning to end.

Leaving to one side the policing during the events of that day as the violence and murder in the city centre, and later at Union House, for the observant it was immediately clear that the most basic post event crime scene protocols were simply not visible – and therefore not followed.

Evidence was thus contaminated, removed, lost, or otherwise not recovered.

There have also been numerous Senior Investigating Officers for several different enforcement units at one time or another in charge of, or carrying out the investigation – including those from Kyiv.  That, meaning evidence has been hauled between Odessa and Kyiv – and eventually back to Odessa – as the investigation was passed around.

Naturally further questions regarding the integrity of the evidence chain would be raised  by any defence lawyer if looking to weaken a case.

About the best public report (and partial investigation) comes from the journalists of Odessa.  It is certainly better than any police and prosecutor efforts – if serious efforts were actually made.

That many key suspects allowed to disappear immediately following the incident, be they heading to Crimea, the occupied Donbas, Russia, or Transnistria, is yet another policing catastrophe.

Fortunately from an evidence point of view, there are thousands of phone-made videos, photographs, and hours of local TV footage spread across the social media and local media – preserved in cyberspace and other modes of storage.

Despite this, witnesses must naturally identify offenders.  The “cop TV line-up” scenario.

Before that however, on occasion photo-ID’s sometimes occur to provide a positive ID for the purposes of arrest – rather than physical line-up ID parades for the purposes of prosecution.  Certainly it does not negate the plentiful social media evidence, however there are processes to follow with witness (rather than ad hoc) downloading of social media footage/coverage.  There are rightly preferred methods and processes of identification.

Unsurprisingly even the photo-ID process was flawed due to stupidity or deliberate sabotage.

If a suspect is a white male with brown hair and glasses about 30 years old, a selection of (normally a dozen) similar photographs are presented to a witness for them to (hopefully) identify the offender.  If a witness can positively ID a suspect from a photo line-up, then they are likely to be able to do so from a physical line-up which is deemed to have far more weight in evidence.

It follows therefore, if your suspect has a bald head, ginger beard, bucked teeth and one eye,, placing that photograph in among a dozen nubile young women with long blonde hair presents certain clues to a witness as to whom they should pick.  A bias that makes a lowly regarded photo ID simply inadmissible as evidence – an issue returned to below.

Only in 2016, more than two years after the tragedy, when the investigation had been taken by Kyiv from Odessa, and then returned to Odessa by Kyiv, and with another new SIO and new investigation team, did those public figures involved in both preparatory shenanigans, and post event naughtiness, even get interviewed – as witnesses (when one or two would qualify as suspects).

Having decried the police investigation, the tale relating to the Prosecutor General’s Office and its handling of the investigation is no better.

Without going into detail, for it would be possible to write a short book, the entire investigation and subsequent prosecution is nothing short of a disaster – and itspectacularly fails the victims, and general public, and may yet fail defendants,.  In the decades your author spent dealing with counterterrorism and latterly organised crime, never has such an investigative debacle been so apparent from the very first day of an investigation.

Why mention this now?

The investigation, or perhaps more accurately the prosecution and thus court case relating to 2nd May has been split into two parts.  The first relating to the deaths and violence in the city centre.  The second relating to the subsequent deaths and violence at Union House.

While the Union House events are due to be heard in court very soon (almost four years later), the court case relating to the initial deaths and violence in the city centre is under way for 20 defendants – and given the above, a reader will not be surprised to know that the court returned the only verdict possible following such and investigative abortion..

Returning to the issue of witness identification of suspects, would a reader be surprised to discover that suspect identification by witnesses occurred only by photograph (not required line ups) and that the photo ID selection placed before witnesses included Hollywood celebrities and international sports stars?  Sadly this is no joke – for that is what happened.  Needless to say the Chernomorsk Court simply found such ID evidence inadmissible – and rightly so.

The court also found as inadmissible photograph and video evidence submitted as copies and not originals were presented.  Another very basic evidence issue.  This despite the fact, having spoken with several journalists that captured these events on video and/or camera, indeed submitted originals with their testimony.

The question is whether the ID evidence was deliberately sabotaged, or whether it is incompetence in the extreme – bordering upon criminal negligence and/or an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

Further, it is stated only one, but whatever the case, certainly only a few of the police officers on duty at the scene in the city centre was interviewed – or at least only one officer’s testimony was submitted to the court.

