July 9, 2021
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported, “Lawyers representing Gyunguz Mamedov have demanded to see ‘secret letters’ from Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] which Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova cited when tackled by human rights NGOs over why she had removed Mamedov from his post as highly effective head of the crucial ‘War Department’.
Representatives of some of Ukraine’s most prominent NGOs reported that, during the meeting on 5 July, Venediktova spent two hours effectively ducking the question of why she had taken a decision with potentially disastrous impact on Ukraine’s legal cases against Russia over its occupation of Crimea and military aggression in Donbas. Mamedov’s removal and the extraordinary decision to strip him of his access to state secrets comes just weeks before the seventh anniversary of the downing of MH17.
Mamedov has headed the Ukrainian team of investigators taking part in the Joint Investigation Team on MH17, with JIT’s findings of critical importance for the trial now underway in the Netherlands and several interstate cases against Russiain international courts, including over MH17.
As reported, Venediktova issued a decree on 29 June, removing Mamedov as head of the Department for overseeing criminal proceedings into crimes committed in conditions of military conflict (generally known as the War Department). She initially replaced Mamedov with Maksym Yakubovsky, whose earlier appointment by Venediktova to the post of Deputy Prosecutor General elicited protest from civic organizations particularly, although not only, because of his links with controversial pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and the latter’s ‘Ukrainian Choice’ party. Medvedchuk is now under criminal investigation on charges linked with believed collaboration with Russia in occupied Crimea and Donbas, so any role for Yakubovsky in the War Department would pose a clear conflict of interest.
On 30 June, Venediktova issued another decree in which she, instead, placed the War Department under her direct control. If this was supposed to allay concerns, it certainly did not. It was Yakubovsky who, on that same day, issued an order, stripping Mamedov of his access to state secrets, with this move clearly agreed with Venediktova. The situation remains a little unclear since it is officially the SBU which allocates or removes access to state secrets, however the extraordinary result – that a Deputy Prosecutor General is not being entrusted with state secrets – is undisputed.
Venediktova has made several decisions during her 15 months as Prosecutor General that have alarmed civic activists, however her willingness to jeopardize the significant progress made by the War Department under Mamedov is on a new, and very worrying, level.”