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Accident by design – Odessa City Hall investigations

August 12, 2018

On 2nd August a car accident, or perhaps more accurately stated a car incident occurred on Svetlaya Street in Odessa involving lawyer and activist Mikhail Kuzakon, and journalist Gregory Kozma.  A Gaz truck rammed the white Toyota they were travelling in head on.

The (as yet unidentified) driver of the truck then fled the scene upon a motorbike waiting at the scene.  The method of the truck drivers egress from the scene clearly indicates that no accident occurred – but rather a deliberate incident.

Some older readers may be reminded of the similar circumstances surrounding the 1999 murder of Vyacheslav Chernovol.

Indeed perhaps it is the intent to draw such a parallel.

However, while the modus operandi may be similar, the outcome is fortunately very different.  Both Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma survived uninjured – and if their murder was not the intended outcome, the potential for serious injury was clearly present.

Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma feature for the prosecution in several NABU cases against Odessa City Hall.

Ergo if causing serious injury was the intention or an acceptable outcome, then either way the mens rea is very likely to be that of witness intimidation.

Initially the police classified the incident as an assassination attempt under Article 115 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, however prosecutors have changed it to an attempt to kill (or infringe upon the life of) a journalist due to Mr Kozma being thus employed.

Why both Articles are not being employed in this case remains unclear as Mr Kuzakon is not a journalist.

Nor is it clear why “Witness Intimidation” is also not upon the list of suspected crimes committed/under investigation, for that will have been the minimum outcome expected by those that were involved in this crime – notwithstanding that witness intimidation is probably the easiest to prove.

Following the incident the blog decided to allow the dust to settle before writing a few lines with a view not only to follow the immediate events and the leaking of investigative leads, but also what if anything the authorities decided to do in the aftermath regarding the well-being of those involved in the prosecution case against Odessa City Hall.

Of course any witness to any crime is potentially a target for witness intimidation and/or bribery, however those involved in high profile prosecutions in a nation like Ukraine where national and regional elites still consider themselves above the law, are perhaps to be considered at far higher risk.  In this particular case few readers will be surprised if those responsible for this incident are found to be within, or closely associated to those within Odessa City Hall.

The point to be made here is that of witness protection and witness protection programmes (for those that would accept them) in Ukraine if witnesses are to continue to act as such for prosecuting authorities in high profile/high resonance cases.  Let us be blunt, since 1991, the list of dead and/or seriously injured, and/or intimidated witnesses against the elites is far, far longer than the list of the elites ever convicted.  Metaphorically, the former list would be as long as a toilet roll, whilst the latter could fit on the back of a (very small) postage stamp.

Questions therefore arise over who is responsible for witness protection – a costly endeavor  for anything(beyond simply fitting police monitored panic alarms in homes and hoping that should the alarm go off the police arrive to find live bodies) – and from whose budget are those costs covered?

Without doubt these men will not be the only two (in this case NABU) witnesses to have been intimidated and/or severely injured who are expected to give evidence.

Should each agency/institution protect their own witnesses at their own costs and staffing, or should something more central and dedicated be created solely for the purpose of witness protection?  Would any agency have sufficient trust in another dedicated to such a task if it were created?

How sensible/reasonable would the Ukrainian media be with regard leaving witnesses alone under such protection or any subsequent programme?

As yet it is unclear just how NABU will handle the circumstances surrounding Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma, but there seems to be a reasonable degree of certainty that somebody within or closely associated with Odessa City Hall will have acted in a role that is more than merely preparatory in this incident.

With somebody having taken such a step, and with it being unlikely Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma will stop cooperation with the prosecution, the risk of further incidents surrounding these two men remain.  It will do NABU (nor any Ukrainian law enforcement cause) no good to see their witnesses successfully whacked – partic.ularly after a failed attempt (discounting the issue of intimidation).

T’will be interesting to see how this (and other similar cases with similar witness issues) will be resolved.

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The UA Aero industry takes off?

August 7, 2018

Following agreements with Turkey in over the past few months, it was recently announced that Boeing and Anatov have signed an agreement relating to the supply of parts to circumvent supply-chain issues relating to Russia.  (In particular, for the An-148, An-158, An-178 aircraft, the family of which will be designated An-1X8.)

Previously the Swiss AIR-ION Technologies signed up to the beginning of the bureaucratic process of partnership in hybrid and electric powered drone/UAVs in Ukraine.

It now appears that Odessa Aircraft Plant has reached agreement to begin development and production of aircraft with US Aviastar Investment Corp and the Czech Distar company.

