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27 February, 2012

“Conversations were held with me regarding my future testimony in court”

The reception of evidence and the hearing of arguments in the Lutsenko case have ended. The prosecution was able to call 138 witnesses, while the defence none. Nonetheless, much to the surprise of the investigators, 86 witnesses who were expected to confirm that the ex-Interior Minister was guilty at least partially changed their testimonies in court. Recorded by Kateryna Hladka

Former Interior Ministry employee Mykola Lehensky is one of them. He was deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s Human Resources Department since 2005 and was personally responsible for organising Militia Day festivities in 2008 and 2009. The prosecution is accusing Yuriy Lutsenko of “abuse of office and exceeding official responsibilities which led to grave consequences” in connection with the celebrations. Lehensky was heard in court on January 17, 2012.

The Ukrainian Week met with Lehensky in order to learn what exactly happened in the autumn of 2008 and 2009 and why he spoke effectively in defence of the ex-minister. The verdict in the case is expected on January 27.

U.W.: In your opinion, why did some of the witnesses change their testimonies in court? How come they spoke one thing in the Prosecutor General's Office and something totally different in court?

It is hard for me to speak for everyone, but I did not change my own testimony. I said in court the same thing I said to the Prosecutor General's Office. Judging from my observations, most witnesses did the same.

U.W.: Were personal conversations held with you regarding your testimony?

Yes, there were conversations with me. It is hard for me to say whether it was direct pressure. In court, I repeated what I heard from the head of the investigation group: “I can’t grasp why you are defending Lutsenko/ What are you thinking? I also have to think about how to apply 6.2 to you. (Point 6.2 “Refusal to open a criminal case for lacking corpus delicti. – Author). Perhaps these words should be viewed as an attempt to show a loyal attitude to me or as pressure. It's hard for me to say.

U.W.: Could tell in greater detail about how Militia Day celebration was organized?

That the celebration and the formal ceremony took place in the Ukraina Palace is a tradition, not some special fantasy of the minister. All artists performed at the concert for free. Moreover, some wanted to participate even without a personal invitation. In 2008, the preparations followed the usual scenario: an action plan was developed and approved by all heads of the units charged with this task or another.

U.W.: Was Lutsenko personally involved in the organization activities? Or did the departments take care of everything?

The departments dealt with organization. Each one had its own line of work. The plan itself and the organization part was developed by the Directorate for Social and Humanitarian Work, which I headed at the time. The draft of this document was first approved by heads of the units that were responsible for some function or another, then by the legal department, later by all deputy ministers and finally by the minister himself.

After the plan was removed and work was already under way, a regulation suddenly appeared which is now being imputed to Lutsenko (government order No. 943 issued in October 2008. – Author). Additional events, in particular the grand reception and fireworks, were immediately scrapped after that. Only the official event was kept intact. This is how expenses were reduced.

U.W.: Do you know how much money was allocated to celebrate Militia Day?

I know that there were UAH 300,000 in the budget of the Interior Ministry to rent the Ukraina Palace.

I would like to draw your attention to another nuance. On November 19, the Cabinet of Ministers issued another regulation, this time about tendering procedures. Article 7 of this regulation specified the goods and services that could be purchased without a tender. These included goods and services for events and official receptions involving the President of Ukraine, Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and members of the Cabinet of Ministers. Relying on this article, the Treasury permitted this transaction and acknowledged that it was not a financial violation. This means that money was disbursed in a legal way.

U.W.: What about Militia Day in 2009?

The regulation was still in effect at that time and remained so until the Law “On TenderPurchases.” The festivities were held in the same way as in 2008, i.e., with some austerity.

U.W.: Why do you think is there such a large number of witnesses for the prosecution who did not show up in court?

It's hard for me to answer this question, because I do not know all of them. But some of them learned about their status as witnesses in the case only on the day of the hearing. This situation is not normal for a European country. The reasons for their non-appearance may be both objective and subjective. It is not up to me to judge that.

U.W.: What did the procedure for your invitation to court look like?

I received a phone call from the court’s secretary, and one day later a person from the Prosecutor General's Office called me to ask whether I was coming. As a law-abiding person I said I would be there.

U.W.: Did you have any information on Lutsenko’s driver who is also involved in charges brought against the ex-minister?

Personally, I do not have information about the award given to his driver. However, the procedure is such that the minister never does it on his own. The initiative comes from an Interior Ministry department in which the employee worked. Six to seven officials who are responsible for the award sign the paperwork before it gets to the minister.

U.W.: In your opinion, is the Lutsenko case being expedited to have a verdict delivered before the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights?

I cannot evaluate the tendency in general. But the fact that on the day when I was in court eight other witnesses were examined is nothing but haste.

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