Tetyana Chornovol has been formally charged with murder during a Molotov cocktail attack on the ruling Party of the Regions headquarters on 18 February 2014. The anti-corruption investigative journalist, Maidan activist and, former MP, can be facing a life sentence on charges which the former chief investigator into crimes during Euromaidan has said he sees no grounds for, writes Halya Coynash for khpg.org.
Chornovol announced on leaving the State Bureau of Investigations on 15 December that the criminal investigation against her was now at an end and that the case was now to be passed to the court. Posting the indictment on Facebook, she commented that she had been handed “an indictment for taking part in the Revolution of Dignity’.
In fact, one of the many strange aspects of the document that Chornovol was handed is the description of the events on 18 February 2014, the first of the two days when enforcement officers opened fire on Maidan activists, killing or maiming many of them. You certainly wouldn’t guess that from the indictment which reads that the attack on the Party of the Regions building took place “during mass riots which were accompanied by violence against individuals, rampages; arson; destruction of property”. It is also repeatedly claimed that Chornovol acted “with the purpose of illegally causing the death of other persons, including Volodymyr Zakharov. “ Having decided to charge Chornovol with deliberate murder, this formulation is probably required, but does seem very far removed from the facts of the case as reported back in April by two of the main Maidan investigators, Serhiy Horbatyuk and Oleksiy Donsky.
On 10 April, the State Bureau of Investigations [SBI] carried out a search of Chornovol’s home, asking to see the clothes Chornovol had worn during the Euromaidan protests (the Revolution of Dignity). Chornovol was informed that she was suspected of murder, with the SBI separately reporting the events, although identifying Chornovol only as a former MP, and effectively avoiding any mention of Maidan at all The SBI statement explained that she was suspected “of deliberately and illegally causing the death of another person, with this committed on the prior conspiracy of a group of people in a way that endangered the life of many (Article 115 § 2.5 and § 2.12 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code).” She was said to have led a group of people on 18 February 2018 and had herself participated in setting alight a building in the centre of Kyiv containing the offices “of one of the political parties”. As a result of the fire, a 66-year-old employee [Volodymyr Zakharov] died.
Eight different charges were then reported, both by Chornovol and in the court order, issued by the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv, including murder; organizing mass riots that caused the death of a person, and obstructing the activities of the Party of the Regions. The SBI report stated that the charges could carry a sentence of from 10 to 15 years, or life imprisonment.
Chornovol does not deny setting alight the office of the Party of the Regions, which was then President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling party, but rejects any accusation of involvement in murder. She says that she and her husband were trying to distract the attention of enforcement officers in order to save Maidan activists and to set the ‘titushki’, or government-hired thugs away from others and onto them.
Horbatyuk, former Director of the Special Investigations Department which was responsible for investigating most Maidan-linked crimes, stated that same day, and later reiterated, that his department had investigated the fire and that, on the basis of the material gathered, he saw no grounds for the charges now brought against Chornovol. Horbatyuk said, for example, that Zakharov, who had been in the building, had had plenty of time to leave, and could have done so unobstructed. He had, unfortunately, stayed to collect the CCTV cameras, and had died of smoke inhalation. While stating that he would not comment on possible motivation, Horbatyuk did point out that there is criminal liability for wrongful prosecution.
On 14 April, with Chornovol having been summoned for questioning and with a court hearing due into the SBI’s application for her to be placed under 24-hour house arrest, an SBI statement appeared on the Bureau’s official site, claiming in the title that SBI is apolitical. The statement began by asserting that “according to the material of criminal proceedings and the established chronology of events, the shootings on Madan and adjacent Kyiv streets on 18.02.2014 began after the setting alight of the Party of the Regions office”.
The implication was clear: it was Maidan activist Chornovol and others like her who had caused the bloodshed. The text also asserted that there had been an investigation into “the killing of Volodymyr Zakharov”, but that ‘investigative activities’ had ended after Yuri Lutsenko became Prosecutor General and put the case under the jurisdiction of the Special Investigations Department.
There is nothing in the actual charges to necessitate any cause and effect link, and the attempts to suggest this were totally refuted by Oleksiy Donbsky, Maidan investigator and previously Horbatyuk’s deputy in the Special Investigations Department. He noted that the investigators had established that at the time that the Party of the Regions building was set alight, there had already been cases of mass use of violence against protesters, both by the enforcement bodies, and by the so-called ‘titushki’.
This is particularly important given the motives that Chornovol asserts she and her husband were driven by and makes the SBI statement seem worryingly manipulative, aimed at claiming that Maidan activists began the violence and that Lutsenko and the Special Investigations Department were effectively helping to conceal this.
The use of such cause and effect argumentation was disturbing for another reason. As Maidan lawyer, Yevhenia Zakrevska pointed out, just such an argument had been repeatedly pushed by the lawyers representing former President Viktor Yanukovych in his trial in absentia for treason. The SBI report had denied both any political motivation, and any involvement by the highly controversial SBI First Deputy Director Oleksandr Babikov in the decision to prosecute Chornovol,. Both denials were met with open disbelief especially given Babikov’s constantly denied, yet proven, role as one of Yanukovych’s lawyers. It is extremely difficult not to feel concern about the motives for Chornovol’s prosecution when the SBI openly rejected the assessment of the main investigators into Maidan crimes, and instead tried to discredit them.