There is no need to go on and on.  Suffice to say that the Chernomorsk Court returned the only verdict possible when presented with such a dire attempt at investigation and prosecution – Not Guilty.

In fact the Chairman of the panel of judges, Philip Zhuravi stated in open court “There is not a single piece of evidence to support the prosecution.  Moreover, the prosecution did not even try to prove guilt.”

Apparently the Prosecutor General’s Office intends to appeal the verdict – perhaps they intend to attempt to try and prove guilt during an appeal hearing?

Two of the defendants, Sergei Dolzhenkov and Yevgeny Mefedov, following their acquittal were immediately held on other charges (encroachment upon the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine).  Perhaps the quality of evidence, evidence chain integrity, investigation and prosecution will be something better than “amateur hour” this time?

There are however issues relating to those others found not guilty when it comes to their safety.  Naturally they are known faces after public trial.  Many will feel that justice, has not been done – despite justice arriving at the only outcome possible based upon what was presented to the court if we are to believe the judicial verdict and public statements of Judge Zhuravi.

Further, the standard of evidence submitted by the prosecutors via the investigation will no doubt be equally poor for the forthcoming trails relating to Union House.  Thus there is a high likelihood of the same outcome.  It is after all simply an administrative decision to split the incident into two trials.

All the same evidence flaws will be present as it was conducted by the same individuals, and also suffered the same transfer of investigative and prosecutor jurisdiction issues.  A repeat of the farce presented at the Chernomorsk Court on 18th September seems almost assured..

On the back of the Victoria children’s complex tragedy only two days ago, this predictable outcome could perhaps not have come at a worse time.  People are already angry.  They will not be any calmer now the inevitable farce reaches an entirely expected conclusion.  For once that anger will not be aimed at a corrupt court, but at the investigators and prosecutors who, despite mountainous available evidence, have managed to deliver only extreme incompetence – or simple sabotage.

To add further insult to injury with regard the rule of law, those ideologically opposed to the defendants found not guilty, clashed with police outside the court – injuring 20 police officers.  Once again the perception of the weak grasp of rule of law in Ukraine has once again been highlighted.

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A black day. Corruption kills again

September 17, 2017

Not since the events and entries following 2nd May 2014 has an entry relating to local events been so easy to write, and yet so difficult to to write at the same time.

16th September turned into an unscheduled day of mourning for the city.

Three girls aged 8, 9 and 12 died in a fire at the Victoria children’s camp in Odessa.  Other children present thankfully survived, as did the adult supervising.

The accommodation, owned and run by the City was burnt to the ground.

Naturally the most sincere condolences are sent to those mourning parents.

It is to be hoped that the survivors receive the necessary care that such trauma brings – for however long that care is required.

The city was swift to respond, both unofficially with toys and flowers left at the scene, and also the flags of Odessa and Ukraine flown throughout with black sashes adorning each and every one.

Artists such as Boombox that were due to play at the Green Theatre cancelled their shows.

All of the official and expected tributes were somberly and rightly paid.

Naturally thoughts then turn to how did this happen and who is responsible?

Understanding and accountability is required.

There is no mood for a severely flawed and compromised pretense that is meant to imitate an investigation similar to that which followed the fire of 2nd May 2014.  Such incompetence and seemingly deliberate compromising of straightforward investigative work will not be tolerated (again).

It appears the city authorities and Mayor Trukhanov swiftly grasped just how incendiary the public mood is – and also no doubt rapidly tried to ascertain just what role the continued rampant corruption within City Hall played in the circumstances leading up to this tragedy.

Make no mistake – corruption kills.  It drains and siphons finances from crumbling infrastructure that both directly and indirectly could prevent the loss of/or save lives.

Director of the children’s camp,  Petros Sargsyan has been arrested – after first attempting the boiler plate delaying tactics of “heart problems” that require medical attention to delay and/or prevent his detention.  It remains to be seen what the court decision will be regarding his liberty – or not.

Mayor Trukhanov moved quickly to dismiss Mr Sargsyan and his deputy at the children’s camp, as well as Head of Kyivski Rayon Administration Vladimir Sushkov in which the children’s camp was situated.  The Director of the Odessa City Department of Education, Elena Buinevich, resigned.

In short Mayor Trukhanov axing sufficient heads in an effort to show “leadership” – and to attempt to prevent failures (and associated reasons – corruption) reaching him personally.

It is an attempt that has in some regards already failed.