The details of what will be produced remains unclear, however there it is known an agreement to establish an international Regional Service Center for the current and major repair of aircraft and helicopters, as well as the introduction of a number of procedures and processes in the context of organizing training for cadets and pilots under the current NATO programs have also been reached.

In the current European defence climate there would appear to be several obvious weak points where Ukrainian expertise at designing and building large aircraft entirely in country would seem to have a marketplace.  Among those most obvious weak points are the ability to move large amounts of equipment and personnel by air around Europe, as well as a distinct inability for air-refuel on any notable scale.

This European capability gap compared to the US abilities is perhaps most easily explained in broad (and less than nuanced) brushstrokes by the fact the US tends to fight its wars far from home – necessitating the ability to have the logistical/tale end capabilities to move large numbers of troops and equipment large distances fairly swiftly, and keep them supplied and combat operable.

The Europeans are historically far more likely to expect conventional wars to occur on the European continent and for those engagements to include alliances in some shape or form that would at the very least provide strategic bases for deployment and logistical support – be they hot or cold wars.

The outcome of this thinking (leaving nuclear and submariner deterrents aside) is a distinct lack of European ability for air-refueling or large scale air deployment capabilities in comparison to the US over the past 30 years (or more) of military planning.

With trust in the US somewhat eroded in the current European political climate, naturally European military and defence establishment leaders will be looking at what and where the Europeans rely most heavily upon the US – and enormous Ukrainian transport aircraft built entirely within a nation reliant upon good relations with the Europeans would seem a natural situational fit.

Economics aside, for Ukraine to continually seep further and further into the supply chain of the European defence market is naturally something the nation’s leadership will actively encourage.  The more ties to the European Union and its members the better as far as Kyiv is concerned.   Better still if that occurs in sensitive arenas such as defence and defence procurement/supply -chains.

There is also the important matter of tech transfer from which Ukraine will certainly benefit as it seeps further into the defence supply chain of Europe.

After drones and aircraft, the logic extension will be missiles and space (again in which Ukraine has expertise).

It remains to be seen whether the Ukrainian (defence) Areo industry is taking off or not – but prima facie it does appear it may just get its wheels up.

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SBU (not NABU) investigates Odessa City Hall

July 30, 2018

In late October 2017 an entry appeared relating to an apparent raid and attempted theft of Ukrainian military land by the cast of usual suspects (Trukhanov, Lampochka Galanternik, Alexander Zhukov etc) in Odessa appeared.

To be fair to Mayor Trukhanov, clearly he was not leading this particular criminal incident – his historical and longstanding partners in organised criminality were – while on his mayoral watch and undoubtedly with either his tacit or inferred approval (at a minimum).

To continue to be fair to Mayor Trukhanov, it would perhaps be unfair to state that he is friends with Lampochka Galanternik and Alexander Zhukov, but rather that he is a longstanding partner.  Mayor Trukhanov always seemed to display a slightly deeper and unquestioning loyalty toward Leonid Minin and Alexander Angert than he has toward Sasha Zhukov and Lampochka Galanternik.

(It is no doubt partly for this reason that Mr Galanternik has his own people in City Hall to keep a watchful eye upon Mayor Trukhanov.)

Nevertheless Mayor Trukhanov is expected to make life easier for Messrs Galanternik and Zhukov with regard to their interests, acquisitions and questionable activities, even if they do not always include him as a major beneficiary – a shared and thoroughly nefarious history provides for plenty of “kompromat” all round – if there be a need to remind each other of what is expected from partners.  It is an expectation from his partners in crime that Mayor Trukhanov has consistently met.

NABU has raided Odessa City Hall numerous times under the leadership of Mayor Trukhanov.  Indeed a reader might suppose they will soon be renting office space in City Hall.  There are at least 4 significant investigations on-going and Mayor Trukhanov, having been served with official papers, will be appearing in court as the accused in at least two cases so far.

On 30th July 2018, two documents appeared within the social media circles of Odessa proclaiming another investigation surrounding Odessa City Hall – this time by the SBU.

The documents were uploaded by Artem Kartashov and appear to suggest the SBU will be investigate the issues raised in the above link relating to the incident in October 2017 and the military airbase land subject to an apparent attempted raiding/seizure.

It is claimed that the Shevchenko District Court, Kyiv has directed the SBU to investigated the matter.

At the time of writing the blog found nothing in the on-line court records – but there is often a lag of several days before records appear on line.

A reader may question the jurisdiction of the Kyiv court in Odessa, however would any reader expect an Odessa court to rule the SBU investigate this matter (which to be blunt, it already has) against this cast of local, powerful, organised crime characters?

A reader will also question why it has taken 10 months for a court mandated investigation to be ordered.

