Ukraine launches criminal probe into alleged persecution of journalist who investigated SBU officer

10 apr., 2024

Ukrainian prosecutors have launched a criminal probe into the alleged persecution of an investigative journalist who was served draft papers in a suspected reprisal for revealing the dubious property portfolio of the country’s national cybersecurity chief.

Lawyer Oksana Maksymenyuk had lodged a legal complaint to the National Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau a week after Yevhen Shulhat, a reporter at Slidstvo.Info, was approached by three men in a supermarket in Kyiv’s Obolonskyi district who handed him a draft summons complete with his personal identity details.

Two officers were later identified as working for the Solomyanskyi military enlistment office. In video footage of the April 1 incident, a man dressed in civilian clothing is seen directing two men toward Shulhat, 27, who quickly suspected it was revenge for his journalism revealing the dubious property holdings purportedly related to Illya Vitiuk, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine cybersecurity division.

“They came up to me, addressed me by name, and clearly knew me by sight,” Shulhat said. “Since I was working on this story, I immediately suspected that I was stopped in the supermarket because of it.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine has opened criminal proceedings based on the lawyer’s appeal.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) responded to the incident by issuing a statement calling for an independent investigation to “ensure that this type of threat does not happen again.”

“This case is a serious attempt at intimidation, aimed at dissuading journalists from publishing investigations, on the threat of being mobilised,” the RSF said. “The Ukrainian investigative media play an essential role in the country, both in terms of war crimes and the fight against corruption.”

Slidstvo.Info submitted its findings to law enforcement agencies along with a statement alleging the incident amounted to “persecution and obstruction of journalistic activity.”

Under martial law in Ukraine at the time, men aged between 27 and 60 needed to report to their local conscription office, but Shulhat – who had just turned 27 – had not yet been and said he was singled out and persecuted as a result. On April 3, Ukraine lowered the conscription age to 25.

An article last week written by Shulhat and published on Slidstvo.Info, alleged that the wife of Vitiuk – who was appointed to his current position by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2021 – had spent a large sum of money below market price on a luxury apartment in Kyiv worth €302,000 during Russia’s full-scale assault.

Shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion, his wife, Yulia Vytiuk, registered as a sole proprietor but no information can be found as to what services she provides. Yet in 2022 and 2023, documents show that she had made profits of approximately €267,900 and €319,300, indicating a monthly income of more than 24,000 euros.

The journalist suspected there may be a connection between Vitiuk’s job and his wife’s property purchases. Vitiuk’s official salary in the SBU is €42,400 per year.

The investigation also found that the SBU official’s mother also owns a sprawling property portfolio that appears at odds with her salary as a doctor in Ukraine.

“The family’s income grew along with Illya Vitiuk’s career,” Shulhat said in his investigation published this week. “After receiving a higher position, his wife began to make significant money and acquired luxury real estate.”

Pavlo Demchuk, a legal advisor at Transparency International Ukraine, told Slidstvo.Info that the family’s spurious finances could be part of a scheme in which an official “does not receive anything personally” but people close to them do.

“All this will be visible from tax accounting information, bank information — access to which can be obtained by law enforcement agencies in the course of the investigation,” Demchuk said. “To check whether this was really entrepreneurial activity or whether it was a disguise of illegal income.”

In Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perception Index, Ukraine ranked 104 out of 180 countries, with the first place being the least corrupt.

High-level corruption has plagued post-communist Ukraine, which in recent years has enacted reforms to crack down on graft. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, President Zelenskyy has dismissed several high-ranking officials on graft charges, including a defense minister.

Despre autor: Alexandra Stara

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