The City owned complex has cost the City budget during the last 3 years alone something in the region of UAH 500 million.  (It is probably also insured for twice that in case there was ever a need for it to be deliberately burnt down by persons unknown.)

It was a complex built of wood, akin to Scandinavian log cabin in appearance – and therefore Ukrainian building standards would require that wood/logs to be thoroughly fire resistant treated – which appears, unsurprisingly, not be be the case, though no doubt that was what was officially paid for.

Questions will have to be asked of the construction companies South-Ukrstroi” and Monolith (both associated with Svetlana Donchenko, Lyubov and Yuri Reznikov who rent large swathes of Otrada beach from City Hall).  Criminal responsibility will have to be ascertained and applied.

A reader will not be surprised to learn that South-Ukrstroi was awarded a UAH 11 million contract (without a sniff of a public tender) in 2016, for the fire alarm system at the Victoria children’s camp – and no, the fire alarm did not sound.  It either failed to work, or was perhaps turned off to insure it woke nobody in the night.

Who at Cit Hall accepted the premises when they were completed as contractually and legally compliant?

At the time of writing it is difficult to arrive at which is the most likely.  A reader should never underestimate stupidity and incompetence, but such is the rampant level of corruption in Odessa City Hall, it is equally likely that the UAH 11 million did not pay for a serviceable fire alarm system.

Who among readers, would bet against many budget payments for fire alarm systems within City owned and run buildings actually failing to result in a working and maintained prevention and detection systems?  It would be a “one scam fits all” model in this case.

The firewater reservoir on the site was empty of water according to the Fire Service.  1.2 kilometers of hose had to be laid to the nearest fire hydrant

It will undoubtedly come to light that there was insufficient (and probably none whatsoever) fire fighting equipment at the complex.

Naturally, not only is the City budget being royally ripped off – but somebody in the Fire Service who carries out the inspections and signs off on fire safety is obviously complicit.  There is no need to stretch the imagination to reach the suspicion that there will be many City owned and run buildings that pass fire prevention inspections that they would otherwise fail if any inspection was actually carried by anybody with even retarded integrity.

Thus 3 dead children are a direct result of a City budget that is probably subject to an estimated UAH 1 million per day in corruption, (discounting fixed and overpriced tenders), the dubious awarding of tenders (avoiding any form of transparent application system), the appearance that nobody from City Hall seems to be checking upon what they (know they are not) paying for, and the institutions upon which the public rely upon, (obviously not to fight corruption) to insure the minimum for their safety are still colluding with, and covering for, the cesspit that Mayor Trukhanov is running.

Ergo, Mayor Trukhanov, being officially in charge of this disgrace and numerous failings from many system and process angles, together with his Deputy Zinaida Tsvirinko (whose responsibilities seem most aligned to this sad incident) not only should consider their positions, but should also be placed under investigation for running something close to a criminal (and/or criminally negligent) organisation.

As a result of the tragic incident, approximately 150 – 200 “patriots” and patriots, “activists” and activists on the afternoon/evening of 16th September and tried to force entry into City Hall to see the Mayor.

(It would now be perhaps only right to inform any reader that may visit Mayor Trukhanov and be surprised to see a uniformed “patriot” in a meeting with him – there are two distinct groups of “patriots” in Odessa.  Those now overly familiar (read co-opted) with Mayor Trukhanov, – and those that are not.  In sum, be neither impressed or manipulated into believing that the forces of ATO and the patriots of Odessa support Mayor Trukhanov.  If there happens to be a veteran sat in camouflage kit at any official meeting, it is form – not substance.  The image is deliberately framed.)

As a result of trying to force entry to City Hall a large brawl with the police and Trukhanov’s Praetorian Guard occured.  Ugly scenes to be entirely blunt.

The National Guard arrived and that managed to encourage a second attempt to storm City Hall – with repeated ugly scenes.

It goes without saying that Mayor Trukhanov did not appear.  It also follows that there are now activist tents once again pitched outside Odessa City Hall.  It seems very unlikely that if Mayor Trukhanov meets with those camped outside City Hall tomorrow, he will accept any responsibility for the corruption he is actively involved in, that is all around him and that he tacitly sanctions, or the deadly and tragic outcome that such thievery and incompetence has delivered.

Unfortunately whilst Mayor Turkhanov does indeed have loyalty and integrity, it is not to Odessa or its constituents, but to business partners and friends (read organised crime).