But why the SBU and not NABU (again)?

Will not those in the City Hall cesspit (and the Odessa courts) who facilitated this incident fall within the NABU remit (again)?

Is there not the stench of corruption and dirty deeds about this affair?

Surely it is NABU that is mandated to cut off the heads of the snakes in City Hall who were undoubtedly involved?

The answer, if these documents are genuine, is clear.

The investigation is ordered under Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – which falls far outside the remit of NABU and squarely within the remit of the SBU (and national security).

Article 111.  High treason

1. High treason, that is an act willfully committed by a citizen of Ukraine in the detriment of sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability, defense capability, and state, economic or information security of Ukraine: joining the enemy at the time of martial law or armed conflict, espionage, assistance in subversive activities against Ukraine provided to a foreign state, a foreign organization or their representatives,-

shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of ten to fifteen years.

2. A citizen of Ukraine shall be discharged from criminal liability where, he has not committed any acts requested by a foreign state, a foreign organization or their representatives and voluntarily reported his ties with them and the task given to government authorities.”

Blimey!

A SBU investigation into, and possible charges of High Treason is probably not what those who seemingly conspired to commit this local land grab will have anticipated in a “worst case scenario” when assessing any risks.  A local issue dealt with by local “ways’, “means” and “ends” was probably the expectation if anything went wrong (as it did).

Clearly this is not a stick created to beat Mayor Trukhanov with, for there are sufficient NABU sticks to do that with insofar as The Bankova is concerned.  It is however a stick that may well be waved at Messrs Galanternik and Zhukov who actively backed their longstanding partner in crime for the role of Mayor in 2014/15 – not that either have been resident in Odessa (or Ukraine) for years.

T’will be interesting to see just who the SBU name as formal suspects – for it seems almost impossible that Lampochka Galanternik can be a name omitted – and his inclusion will equate to Kyiv taking on the old guard of organised crime in Odessa.

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SAP Nazar Kholodnitsky to be disciplined – Is that enough?

July 26, 2018

Nazar Kholodnitsky the head of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office appears likely to be disciplined/reprimanded for issues that seem to revolve around certain decisions, comments and actions (or lack of) he has made.

Fair enough.  Institutions have rules, processes, procedures and structures that are to be adhered to – otherwise why have them?

That the current rules do not allow for dismissal relating to the incidents that occurred is also fair enough.  They are what they (currently) are.

The blog has no issue with the rules, processes or procedures that are in place insofar as this specific disciplinary decision is concerned.

A reader may very well question the methods employed to gather the evidence that brought about the disciplinary processes (the bugging of his office with NABU equipment) – or not.

At the end of the day, somebody must police the police, somebody must prosecute the prosecutors, and somebody must keep the anti-corruption agencies from becoming corrupt.

However, no differently to public prosecutions, how evidence is obtained and/or used within internal disciplinary proceedings matters.  A lawful (and hopefully ethical) evidence chain uncompromised and unbroken remains the backbone of any process if it is to withstand any future legal challenges.

Internal investigative/complaints and discipline departments aside, invariably “policing the police” occurs via external horizontal agencies if any degree of transparency and objectivity is meant to be projected.  For example, Lviv investigates Odessa, Sumy investigates Kyiv, Kherson investigates Kharkiv and so on.  Or an entirely different investigative agency is tasked to investigate a totally unrelated agency, for example the SBI investigates the SBU, the SBU investigates the Customs Service, Customs investigates NABU and so on.

The point being trained investigators investigate investigators with whom they have no attachment and have no conflicting interest.

However the processes and structures are designed, the end result is a mechanism whereby the police are policed, the prosecutors are held to account and the anti-corruption agencies kept on the straight and narrow – whether these investigations lead to internal discipline or public prosecution at the time of any investigation beginning matters not – it is the investigative outcome that determine what route is appropriate.

It also has to be recognised, perhaps mostly by those actually holding high position, that no individual is bigger than the institution of which they are a part.  Everybody can (and ultimately will) be replaced – and the institution will continue without them.

(It is for this reason one of the current problems within Ukrainian politics that will probably only improve is when the parties become bigger than the leaders, rather than the leaders being bigger than the parties as is currently the case.  Issues of predictable, recognised and overarching ideology and control etc).

The issue of institutions being bigger than the individuals within (whatever their pay grade/business card title) is perhaps now where Nazar Kholodnitsky should concentrate his thoughts.

He will be disciplined.

He is the first public face and leader of a new institution that at its core is supposed to represent unblemished integrity.  It is an institution that will and already has set precedents.

He too has set precedents.

