Sept. 10, 2015
The former Georgian president accused the Cabinet of Ministers and Yatsenyuk personally of sabotaging reforms and lobbying for oligarchs’ interests.
In three more specific claims, Saakashvili accused the Cabinet of protecting the head of the State Aviation Service, whom he said had taken decisions in favor of billionaire Igor Kolomoisky’s Ukraine International Airlines. He then accused the government of blocking Economic Development and Trade Minister Aivaras Abromavicius’ attempts to dismiss the heads of two state enterprises. And last, he alleged the Cabinet had foiled his plans to reform Odesa’s notoriously corrupt customs service.
Yatsenyuk countered on Sept. 4 that Saakashvili’s accusations were unfounded and claimed that the Cabinet had approved the governor’s requests.
“We are all in one team here. I understand his emotions because he bears all the responsibility for Odesa Oblast,” Yatsenyuk said. “But it is inappropriate for an ex-president to bring unfounded charges against the government.”
The Kyiv Post decided to dig deeper into four of Saakashvili’s claims, and see if there was any substance to them.
Claim 1: The Yatsenyuk Cabinet has protected the head of the State Aviation Service.
The Facts: On June 27, Poroshenko announced that Denys Antonyuk, head of the State Aviation Service, had been suspended after Saakashvili accused him of taking decisions in favor of billionaire Igor Kolomoisky’s Ukraine International Airlines. Before his appointment in March 2014, Antonyuk had worked for 17 years at UIA rising to director of network development and alliances at the airlines.
But according to Saakashvili, Antonyuk was soon back in his job.
“Antonyuk has emerged again; he’s back in his office!” Saakashvili said angrily in his interview with Channel 5. “The infrastructure minister asked (Yatsenyuk) to review his report – a well-written report about Antonyuk’s violations. But Yatsenyuk refused to review it, giving made-up excuses.”Natalya Terletska, the aviation service’s press secretary, confirmed to Ukrainian Channel 24 on Sept.1 that Antonyuk had indeed been reinstated after an internal investigation was completed.
But then Infrastructure Minister Andriy Pyvovarsky, who oversees the State Aviation Service, reported on Sept. 4 – the day after Saakashvili’s interview – that the Cabinet had now dismissed Antonyuk, that the decision was final, and that the government “followed the whole procedure.”
The Verdict: True
Claim 2: The Cabinet is blocking attempts to dismiss the heads of some state enterprises.The Facts: According to Saakashvili, Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius hasn’t been able to dismiss the heads of certain state enterprises for a month.
One of the enterprises in question is the United Mining and Chemical Company. Abromavicius wrote on his Twitter page on Sept. 2 that two weeks earlier he had asked the company’s head to resign.But company head Ruslan Zhurylo denied this the next day. The company’s press service also said that the minister’s statement was an attempt to take control over “a company with a big cash flow.”
According to Saakashvili, the person effectively in control of the company is Mykola Martynenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker from Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front faction in parliament.
Martynenko’s press service told the Kyiv Post that an attempt to link the lawmaker’s name to the scandal was “just another informational attack made with the aim of discrediting him.”
Although political analyst Taras Berezovets told the Kyiv Post that he couldn’t say whether Martynenko was actually connected to this particular situation, he said that “Martynenko has been damaging the Cabinet’s image for a long time.”
The Verdict: True – technically. But while the head of at least one enterprise is indeed still in his job, the Kyiv Post couldn’t find proof that the reason was because of cronyism among Yatsenyuk’s political allies.
Claim 3: The Yatsenyuk Cabinet is foiling Saakashvili’s plans to reform Odesa’s customs service.The Facts: According to Saakashvili’s customs reform plan, an electronic system will be introduced to drastically reduce the human element in customs-handling procedures, thereby cutting down on opportunities for corruption.
Under new legislation, the government must return some of the customs revenues raised in Odesa Oblast to the regional government if it manages to increase the amount of revenues it raises beyond government targets.
However, the Cabinet has now increased revenue targets for the region, depriving it of revenues from the energy sector, and set lower customs tariffs in other regions, Saakashvili said last week. After Saakashvili made his claims, the Cabinet announced that customs tariffs in different regions would be equalized, which it said would reduce opportunities for corruption.
The Verdict: Somewhat true. While not sabotaging the plan per se, the Cabinet appears to be meddling by moving the goalposts, making it more difficult for the reform to achieve its aims.
Claim 4: Yatsenyuk is in the thrall of the nation’s biggest oligarchs.
The Facts: Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told the Kyiv Post it was no secret that “Arseniy Petrovych (Yatsenyuk) likes to make friends among the oligarchs,” and that “there are reasons for such claims.”
For instance, Fesenko said, it’s a well-known fact that Yatsenyuk uses Akhmetov’s former employees as advisers.
Moreover, Ukrainian lawmaker and former journalist Serhiy Leshchenko wrote on his blog on Ukrayinska Pravda news website on Aug. 25 that Ukraine’s top oligarch Rinat Akhmetov might have sponsored Yatsenyuk’s public relations trip to the United States.
Leshchenko said Yatsenyuk had hired the international agency APCO for the job. According to the company’s reports, its bills – $35,000 as of July – were paid by an obscure company called Communication for Change. One of the company’s co-founders, Leshchenko said, was Oleksandr Kharchenko, who heads the EIR Center, an Akhmetov-funded think tank.
Akhmetov’s spokesman rejected the allegations of having ties to Yatsenyuk or his Cabinet.“SCM (System Capital Management, the holding company of Akhmetov’s assets) is not involved in politics, and we receive no special preferences from the prime minister or his Cabinet,” Akhmetov spokesman Jock Mendoza-Wilson said in comments e-mailed to the Kyiv Post.
Others suspect Yatsenyuk of being unable or unwilling to stop favorable subsidies and economic favors to oligarchs such as Akhmetov and Igor Kolomoisky.
The Verdict: Not proven. Direct ties between Ukraine’s oligarchs and politicians are hard to pin down.