Naturally he will not resign – though if he did City Hall, pending new elections, would be temporarily under the control of Alex Potapsky – a Goncharenko man, and thus by extension a Poroshenko man.

Having seemingly spent most of August in a Facebook and Instagram “man-love fest” with Sergei Kivalov, that may now prove to have been time well spent – if the Mayor may require the assistance of all those judges that Mr Kivalov has in his pocket.

However while it seems unlikely that any criminal investigation involving the Mayor will be “sanctioned” – this may be a good time for President Poroshenko/The Bankova to renegotiate their deal with Mayor Trukhanov of 2015 – which basically was a deal to curb his pro-Russian/separatist views (and those he controls), and to insure the continuance of illicit money flows to Kyiv, in return for a free hand in continued criminality and theft from the Odessa budget.

As no “separatist” movement will gain any traction in Odessa, there is no need to allow Mayor Trukhanov such a free hand with his nefarious activities.  New rules require making and communicating – together with clear limitations upon his criminal appetite.

Whatever the case, there are prickly and difficult times ahead for City Hall – and a lifetime of pain for the parents involved.

 

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Stepanov reorganises Odessa Oblast Administration

September 15, 2017

While the “Yes 2017” conference in Kyiv attracts – or alternatively distracts – the eye, and as of the time of writing it has regurgitated old wisdom in new soundbites and little more – Odessa Governor, Maxim Stepanov, has acted to finally, and through the manner of doing so, permanently dismiss Vyacheslav Berezutsky from the Oblast Administration.

Mr Berezutsky led Oblast Department of Youth Policy and Sport and was recently arrested by the SBU for allegedly receiving a bribe of $2000.  It is further alleged that Mr Berezutsky systematically extorted money from the athletes of Odessa that had reason to interact with his department.

Mr Berezutsky was granted bail by the court upon meeting a UAH 400,000 bail requirement.

The Ukrainian Labour Code is Soviet – it has of course been renamed, but otherwise it remains predominantly Soviet and unchanged since the 1970’s.  It is almost impossible to sack somebody within the State machinery and for them to stay sacked.  It was legislation written with that purpose in mind.  Ergo a sacking that truly lost somebody their job required the political nod and a compliant court.  Even then such a sacking, unless resultant in a prison term, should be interpreted more as “garden leave” prior to being found another position within the State machinery.

Ukraine, to this day, has been in no rush to throw out this Soviet legacy Labour Code and create a new one – for obvious reasons should a reader be something of a cynic.

As a result, Mr Berezutsky’s absence from his role leading Youth Policy and Sport was short lived, despite the pending court case for allegedly abusing that very position.

Governor Stepanov is not perfect, however from a presidential point of view, he is certainly not bad.  Mr Stepanov is low profile, he is a man forged in the fires of Ukrainian bureaucracy, he has very limited political ambition, and is thus a fairly safe pair of hands.

He is not one to unnecessarily rock the boat – and equally he is not one to have his boat unnecessarily rocked – as the criminal allegations surrounding Mr Berezutsky have done.

A method to permanently remove Mr Berezutsky from the Oblast Administration that could not be undone by the Labour Code, or an “understanding” judge, was required.  The years forged in Ukrainian bureaucracy have not been wasted.

A (perhaps partial) reorganisation of the Oblast Administration occurred on 15th September.

For example, the Department of Coordination of Administrative Services and Information became part of the Department of Economic Policy and Strategic Planning.

In order to permanently rid himself of the “Berezutsky” problem, the Department of Youth Policy and Sport was assimilated within the Department of Education and Science – with Mr Berezutsky’s  department being formally dissolved in the process.

Governor Stepanov then finally sacking Mr Berezutsky under Article 40 – “termination of the employment contract on the initiative of the owner, or the body authorized by him, in case of changes in the organization of production and labour.”

Mr Berezutsky cannot return to a job that no longer exists – and nor can an “understanding” judge rule that he should be returned to a job that no longer exists.

Problem solved.

As an aside, as a result of the reorganisation, it appears an additional 77 people will be employed within the Oblast Administration.  There will now be 607 employees.  No reasons were offered for the additional staffing requirements.  It may be that previous reductions to 530 people were a little too draconian.  Civil administration is not like running a business after all.  Governance requires a little slack (but not much) to be built into the structures to deal with unforeseen events and/or emergencies. when they arise.