The question for him is whether he should set another precedent and resign in an effort to maintain the perception of an unblemished and integrity driven new institution specifically born to tackle those without personal integrity or moral compass.

In short, does he value the long term future and public perception of an institution he has headed and helped create more than his own personal short term future?

What legacy does he intend to leave behind when he (ultimately/eventually) leaves?

What precedent will he set for those that follow him into his current role with regard to personal standards/integrity of the office held?

Whatever the actions and whatever the outcomes that have led to his disciplinary issues, he still has the opportunity to act with personal integrity and for the benefit of an institution he helped create.

Will he take it?

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Ukraine signs up to the OECD tax initiative – but will it ratify it?

July 23, 2018

Of the many questions/thoughts this blog asks when an entry appears, more often than not at least one of the following is among them on every entry:

  1.   Follow the money!
  2.   Who benefits?
  3.   Who decides, and who decides who decides?

Of course (almost) nothing in life is free, there are always beneficiaries to any decision, and who decides, and who decides who decides are all common features of daily life – a cynical and skeptical bias is sometimes necessary when asking these questions and objectivity should perhaps take priority over subjectivity when drawing conclusions when reaching answers.  Some outcomes are clearly nefarious and others less so, if at all.

23rd July witnessed Oksana Markarova, the Acting Finance Minister of Ukraine, sign the nation up to the Multilateral Convention on the Implementation of Measures Relating to Tax Agreements – hurrah!

While a reader is encouraged to explore the above link, of the 15 point OECD initiative, there are perhaps four significant points that will benefit Ukraine insofar as the national budget is concerned.

– Step 5: “Improving measures to combat tax abuses”
– Step 6: “Prevent Abuse of Privileges Under the Bilateral Agreements”
– Step 13: “Recommendations on transfer pricing documentation and disclosure of information by country”
– Step 14: Improvement of the Mutual Coordination Procedure through Dispute Resolution.

The entire point of any tax or AML legislation is to reduce the wiggle room these schemes have to operate in easily.  Actually throwing people in jail is secondary to reduction through prevention in the first place – though it is of course absolutely necessary to prosecute those that transgress.  What point legislation if it is not effectively implemented?

The question is now whether the Verkhovna Rada will actually ratify the signing of this instrument so that it can be deposited with the OECD.

There are many international instruments where numerous nations are signatories (with or without reservations) that have not ratified or deposited these legal instruments (with or without reservations).

(A “reservation” is a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, whereby it purports to exclude or to modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that State – so long as any reservation(s) do not make the treaty more or less worthless in its application to that State of course.)

How long between the signing and ratification of this international instrument is a matter for the Verkhovna Rada.  It is unclear whether any reservations were made, or will be made by Ukraine if it ratifies and deposits this instrument.

To be blunt it is probably not a matter of “if” Ukraine will ratify this instrument, but rather a question of “when”.  A question of timeliness from signature to ratification.

Even if/when Ukraine ratifies and deposits this instrument there will of course be “work a-rounds” for those determined to find a way – but as stated at the start of this entry, the legislative goal is to consistently reduce the space for nefarious scams and schemes to operate in with ease, and therefore this is another small but positive step in that direction.

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An SBI update (keep your expectations low)

July 18, 2018

Throughout the autumn of 2017, the blog plotted the predictable and deliberately slow progress relating to the creation of the creation of the State Bureau of Investigations – a process timed to insure that it would not be fully functional and productive before the elections of 2019.

18th July 2018 witnessed that latest progress (as glacial as it may be) toward establishing the leadership of the SBI under the guidance of the Director, Roman Tryb.  For all intent and purpose, Mr Tryb since his appointment has been an Emperor without Empire or legion.

A list of 27 potential SBI leaders/senior managers was announced, of which, to employ a system of traffic lights, has some fairly wholesome “green light” names, a few “amber” questionable/dubious names, and naturally several unquestionably “red” entirely unsuitable and unsavory names.

Something expected of course as any independent appointment process in Ukraine remains subject to a degree of manipulation and disfiguring via vested interests.

Obviously public interest and ire will be vented toward even the possibility of the “red light” names – such as Messrs Dmitry Rudenko and Yehven Ablov, regardless of the number of “green light” names.

As far as Odessa related nominees is concerned, it is fair to say the light is perhaps “Amber”, for Oleh Denga who has made the cut.  Mr Denga is widely perceived to be uncomfortably close to (read a creature of) Olexandr Granovsky, President Poroshenko’s curator and puppeteer of judges, prosecutors and “outcomes”.

That said, when it comes to Odessa and those related, some who were on the selection committee were perhaps of equally questionable integrity – or worse (Eugene Dade).