It remains to be seen whether this is an end to the restructuring of the Odessa Oblast Administration – or not. More importantly, it remains to be seen whether the reorganisation will increase the responsiveness of local governance, and increase its ability to effectively implement policy – or not.

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All senior police chiefs must pass through ATO – Why?

September 13, 2017

Disregarding the fact that the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) was, is, and will remain a complete misnomer, it is what it is per legislation – it appears now that in order to become a senior police officer anywhere across the country it is necessary to have “passed through ATO”.

Some form of right of passage forged in the fires of the front lines in eastern Ukraine to senior institutional positions in Ukraine – others need not apply.

Such is the perception given by the latest diktat from Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov.

On 13th September 2017, Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Yarovoi announced the decision of Minister Avakov – “According to the decision of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the heads of the National Police, all heads of the police of the regions must pass through the zone of the Anti-Terrorist Operation.” We invite all the officers who took direct part in the units in the ATU zone to all the leading posts of the National Police.”

The is but one singular question to ask – Why? (and perhaps a secondary question – why now?)

A solider in times of war, fights.  A policeman in times of war – and in time of peace (or anything in between) – polices.  A nation is grateful to both – and needs both.

It is indeed common for ex-military personnel to transfer into other State uniformed roles – the police, prison service, customs et al.  It is also not uncommon for those that climbed through the ranks of the military to enter “fast-tracked” promotion programmes aimed at leveraging their personnel and organisational abilities honed within the military structures.

That said, a police service also contains former market workers, builders, car sales people, hairdressers, business people et al too.  A police service polices with the consent of the public and its ranks are thus broadly drawn from the public.  Diversity among its ranks is a requirement for it to mirror the society from whence it is composed and that which it is to police.

It follows that its leadership should not be limited to those of any former experience prior to joining its ranks.  The police leadership, other than the experience accumulated through policing as an individual moves through the ranks on merit (and examinations relating to the knowledge of the law) is all that matters.

The common denominator among the police is (or should be) that of integrity and an unwavering commitment to the rule of law – not a commitment to the President, Minister Avakov, or anybody else.

However, it is difficult to think of a police service whose leadership must have served on the front line of a conflict – whether as a soldier, a police officer, customs officer or SBU officer.  It is entirely unclear how the National Police Service of Ukraine, or society, will benefit from this decision by Minister Avakov.

Quality policing and the delivery of it does not come via all senior leadership having passed through the misnomer that is ATO.  Ergo by filling all senior police ranks only with such individuals, as heroic as they may be, at the expense of other career police officers benefits policing – and by extension the Ukrainian constituency – how?

After all, if all serving police officers had headed off to ATO, who would have been policing the nation?  Those that continued to police now suffer a career ceiling because the were busy policing the nation rather than fulfilling a role in ATO?

Admittedly policing is a broad arena, covering everything from traffic offences, to crime, and dog bites to domestics.  There is the public (dis)order role too.  There may be (and indeed should be) a few specialist departments that smudge the lines with issues such as counterterrorism when it comes to intelligence gathering and investigation, or tactical firearms units for example.  Nevertheless, policing has a defined role, as does the military and also the National Guard.

Perhaps this decision is a matter of political optics?  An inference that those who have served within ATO are by definition loyal to Ukraine and thus decidedly solid citizens.  Well that may be true for the vast majority – indeed it probably is.

But was that not the point of creating a new National Police too?

Was that not the reason behind lustration within the ranks?

Was not the entire point of those exercises to leave only loyal, solid Ukrainian citizens with the integrity to act as a police service and unwavering uphold the rule of law without bias?  These people are no longer able to hold senior police ranks and positions because they were busy upholding the law across the nation while others were serving in ATO?

The more cynical may begin to believe that Minister Avakov (and perhaps Mr Turchinov within the NSDC) is simply placing “his chosen people” atop the remaining regional law enforcement hierarchy.  People who some may infer, may misguidedly place loyalty to the Minister before loyalty to the rule of law if push ever came to shove.  Some will further question the timing no pre-election electioneering has begun.

Unless push ever comes to shove, or systemic policing patterns begin to emerge that would provide empirical or specific evidence to add weight to such cynical thinking, then it remains little more than speculation.  Speculation however, there will be.

No doubt Mr Avakov would inform such cynics that they are misguided.  At the same time, perhaps he would also explain how his decision to fill all the top policing ranks with only those who have “passed through ATO”, will benefit policing – particularly to those career police officers over whom he has just placed an arbitrary and unfathomable career ceiling.

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