What matters of course is whether there is (perhaps even the slightest) confidence of the Ukrainian constituency in the SBI going forward.

The Ukrainian constituency is by nurture (if not nature) exceptionally cynical and skeptical.  This skepticism and cynicism naturally increased when the political timetable was clearly setting the speed at which the SBI would become fully functional and effective.  (More or less impotent until elections are over).

Further magnification of that skepticism and cynicism will occur when looking at the “amber” and “red light” names that have managed to defy supposed checks and disqualification thresholds.

That distrust will still further intensify should those names be appointed.

The appointment of Mr Tryb as head of the SBI agency (whether spurious or otherwise) when it was announced was widely perceived to be a compromise, and thus compromised, appointment.  That certain names remain in the running now, is not likely to do anything but harm to the SBI before it even goes in to bat by way of societal perception.

It would appear that an uphill struggle with public perception (as (almost) all Ukrainian institutions have) could very well be a mountain that will not be overcome in the short or perhaps medium term.  The SBI will be a “results judged” institution – meaning successful convictions rather than arrests, investigations or charges raised.

In the immediate future however, all eyes will be on the appointments soon to be made and who gets what – or not (and why not).

Ultimately however, it will be down to the SBI to display an integrity that will confound public expectations and actually deliver a step forward – albeit that already appears to be about as realistic as the farce that became known as “judicial reform” meant to deliver an “independent judiciary”.

As always, a wise reader will keep their expectations low – and hope to be surprised.

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Not such a Turkish Delight in Odessa

July 17, 2018

It is no secret that foreign agencies work in Odessa Oblast.

The most obvious that would come to mind is that of the Russian Federation, but as a reader moves closer to Europe then the Romanian SIE is active, as is Mossad, and of course Turkey across the Black Sea also has a great interest in Odessa too.

To be fair there are numerous agencies active in Odessa as a reader would expect from a city that is a transport hub on internationally recognised trading routes (as well as internationally recognised smuggling routes – be it people, guns, drugs and counterfeit).

Odessa is a destination, it is a hub and it is a source of legitimate and criminal trade.  It is cosmopolitan and it is mercantile.

What self-respecting foreign agency with particular regional interests wouldn’t be active in Odessa?

Most go about their work quietly – albeit perhaps not as invisibly as they might think.

However, it appears that Turkey recently made some rather obvious and perhaps illicit renditions of two of its citizens.

If true this would not be the first time Turkey (or other agencies – Mossad allegedly spirited away a Turk with Islamic links from Odessa train station some years ago) has tried and/or succeeded in renditioning their citizens from Odessa back to Turkey.

In 2008 several Kurds were either successfully renditioned or attempts were made by Turkey to “reclaim them” against their will.

The latest incidents allegedly occurred on 12th and 15th July 2018 – the first in Odessa and the second in Mykolaiv.

It is claimed that both individuals were FETO supporters (Gullist).   That may or may not be the case, for rumours are rumours and who starts them and for what reason requires some thought.

Either way extrajudicial renditions are just that regardless.

On 12th July it is claimed that the Turkish Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT) abducted Turkish businessman Salikh Zeki Yigit from his restaurant in Odessa city centre, held him at the Turkish Consulate in Odessa overnight, and the following day spirited him back to Turkey (by plane to Istanbul and then on to Mersin).

The second individual was a Turkish blogger (married to, and father of Ukrainians) Yusuf Inan in Mykolaiv.   Mr Inan was apparently subject to extradition proceedings, but it appears that the MIT could not wait.

Both men had residency status in Ukraine.  Both were renditioned to Turkey during the last week if some very solid rumour be believed.

Whether a tacit blind eye was turned or whether the matter will be raised privately having drawn Ukrainian ire is speculative – particularly in light of recent Turkish statements thanking Ukraine for its “cooperation” regarding the return of “refugees”.

What is not speculative at the time of writing is that there has thus far been no public statement from any Ukrainian institution or ministry – either to confirm or deny either incident.

Would a reader therefore draw inference that if these illegal renditions took place (and it appears that they have), in the absence of any official comment whatsoever, that Kyiv was aware?

The answer has to be – probably.

If so, and of course there is plausible deniability, it will be something of a human rights image problem at the very least in numerous private diplomatic conversations – albeit insufficient to cause any significant policy changes toward Ukraine (or Turkey).  No doubt the Human Rights NGOs that read the blog (and there are certainly some in Brussels that do) will take note.

Whether there are any more Turks in Ukraine on the MIT rendition list – time will perhaps tell, and perhaps fairly soon.

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